Thursday, July 12, 2012

There Is a Progressive Tide at My Community Center Pool

Usually it's just Katie and me swimming together, but last night she made a new friend at our suburban community center pool.

Girl with a high-pitched British accent: "How old is your daughter?"
Me: "She's five."
Girl, without taking a breath between words: "IamfivetooandIneedsomeonetoplaywithsoyourdaughtercanswimwithme!"
Me: "Sure."

So I hung back and watched them.

Katie: "What's your name?"
Girl: "Bara'ah."
Katie: "What?"
Bara'ah: "Bara'ah."
Katie: "Bara-HA?"
Bara'ah: "No.  It's very hard to say.  It's Bara'ah."
Katie: "Bara-HA?"
Bara'ah: "No!  Bara'ah!"
Katie: "Bara-HA?"
Bara'ah: "No.  No!  It's hard to say.  We are from Libya.  It's Bara'ah."

I had done about two hundred underwater leg-kicks by the time this initial conversation ended and they gave up and headed to the lazy river.

I'd seen Bara'ah's mother there once before.  She seems pretty young.  But maybe her youthfulness is a personality trait and not an indication of chronological age.  She runs up the steps to the big slide and plugs her nose but can't contain her smile enough to close her mouth as she plunges into the bottom of the pool.  She cavorts with a man I assume is her husband.  She has obvious fun.  She's not one of those moms who likes to sit on the lounge chairs to the side of the pool, talking or texting while the kids are out having fun, out of their hair.  She's there to swim and slide and splash and smile.  She reminds me of myself.  

The difference is she's wearing a full-body swim suit and a swim hijab.  And I am not.  My swim suit is pretty typically midwestern American momish.  

Not quite turn of the 20th century one-piece, but definitely more modest than what many of my peers wear today.  Still, it covers so little of my body that this is the one time of the year my husband gets to enjoy the effect of my daily leg and bikini area shaving.

TMI?  Yeah, I'm an American.  We're a people prone to the overshare.

American.  It means what anymore?  Ten years ago I had never seen a woman wearing traditional Muslim garb at the local swimming pool.  Just a bunch of fake blonde hair and waxed bodies draped in immodest swim wear.

Last night when I saw Bara'ah's mother frolicking about the pool with her family, expressing no self-consciousness, I caught myself coveting her full-body suit.  I love to swim but I hate showing my body in public.  I'm much less concerned about what strangers think of my body than I was when I was younger, but since it's a community center pool, there's a big chance your boss will show up.  Soon you'll find yourself standing there exposing your lumpy white thighs by the froggy slide, shop-talking with someone who also attended the mandatory training session  from HR about workplace harassment.  It's just awkward.  

So yeah, I'm all for bringing more burkinis to the community centers of Main Street USA.

I'm really proud to be an American right now.  Sure, there's plenty I'm ticked at our government about, namely bombing innocent people around the world and catering to the wealthiest among us at home, but I'm happy to see where we as a people are moving socially.  There is a progressive tide at the community center pool, at least.

What I love about how much my community has evolved these past ten years is that swimming alongside Bara'ah's mother in her full-body suit, and me in my one-piece traditional American swim suit, there was what appeared to be a blue-haired granny in a bikini.  Not the old-fashioned blue-haired old lady type granny, although that could have made it even cooler, but a woman who looked to be about sixty who was there with a young child who looked like her grandkid, and she was wearing a very world-weary tummy-revealing  black two-piece as she was rocking the bleached-blonde-turned-punk-rock-blue 'do that looked perfectly normal next to the tattoos that covered her body.

And the coolest thing of all: none of us seemed out of place.  I love it.  All women should be allowed to decide whether or not they prefer full coverage, medium coverage, or flaunt-it coverage when they're enjoying themselves at the community center pool.