My green Notre Dame hat is sun-bleached, chlorine-soaked, and sweat-stained to perfection. The faded hat is kind of my trademark—whenever I’m starting lessons with a new family, I instruct them to look for the girl in the green ND cap when they arrive. This particular green hat has lasted through two summers and one football season now, which is pretty respectable. Before the green hat, I destroyed 3 white Notre Dame ball caps over 3 summers. The white hats couldn’t handle all of the trips to the gym, to the beach, to the pool. Too delicate. The green hat doesn’t mind getting a little grubby. I always set it out on the deck to dry between lessons. The sun keeps the mildew away, which can sneak up since the hat’s nearly always wet—I learned this trick the hard way after white hat #1. Gross, I know. But my reliable green hat has survived another summer in the water and in the sun.
On Saturday, I’ll hang up my swimsuit for the summer. No more swim lessons. I’ve got a killer tan—except for the giant circle on my back and the sunglasses rings on my face. In 7 weeks this summer, I have taught 210 swim lessons to a total of 37 children. The kids, as always, are awesome. My swim lesson kids ranged in age from 2 to 13, so I got to have fun with a lot of very different children.
I’ve had some great experiences in getting to know swimmers and their families over the years. Some of my swim lesson kids are repeats—I think I’ve had a few families for 3 or 4 years now. It’s a little sad when the long-time families “age out” of swim lessons, but it’s usually because the kids have gotten good enough and old enough to join year-round swim teams. I’m always flattered when kids who have gone on to summer swim team come back for a few lessons with me to work on dives or flipturns or race strategy.
Kids, especially those whose families I’ve known for awhile, often ask about my age. Usually I get asked questions like, “Are you a mommy?” or, “Do you have kids?”. Sometimes the questions come from the other end of the spectrum–“You’re big. Are you 12?”. The most tactful age-related question I’ve ever been asked came from a boy who tiptoed around asking my age but never actually posed the question. Clearly, his parents have taught him to have excellent manners. We were talking about college and I was explaining why college students don’t get long weekends when my young friend interrupted. “Um…you see…I’m wondering something. Because you go to college, and I don’t really know how old college is. Because you could go to college when you’re kind of young or when you’re kind of old, like 30…” he trailed off. “Are you trying to find out how old I am?” I asked. “Um…kind of,” he replied. Of course, I answered his indirect question, but I also had to give the kid some props for being so polite. Way to go, buddy.
In general, the kids I teach seem to be very concerned with the distinction between children and adults. I’m hazily remembering a lecture from a Developmental Psychology class about how children in early grades are obsessed with order and roles. When I’m teaching lessons, some of the kids think that I count as an adult and some of them see me as just another playmate. I often feel stuck in a kind of limbo in real life, outside of the pool, so it’s reassuring to know that I’m not the only one confused about my standing. Am I a grown-up or not? Excellent question. One little girl told me I wasn’t allowed to chew gum in the pool because “only grown-ups can do that.” Another swimmer felt differently. After learning that the black lines on the bottom of the pool are there to help people swim to straight down the pool, the 7-year-old boy said, “Well, the lines are where the adults swim. Kids play in the white space in between the lines because they run around and stuff, but the grown-ups don’t need as much space to swim in lines.” Since we were both swimming on the lines, we were both grown-ups. What a nice life philosophy. Act like an adult when you swim on the lines, but play like a child in the space between. I like that.
The green hat came with me to Notre Dame and it has weathered another summer at the pool. Next week, I’ll tote it along to Disney World (and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!!). The week after that, I’ll tuck my trusty green hat in the side pocket of my backpack, opposite my fancy new water bottle. After a 14-hour flight, I’ll slide the green hat on over a sloppy ponytail, the first of many such hairdos in weeks to come. The green hat is a good hat–beat up and dependable. It deserves to be a proper noun. Green Hat. The little navy monogram on Green Hat makes it the only Notre Dame thing I’m bringing to India; none of my t-shirts have words, and I’m sure not bringing a sweatshirt. After a summer of chlorine and Carolina sun, Green Hat has survived ball cap boot camp. I’m calling it up to the big leagues—monsoon rain and sweaty, frizzy hair. Green Hat is going to India.