It was 1985 and I was in junior high and we didn’t have crazy shit like early release days or competitive sports for hours each day. We came home from school and watched after school specials and MTV while we ate Top Ramen riddled with cancer-causing MSG and cherry flavored Hi-C with 25 grams of sugar, just enough to stain the outside of our mouths red and provide us a sugar high to get through the day.
Weekdays for kids of the 80s were uneventful, so we made up for it on the weekends when we would run wild and free.
In junior high, I had a friend named Chris and he lived in a cabin on a pond in the woods. His house was approximately six miles from my house, over a major highway and through the very rural landscape. Totally doable for the 80s kid. My friends and I would hop on our bikes and cross that treacherous highway and make our way through the backwoods, in danger of being shot by a hunter or perhaps eaten by a bear. It was all worth the risk, because there we were on Saturdays, at our friends Chris’ house who had an actual pond we could swim in. We would play in that muddy, disgusting pond all day and things would bite our feet. To this day, I have no idea what would bite our feet, but it hurt.
Did we ever even consider bringing sunscreen so we would not be adversely affected by the scalding 100-degree sun as it beat its ultraviolet rays on our delicate baby skin? Hell no. Not once. Did we burn? Of course, we did. But the important thing was that six boys and girls of summer would play all day in that mucky pond without adult supervision.
Last week on early release day Wednesday, a new rule schools invented to make the jobs of parents of the 2000s even harder than it already is, I decided we would go on our own pond adventure. I was channeling my childhood and feeling a bit nostalgic. I was also feeling like being mother-of-the-year that day so I took all four of my kids, a friend, and our puppy to the pond a mile away from my house and we were going to have a picnic. At the grocery store earlier that day I bought triple cream cheese for crying out loud, and a FRENCH baguette (not just a regular American one), and ORGANIC pepperoni, Gerckens (are you wondering what that is? In the 80s we would call them pickles), and big-ass strawberries. I cut the oranges into halves and then god damned if I didn’t quarter those oranges so my kids would not bitch and complain about how hard they are to eat could eat them with pleasure and comfort.
On our mile walk to the special pond, Ava
complained so much and picked so many fights with her siblings had an allergy attack and her nose started gushing blood. She demanded a kleenex but I didn’t bring anything in the form of a napkin to stop the bloodletting. So we had to sacrifice our blanket on which we were going to eat our picnic on. Luckily, the blanket was red so we couldn’t see that the blanket was now completely covered in blood. We sat down to eat our picnic at the edge of the pond but I forgot the knives so I ended up taking the triple cream cheese and tearing it apart, ripping bits of the creamy cheese off and spreading it on the bread with my bare hands like an animal. Nobody was going to spoil my picnic. No knife? No problem.
As I sat eating with my kids by the side of the lake I became reminiscent of when I was a kid and I would bike miles across highways and through the remote wooded landscape to get to a place like this, without a parent. Without a picnic. Without sunscreen. I told my kids the story, without all the dangerous and weird shit. It was a nice story about swimming in a pond like the one we had before us. They were bored.
It all started with some basic moss tossing. You know, that slimy neon green substance that grows at the edge of the lake so your kids can reach it and then throw it on each other? It was all good. I’m down with getting dirty. Then the kids wanted to swim. Why the hell not? Although I had never ever in my life seen a single person put even a toe in that pond before. But why shouldn’t a bunch of kids get to swim in a body of water before them when it is hot and everyone is sweating with our bellies full of French baguette?
Is it safe? They asked.
Sure! I said.
I am not an overprotective parent. In today’s society, I may even lean a little free-range.
They were having the time of their lives in that pond. I sat in the sweltering sun and took pictures and videos of them playing and slinging the algae and mud on each other. That’s when I started to get worried. I texted a friend and asked her if she thinks it’s safe to let my kids swim in the pond by her house. She texted back and said that her husband said not to do so. TOO LATE! I texted my parents and my mom said she did not think this was a good idea. I wonder if she knows about how I spent my entire summers crossing freeways on bikes and swimming in back woods ponds? Well, she does now.
Then I started to panic, but I tried to remain calm so I wouldn’t scare the children who were just trying to go for a swim
Come’on kids. Get out. NOW!
I’m just not sure about the water.
But you said it was safe, MOM, said my teenager.
Yep. Yep, I did.
Are we going to get sick and die mom? Asked the younger set.
Nope. Nope, you aren’t.
So they all get out and instantly everyone is itching. Not just a casual itch, but an all over the body itch. They could barely get their clothes on without scratching every square inch of their body.
The things that went through my mind: Flesh eating bacteria, Giardia, Hives.
This is real people. I’m not making this shit up.
When my mom was a kid her and her sisters went for a swim in Lake Erie and came out with humungous boils all over their body because the lake was contaminated.
When I was a kid I went on a walk with some friends and one of them drank a tiny bit of water from a stream and ended up with uncontrollable diarrhea all the way home. No fun.
The kids scratched themselves silly and whined and complained all the way home. When they got home I made them all get in the shower and I scrubbed them feverishly with soap and loofah and they laughed at me because they thought I was acting crazy.
I’m not crazy. I was just trying to win mother-of-the-year and it was clear I had lost the title. The good news is the itching was gone by the next day. I was not mother-of-the-year, but in a way I was because I let my kids swim in the mucky pond that everyone told me not to let them swim in, and they are still alive. Winning.
Until next time, the mothership is signing off.