The Hip Mom Pools Around
Advice for people installing a backyard pool.
As a native Seattleite moving to Tulsa for the first time 11 years ago, pregnant with my third and toting along a 4- and 2-year-old, I was mystified when house hunting why anyone in their right mind would want a pool in their backyard (haha! I know! I hear you laughing! I hadn’t yet experienced a summer in Tulsa!). Why would anyone want to put a big vat of drowning off their porch? Not for me! So we found a lovely home in a neighborhood with a community pool – and even a little kiddie pool with a fountain. Fabulous. I could schlep my kids there, arm them with floaties, and camp out at the kiddie pool where I’d watch them like a hawk. And this system worked well for a year or two, although I discovered it’s a big pain to load up kids and towels and sunscreen (well, of course anything with kids is a big pain, right?). And I never wanted to go in the heat of the day during naptime, when the sun is high and hot enough to fry fair skin in four seconds. So my bigger kids would be left home languishing in front of SpongeBob, and we’d wait until after dinner when my husband was home to hit the pool.
Fast-forward through many years of swimming lessons. Now I have six competent swimmers and one drowning risk (we’ll get to her). After multiple invitations to various pool parties over the years, I realized how lovely it would be to host these parties myself for many years to come and keep an eye on my rotten kids right in my own backyard. So PVT and I decided to go all out (hey, debt! It’s just like cash!), and build a monstrous pool in our backyard. So, if you are thinking of putting in a pool, here are some of the things I’ve learned during the long, messy process of building your own little backyard paradise. And if you are a weathered pool veteran mom, please find me on Facebook and give me some tips — I am new at this!
So, here you go – my little thoughts on pooling around:
1. Do your homework when choosing a pool company.
We chose the fabulous pool and landscaping guru Brian Philpott with Signature Pools; we loved his imaginative design — and his daughter is in my daughter’s kindergarten class. There are many great companies, though. Check around. And then get a contract that details the price of everything. Write everything down!
2. Expect chaos, dirt, muck and delays!
We got our permit and broke ground in October. On the last day of school, May 25, to a chorus of heavenly angels, our pool was filled with a fire hydrant hose. I had visions of my seven children, suited up with goggles and noodles, staring woefully in the summer Hades heat at a deep concrete hole. Thankfully, that did not happen. (Fall, incidentally, is a great time to start.) But everything — the landscaping, the pool bathroom, lighting, fencing — is still not done. Now, granted, we built a behemoth. We figured we have enough bodies over which to amortize the cost for many years. But with any project, stuff just happens: there are critical employees, who if they quit unexpectedly, throw the process into disarray. There are unexpected snafus. Sometimes communications become lost in translation between the boss, the foreman, and the employees. Occasionally, these little calamities happened, so when PVT came home he’d start yelling at whomever was listening — me, of course!
Oh and the RAIN! If it rains at all, everything comes to a screeching halt. I am not sure why, because that part of my brain doesn’t work. But when you’re staring at a pile of muck for weeks on end, it gets a little depressing. And, keep in mind, whenever your kids go outside, they are going to track all this dirt in your house! Try not to freak out; it won’t last forever. But it is dirty. Like life well lived, but there you go. If you have anything in your yard, like lawn furniture or rugs, that you don’t want completely destroyed, put them in the garage. I did not and now have some ruined furniture to show for it. And, I thought it was terrifying to picture a non-swimming child falling into a pool. But what is more terrifying is the thought of a child falling into a big concrete hole. Every time a basketball fell in the pool I worried that a child would follow it in. And every time the toddler was outside, I was a wreck! Whenever I hired the rare babysitter, I instructed her to keep the house on lockdown. I would spend spare moments building odd barriers out of soccer goals and lawn chairs, or having PVT fashion haphazard walls. Oh, the worries and nightmares I had! In retrospect, my nightmares could have been easily allayed by installing some cheap temporary plastic construction fencing. Do that! Don’t be stupid like me!
3. Try to enjoy the process.
I found I loved having all this activity going on in my yard all the time — and the kids loved watching and learning about what was going on every day. The employees all know my kids, love talking to the baby and pretending to understand her gibberish. They even know and love the dog, who, without a fence around the yard during construction, has taken to patrolling the house throughout the day like a very ineffective guard dog. I’m sure the neighbors are thrilled. But get past the chaos and just enjoy it all — I am really going to be lonely when the guys are finally done. (They may like hanging around my house because I do hand out cervezas at the end of particularly long and hot days. It’s always a party around here!)
4. Do everything you can to make sure your kids are at least somewhat competent swimmers.
I was at the point where only the baby was liable to give me a heart attack. So I splurged and hired a private pool instructor — you’ve probably heard of him. Kem Morrow. He is a pro with chicken swimmers and showed Francie how to float in a “starfish.” The process is ugly: screaming, throwing up water – I couldn’t watch. I still monitor her every move, but at least I have some comfort that she knows what to do if she somehow falls in sans floatie. And she is petrified of the water, so that’s good for now. Also, take a CPR class! My big boys and I are signed up for a community education class – anything I can do to prepare should the unthinkable happen.
5. Have the first pool party when you’re ready – even if everything is not perfectly landscaped and done.
My parents kept wondering when they should come visit and swim; in May I told them late June should be fine. I also wanted to get the pool blessed (I’m a Catholic girl, and we want extra divine protection – sort of like baptizing infants as soon as possible!). So I picked a date, booked a priest, and prayed that everything would work out. The day of the party, my mother was horrified: the pool was still surrounded with dirt, and kids would have to walk through wet mud to get up to the waterslide. Surely we would have a bunch of muddy kids transforming my blue pool into a filthy swamp! But again the heavens opened up: sod and flagstone showed up about an hour before the party started – in fact, the guys continued setting down sod during the party! The priest said his beautiful blessing, and then I watched a million happy kids frolicking, jumping, and forming human chains down the slide – it was one of the happiest moments of my life.
So there you have it: the good, the bad and the ugly of pool construction. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Now I just have to figure out a towel system. With all these kids leaving clothes and wet towels everywhere, I feel like I’m living in a frat house. So pack up your towel, some SPF One Jillion, grab your kids and come on over. I’ll ply you with margaritas while we watch water-soaked hooligans. Who knows, maybe everything at the VT pool will be done by then!