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The Best Thing About Today

Day to Day Thoughts, Recollections, and Chicanisma

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In Defense of Lifeguards
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I've realized that I'm mildly obsessed with lifeguards. I know that it's all a result of what I perceived as an antagonistic relationship with Colleen, the head lifeguard of the Tuolumne Pool -- a place where spent a great deal of every summer for many years in my youth. But there's another reason too -- for this obsession. Being a former pre-school teacher, I can't help but notice how much yelling they do, "Noooo, running!" "Hey, wrong way on the slide!" I've even judged them for being so mean and seemingly angry. Pre-school teachers/childcare providers are trained to never shout, to always go to the child in need of direction, and kneel down to their level and make eye-contact.  A pre-school teacher would say something like, "I noticed you're having trouble remembering to walk inside. If you need to run, you can run outside," or "I need you to walk inside. I don't want you to run into someone or hurt yourself."

The thing is, a pre-school teacher's job is to help instill an internal sense of right and wrong, or in this case, safe or dangerous, but a lifeguard's job is to save your life. They are paid only around $10-12 an hour (starting pay)  to keep kids from, running, falling, and cracking their heads open on concrete pool decks across America, or save them from drowning in three, five, six, seven, and thirteen feet of water. In talking about lifeguards and all the shouting that they do with Smythologies blogger, Karin Spirn, we decided that there are lifeguard moments in life too -- times when you have to shout to save someones life, times when not screaming at a friend or your child when a car comes dangerously close to hitting them while trying to cross the street -- times when not taking the time to give a succinct but detailed explanation about why somebody should not do what they are about to do is necessary.

The concept of lifeguard moments in life would probably be a relief to parents who try very hard not to should at their children but do more often that they'd like in spite of themselves or any past pre-school training. The danger here, of course, is convincing yourself that shouting at your child because he didn't put his shoes on after you asked him to do it nicely five times already is somehow saving his life -- perhaps when I was growing up that might have been actually true. It was much better to have my mom scream at me than go after me with any nearby object that was in reach as she charged in my direction. While I don't hit my child or use any other kind of physical punishments, a very conscious decision made by my husband and I, and since parenting can be frustrating, I do occasionally lose my temper and shout. That's not a lifeguard moment -- that's a bio-reaction -- the part of the brain that is on the look out for danger, the amygdala, is stimulated and the owner of the brain reacts without thinking about her reaction, just reacts without making a choice, usually resulting in embarrassing, regretful, or even dangerous behavior. We have 20 milliseconds to choose a different response; that's obviously less than a second -- not very much time, but the more we become aware, the better we can get about choosing a different response.

Now lifeguards, usually young men and women in their teens or early twenties, aren't trained to be pre-school teachers, or to be aware of their bio-reaction, and judging the faces of many who shout at kids to quit splashing, running, or dunking others, they are probably in bio-reaction a lot of the time, and that's a good thing for those of us who want our children to live, but having now had many students who work as lifeguards, I have learned that some of their fear and frustration comes from the fact that a lot of parents bring their kids to the pool or their local lake and don't spend enough time shouting at them themselves. In fact, many parents bring their kids to a swimming facility, a place where a good time could result in death and don't hardly watch them at all, or they even encourage their children to take swim tests in deep water that they can't pass, even hassling the lifeguard when he/she won't allow the weak swimmer to swim in the deep water.

Recently, I saw a news story on some ABC news show about beach lifeguards who listen to ipods or spend too much time texting while on shift rather than scanning the beach for someone in need of help, and someone at one of these beaches actually drowned. I also saw a news story about a storm resulting in huge waves off the shore of some beach town where people were told to stay off the rocks near the ocean, and a man took his two kids to see the waves anyway. He and his two daughters were swept into the ocean and one of his daughters did not make it back alive. That man did not understand the concept of the lifeguard moment at all.

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Ahhhh. To bring back memories of the Tuolumne Pool and the hours gained with friends, water and a lot of sun. Adding tea or lemons to our hair to change the color. Going to the store to get an ice cream and waiting thirty minutes to return to swimming. The long bicycle ride home after the night swims. Sounds of the fire station bell going off right next door and the two volunteers attending the fire. What memories you have brought back to enlighten another day. Thank you, Tara Haines

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