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No flower-bells that expand and shrink
Gleam half so heavenly sweet,
As shine on life’s untrodden brink
A baby’s feet.
—A.C. Swinburne, from the poem “Étude Réaliste”
Summer comes early here in Texas. As the air steams up and it’s too hot for the babies to play out in the sun, mothers wend their way down to the low end of the park ... down past the jungle gyms and playscapes where the big kids are getting clogged up on the spiral slides. Here, perhaps nestled beneath a sheltering grove of benevolent live oaks, they seek the gentle waters of the wading pool.
The mothers wear shorts or bathing suits, and their babies have on legless jumpsuits, or perhaps just those newfangled swim diapers. The mommies carry the babies as they enter the pool at the shallow end, and they gently lower the infants into the cool water. You hear their soft voices encouraging the little ones to enjoy … it’s safe to play. Only 9 inches of water here before the pool gradually deepens.
The babies ease their toes into the water and giggle with delight and fascination. With one hand still clutching their mother’s hand, they take those first tentative steps into the pool. It’s a big day for the little ones. The wading pool is an “A” ride.
There are plenty of wading pools in Texas, built by thoughtful park officials in towns across the state to fill a niche—a safe place for the smaller children to cool off without having to compete with the rowdiness of the bigger kids in the main pools.
But there’s something special about the wading pools at all these little parks. Maybe it’s the way that the mommies (and daddies and grandparents and nannies) relax and take it easy as they watch each others’ children getting wet and happy. Maybe it’s the pleasure inherent in something as gentle as a wading pool. It takes us back in time to a slower-moving age.
Take some time off some day and take a sack lunch to the park and watch. Sit on the handy picnic benches that face the pool and watch the mommies slowly escort their 1-year-olds around the pool in a Big Adventure. Watch the little ones try to pick bugs out of the water. Watch them splash and sit and laugh with total abandon at the simple joy of a foot of tepid water on a hot day.
Perhaps you’ll capture an image ... like one painted by Mary Cassatt, an American impressionist who was so good at illustrating mother and child together.
Some beautiful vision of bare feet sharing a sweet moment, remembered forever in a mother’s heart.
Marco Perella is an actor and essayist who lives in Austin.