I learned a lesson the other day. No, that’s not quite right. I was reminded of a lesson that I have already learned a hundred times before, but apparently I can’t remember for very long. I learned it in a swimming pool. Actually, it took two swimming pools. It seems that I’m a bit of a slow learner. That’s the good news. The bad news is that I learned the lesson, but I haven’t really benefited from it yet. In other words I haven’t put into practice what I have learned. Which is kind of the same as not learning something, just a lot more stupid.
Here’s how it all happened.
The children entered in the local library summer reading program. One of the prizes this year was a pass to the local parks and recreation pool system. It was only good for a week and this week was the week. Taking six children to a public pool is more than a one person job, so my wife asked if I could leave work an hour early and go to the pool with everyone. The kids had picked the flagship pool downtown with all of the diving boards and slides and reported that it even had a climbing wall over the pool that you could climb up and then fall into the water.
Too Much Work
I didn’t want to go. I didn’t think I could go. It’s not that I don’t like pools or don’t like to swim or don’t like climbing walls over water. I just had a lot to do. I had too much to do. I really couldn’t afford to leave an hour early. It would be better if I stayed home and worked that hour, and probably the next one and the next one and then the hour after that too.
Out The Door
The passes were only good for one week. My wife couldn't take the kids by herself. If I had to go that night was better than the other nights that week. Reluctantly I said I would go.
The kids were excited. There was much rushing about the house and people getting in bathing suits. I didn’t rush or get in my bathing suit. I worked, figuring I could change at the pool. I kept working until everyone was ready. I worked past when everyone was ready. My wife came in to politely remind me that everyone was sitting in the van in the heat and had been for the past five minutes waiting for me. I apologized and told her I would be right there. I worked another five minutes, then reluctantly closed the laptop and rushed out the door.
On the thirty minute drive to the pool my mind churned with what I needed to do at work and what I had left undone. I wasn’t paying attention to anyone in the van. In my head I was far away, at work.
We arrived at the pool and presented our passes. I changed into my trunks and came out to help finish putting sunscreen on everyone. The last dab of sunscreen was rubbed in and everyone started towards the water when the lifeguards all blew their whistles and informed everyone that they needed to get out of the water and the pool was closed.
As we watched the pool staff brought a “bio-hazard” bucket and a net. It appeared that there had been an accident of the diarrhea sort in the shallow end of the main pool. As one lifeguard worked the net another took a scoop and tossed some extra chemicals on top of the water. My wife and I exchanged glances. The net and extra chemicals didn’t look too convincing and swimming seemed a lot less attractive.
My wife negotiated the return of our passes. I negotiated telling our still dry children that we would be leaving and not swimming in the pool today.
Inside I was seething. Not only had I left work early and wasn’t getting anything done, it had all been for nothing! Then I saw the silver lining: We were heading home again. I could probably salvage an hour or two of work when we got back!
We were all in our swimming suits. Everyone was disappointed. The two year old was asking exactly why we weren’t swimming if she was all dressed for the occasion?
A Second Chance
My wife suggested that we try another pool where our passes would work. There was one on the way home. It didn’t have diving boards, slides, and climbing walls, but it would probably have clean water. I sighed inwardly and rerouted the van. On the way to the new pool I thought again of the work I wasn’t getting done.
We arrived at the second pool an hour before closing time. I volunteered to take the littlest kid to the kiddy pool. She waded. I sat on the edge with my ankles in the water and thought about work and quietly stressed out.
Return to Reality
A wet little hand on my knee snapped my mind back to the pool. My daughter’s little face looked up at me and asked, for what I realized was the second or third time, if I would take her over to swim in the big pool.
Realization struck. I wasn’t getting any work done and it wasn't possible to get any work done, but I wasn't getting anything else done other. I also wasn’t doing anything with my family. I wasn’t present with them. I wasn’t paying attention to them. I wasn’t even interacting with them. Not only was a I not working, I was wasting critical family time worrying about not working!
A Time for Everything
There’s a time for work, and during that time full concentration and effort yields the best results. There will be a times when work will demand some extra effort and extra hours. Those that want to make a difference and be good at what they do will invest that extra effort.
There will also be an endless amount of work and it will never be finished. Work will always take every second it can grab. There is a time to finish. To walk away. To disconnect. Then it will be time to fully, one hundred percent be somewhere else.
Work is important, but I know, deep down in my gut, that years from now I will remember the day of two pools. I will remember my daughter's little face looking up at me and wet hand on my knee. I may remember that I was stressed out about work. I won’t remember what work I was stressed out about. I can barely remember now. That's the lesson that I learned. Again.
To Be Continued...?
I'm not sure this story really has a happy ending. I would like to conclude this post with an upbeat inspirational little message about realizing what is important and being deliberate about doing it. I can write that message, but for some reason I routinely fail to live it. Maybe this time I will remember. Maybe this time I will do a better at fully leaving one thing and fully entering another. Maybe I will do better about keeping the right perspective. Maybe I will be wiser about being able to discern and choose what I should stay and complete and what can wait until tomorrow.
Or maybe I will forget again and have to be reminded next week.