One of the untold secrets of parenthood is this; solitude is gone. If you’re not dealing with your child; feeding her, caring for her, rocking her to sleep; you’re definitely thinking of her pretty much all the time. Mundane decisions now involve a different dynamic. New parents find this shocking. I know some who found it devastating. But I think most parents, like me are too quickly absorbed into life as a parent to recognize anything they’d remotely call deprivation. Somewhere hidden in their veins lays silently the ability to evolve instantaneously to the task of parenthood. Divorce, in a sudden jolt returns something unexpected to you, solitude. The constant din of your child, annoying to others in restaurants and airports, but a song that sings to your heart, is suddenly silent half of the time. And I won’t kid you, herein, like a stone in your heart, lays the most difficult element of any familial separation.
I think I first recognized this eight years ago when I was walking through a room in my house and stepped on one of Chloe’s toys. Something I had done many times which was usually followed by a sigh of disgust and picking up the toy and putting it away. But this time I left it there and sat on the couch just looking at it. I remember thinking that there isn’t much sadder than this toy sitting silently on the carpet. These days it’s a sweatshirt or some shoes on the stairs. It’s funny how these things that were once annoyances are now little reminders of something very, very good; that these items belong to someone and while she may not be here now, she surely will be soon.
It was this phenomenon that sent me out of the house on Sunday afternoon. A bright green sweatshirt purchased after much careful shopping lay in a heap on the floor. I stare at it. Silence. Deafening silence. I decide to head to the Fox Point pool. It’s their last day and I just don’t want to miss it and there’s nothing to keep me home.
One of my earliest childhood recollections is this; I must have been around six I guess when my dad announced in the way a parent might talk of an upcoming Christmas or Birthday that Fox Point would be building a swimming pool in the Spring. I remember very well driving to the pool with my father as they were building it; looking out of the car window on a birdless, budless late-winter morning to see the blue spark of a welder working on what would be the bottom of the pool.
I dove in, the way I have a thousand times before. I swam the first lap entirely underwater. I looked down at the black lane stripes as lemony yellow reflections danced on the bottom of the pool and the muted sounds of the others faded distantly.
When I was seven I became the youngest member of the Fox Point Pool competitive swim team. I was so small they had to special order a matching team suit for me; a blue speedo with white stripes. We would compete against teams from Mequon, Grafton and others. Over the years that followed I swam in that pool pretty much every day it was above 59 degrees. Although, as with other things in life, while being the more stylish breast-stroker on the team, I lost consistently to my own teammate, Danny Erlacher who was about twice my size. As such my room was decorated with dozens of red second-place ribbons.
It was always one of the saddest days of the year when the pool closed for the season. The pungent aroma of chlorine suffuse in my skin was slowly traded for the smell of new, stiff “school clothes” from Boston Store. As a kid it passed in the way things pass us as children, unnoticed. But today the thoughts weigh heavily in on me that this, the tenth summer of my daughter, won’t come again; and it reminds me to stop now and appreciate it. To reflect on the annoying crumbs in the back seat of the car and view them instead as dust fallen from a star that will eventually fade into a morning’s sky.
Thirty five years later here I am swimming across the same pool. As I sat at the edge and watched all the kids playing in the pool I was filled with heartache missing the owner of the bright green sweatshirt. The sun was long and amber by this time. Then it occurs to me, without this solitude I wouldn’t have come to this realization; I would have missed the point being too busy buying the next popsicle or finding the next bright green sweat shirt. And hence too distracted by the thing itself to have stepped back long enough to appreciate it.
By Clay Konnor