The Mermaids gather at the pool’s edge. They huddle, giggle, hold hands, and jump.
The oldest Mermaid is eight, the youngest is five. Sometimes they wear little-girl bikinis, gingham or swiss-dotted, trimmed with flowers or sparkly sequins. Tonight, there’s been a competition, so the Mermaids are serious in blue and black lightning bolt team Speedos, caps and goggles. They decide to practice their starts, diving from the side. Some Mermaids are better at this than others. They emerge from the pool, dripping and grumbling, when the “adult swim” whistle blows. Five Mermaids sit on the edge at the deep end, talking and swinging their legs in the water, watching the clock as the oldest Mermaid announces “ten more minutes! OK, seven! Five more! Look, they’re changing lifeguards now, they’re going to blow the whistle!” The whistle sounds and the Mermaids tumble headfirst into the water, shrieking and laughing.
My seven year old son sits down on the lounge chair next to me. “Look”, he says, “the girls are practicing diving!” Mm-hmm, I say.
“Lisa’s a really fast swimmer, Mom. She’s six, and she can beat the boys!”
“I know, sweetie, she’s very talented”
“Tracy has nice hair. It’s all curly”
“Yes, her hair is very pretty. They’re all very pretty.”
They are all beautiful. Sturdy little bodies, unruly hair, shining faces. The Mermaids run hard, and they laugh with their mouths wide open.
My son’s friend comes to get him back in the pool and they join the Mermaids. It’s clear who’s in charge. All of the Mermaids have brothers, and ordering boys around comes naturally. My son and his friend are happy to comply. Dispatched by the oldest Mermaid, one goes to find a ball, while the other goes to ask a lifeguard to open the diving board. The Mermaids splash each other as they wait for their footmen to return. The oldest Mermaid devises a game involving catching the ball from the diving board and a complicated points system is agreed upon when the boys return.
The oldest Mermaid will turn 9 soon. Nine takes you out of the “8 and under” group and into the “9-10” group, where the girls begin to emulate the 11 and 12 year olds. What will happen when the Mermaids turn 11 or 12?
Maybe they’ll cover their mouths when they laugh.
Maybe they’ll walk instead of running.
Maybe they’ll cross their arms over their chests.
Maybe they won’t be so eager to race and beat the boys.
Not tonight, though. Tonight, it’s still sunny at 7:30. The pool is clear and blue and warm. The Mermaids take a break to share a bag of Skittles.