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128 OCTOBER 2009
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Humour in the pool

Karl Gompf

Without humour, relationships are dead in the water.

Most lifeguards are friendly, supportive, and eager to help young swimmers. Bob wasn’t.

We had just finished a most enjoyable hour of swimming at the local indoor pool – the kind of hour that whizzes by. There was splashing and teasing, ducking under the water, jumping from the side with giggles on the way down, and spontaneous games and races in the shallow end of the pool.

With the hour too soon over, little Tyler, six years old, stood on the edge of the pool, ready for the short trip to the locker room. Facing the water, he waved goodbye to the other swimmers, much too engaged in their fun to notice the wave. Then, without warning, other than a stomach rumble as loud as a six year old can make, and with considerable velocity, he hurled straight out into the pool. Fortuitously, the vomit, no description really necessary, stuck together in what appeared to be an extra large pizza, no crust. Not fortuitously, it began to float rather quickly away from the side of the pool in the direction of the other children, who were splashing merrily, oblivious to the approaching blob.

Now I was faced with a truly imminent Child and Youth Care dilemma. The kind that forces the mind to make a quick decision: based on the moment in time, based on what might be expedient, based on what is best for the child, and based on what gets you yelled at the least. No time to process the situation, as might of happened if I had been a social worker. No time to analyze the events and the meaning as might have happened if I had been a psychiatrist. My first thought was to grab Tyler and run, seemingly the best option as no one seemed to have noticed. The second thought, laced with a smidgen of ethics, was to attempt to remove the offending blob.

Without further hesitation, I grabbed the nearest towel, jumped into the pool, landing within inches of the somewhat solidified blob. With one swoop of the towel, an unfortunate white colour, I captured it and retreated to the side of the pool. Without haste, I grabbed Tyler’s little hand, threw the towel in the nearest trash can, and retreated to the locker room. Dressing faster than the proverbial speeding bullet, we were about to exit. But in our way stood Bob, the lifeguard.

"I saw what you did out there,” he blurted. “Now I will have to clean up that towel. I’m only giving you one warning. If you come back there had better not be any incidents or else you and the kid will be banned.”

Fast forward to the next week. Tyler and I are back at the same pool, same time, same lifeguard, Bob.

Tyler, wearing those little goggles that pinch your face and make you look funny, was enjoying diving to the bottom of the pool in the shallow end. He dove down, came up grinning, looked up at me with water running over the goggles and down his face.

“There is writing on the bottom of the pool,” he shouted.

“Well, what does it say?” says I.

"Hang on, I'll find out,” he boasted.

Down to the bottom of the pool Tyler went like a little fish. He was soon staring up at me through the drops of water and the goggle-pinched face, exclaiming, “It says fuck you.”

Somewhat shocked, but happy that he could read, I dived down and confirmed that he had read well. Now I was faced with another Child and Youth Care dilemma. Do I tell the authority in charge (that would be Bob the lifeguard) or do I just leave it? Deciding to teach Tyler a lesson in civic responsibility, and wanting to show Bob that last week’s vomiting episode was a one-timer, I chose to tell. Approaching the life-guard's station somewhat hesitantly, I signaled to Bob that I wanted to speak. No smiles, no friendly gesture, Bob leaned down from the lifeguard stand.

“Someone has written 'fuck you' on the bottom of the pool,” I told him with the most serious face I could muster. At that moment, suspended in time, several children chased each other by the lifeguard stand screaming loudly.

Bob, distracted, and not caring much for me, only heard the two offending words.

“Out,” he roared. “Get out and don’t come back. No one swears at me like that. I’m in charge here.” With no opportunity to explain further to Bob, the enraged lifeguard, we left the pool. On the way home, Tyler wondered if vomiting in a pool and reporting the words “fuck you” would get us kicked out of all swimming pools.

Postscript: Tyler doesn’t swim much anymore. He gags at the smell of chlorine.

Bob is one of the best Child and Youth Care practitioners around. He says that he learned many lessons from Tyler and me. He learned to listen carefully and to be less judgmental. He learned that humour is the number one asset when we work with children. He learned that what looks like a pizza floating in a swimming pool, may actually be a pizza. On the other hand ... I continue to learn that humour in relationships is everything. Without humour we are just like a “floating blob in a swimming pool” – rudderless and headed for the deep end.

Gompf, Karl. (2005). Humour In The Pool. Relational Child and Youth Care Practice, 18, 4. p. 77.

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