Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Once upon a daddy

We started a new family tradition this summer – Pool n’ Dogs. On weekends, we would spend a couple of hours at a family aquatic center with Little Miss, who loves the water, evident in her unbridled enthusiasm at the sight of the pool. And then we’d feast on hot dogs. Pool n’ Dogs!

This pool is a particular favorite because of its slides and play structure. She goes up the little slide in the toddler pool by herself and squeezes her tiny frame between the big kids distracted by friends or adults. She slips past them like an eel and though it mortifies me, I also secretly admire her audacity. She boldly slides down and emerges at the bottom triumphant, squealing as the initial blast of water hits her face. Two seconds later she’s up and back in line, jostling for a spot. My little fish in a big pond. Occasionally, her eyes would search for us but most of the time, she’s slip-sliding, weaving in and out, splashing, and delighting in her buoyancy. My eyes never leave her.


We then head to our favorite post-swim spot - the old school drive-in for some stellar Chicago hotdogs and fries where they serve us in our car. This place added a whole slew of words that otherwise would not have made it into her vernacular: Fries, ketchup, shake, hot dog. Oh, and napkin too, for the inevitable ketchupy mess. We devour our so-bad-but-so-good dinner before heading home with tired limbs and stuffed bellies.


When I look at Little Miss who is now five shades darker from the sun, finally matching my own skin tone, I see myself in her place, only I was just a little older than she is now. I was an aqua baby too, and many of my most vivid childhood memories were that of the time spent in the water. Growing up in the tropics meant it was always pool weather. But these particular memories occupy a sacred place in my heart because they are the ones of my father. The good ones, which are few and far between.

I remember him teaching me to swim in the kiddie pool, where it was shallow enough that when I dove in that one time, I hit and hurt my head. Not badly. Just something that stuck with me because I knew never to do it again. By the time I was five, I was no different than a fish, except I came up for air and snacks. My dad loved to swim, and he passed on to me the skills he had mastered on his own. I sensed his pride as I swam beside him.

Usually ravenous after a swim, we went to the nearest establishment for quick nourishment in the form of hotdogs from A&W. Fast food was not prevalent in Malaysia then so it was a special treat. Instead of a malted shake, which is Little Miss’ preference, I had a rootbeer (or two) but there were always hotdogs. I cherished those moments with my dad. He was my daddy then. And  I was his little girl. Before other priorities in his life replaced me.

As my mind wanders back to the present, to my own little girl with the hot dog belly and chlorine-scented skin, I realize that this isn’t a new family tradition. It’s an extension of mine from my past. She is living my childhood. I am living hers. This is all very familiar to me - the pool, the heat, the hot dog, the glow in her face, not from the sun, but from basking in the love of her adoring parents. The same way mine illuminated from being with my daddy. The one I wanted to always remember.

Back at the pool, while My Guy stayed close to Little Miss, I took some time to explore on my own. My body glided seamlessly between frolicking bodies and as my head submerged in the water, the noise turned into muffled silence. That was when I began to hear the distant voice of my daddy’s instructions to me in Cantonese and English on achieving aquatic perfection. These were the moments that secured my lifetime love for the water and unearthed the heartache of a little girl who pined for this version of her daddy not just on pool days, but every day.

He hasn’t done much else for me since but I know I owe my dad the confidence with which I treaded water when my feet began to lose the bottom of the pool. As I summoned the skills procured at the age of five, it dawned on me that I was sure of myself in the deep end of the pool long before I was sure of the depth of this memory of my father.

One measured six feet. The other, immeasurable.

This is a Wordful Wednesday post.