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How I Poured All of My Pandemic Feelings Into a Backyard Kiddie Pool

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Alesandra DubinJuly 19, 2020

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On the rainy Friday of March 13, Los Angeles closed its public schools amid the pandemic and my twins came home. As it turns out, they would not return to campus for any part of their kindergarten year (and first grade isn’t looking good either), but we didn’t know at the time just how unrelenting our time in home quarantine would be. As of this writing: 116 days.

I must have had a premonition because I purchased an above-ground pool on Amazon on March 28. For $110, we became the proud owners of a 12-foot diameter, 30-inch deep PVC pipe-frame pool, complete with blue tiles printed on vinyl, which came in a single box days later.

As shelter-at-home orders stretched on, and the weather heated up, online opportunists jacked up the prices of similar pools tenfold (before they sold out altogether). So I was very much feeling myself for my prescience and mom competence. Nailed it, right?

You see, my husband and I live with our fast-growing twins in a two-bedroom house that felt like it was shrinking by the day even before we were confined to it 24/7. The pool, which takes up most of the footprint of our irregularly shaped backyard, became the breakout hit of the pandemic.

It was a major distraction from the news of the day, and a great source of happiness and satisfaction: I watched my children splash around with a purity of spirit only the pool seemed to provide in the crisis—with the rest of life cancelled. I watched the rippling water reflecting on the ceiling of my garage office, and listened to the flow of the filter, and it soothed me.

But I’d soon learn that, unlike the low-maintenance inflatables we’ve always had, a 2,000-gallon pool requires maintenance. And it requires plenty of accoutrements, which we didn’t own (and which did not ship quickly amid a global shutdown).

The pool swiftly took over a big slice of the pie chart in my brain: Pool accessories! Chlorine! (Cue me, accidentally bleaching out some of the blue tiles before my floater arrived to contain and dilute the chemicals!) I upgraded from a folding step ladder to an actual pool ladder! I bought a net to skim the surface, but didn’t realize it didn’t come with a pole, so I duct taped it to the other end of a mop! (Classy.)

Sure, the pool, its makeshift accessories, and its early blemishes resulting from my naivety made for a somewhat low-rent-looking eyesore. But it was all nevertheless a source of immense joy and pride…until it wasn’t.

Seemingly overnight, it filled with algae, which stunk like hell. I tried to drain it, but the drain hole was several inches above the bottom of the pool (why?!). So I found myself inside, in filthy stagnant water, using a bucket to bail out the rest. The symbolism was too perfect amid the raging virus and its unrelenting fallout: I was deep in funk, bailing it out as an exercise in futility.

The symbolism was too perfect amid the raging virus and its unrelenting fallout: I was deep in funk, bailing it out as an exercise in futility.

And then we got the water bill: $400 higher than it had ever been.

But, now I had a bottle of algicide (a chemical to treat algae)—and I was determined to refill the pool just one more time and keep it pristine for the remainder of the season, having learned all these early lessons through experience. So on went the hose again into the painstakingly scrubbed pool for a fresh start. But as the water level rose… it started falling again. Thanks to flower thorns, our pool had sprung leaks. And the leaks soon rendered our drainage-challenged yard a swampland, into which mud rose high enough to breach flip-flops and squish through toes.

I was fully demoralized. But what choice did I have? This pool had been our family’s only facsimile of a spring vacation, and was our only plan for summer vacation too, with the virus spiking again and officially dashing our long-planned tropical holiday. So I mended the leaks with duct tape. And (exhale) it actually worked.

So, at long last…we’re back in business.

In the three months since I’ve owned this kiddie pool, it’s proved a surprisingly ample receptacle for the full range of my pandemic emotions: the agony, the ecstasy, the best of times, the worst of times. It’s soothed me, schooled me, confounded me, pushed my limits, and tested my patience. Yes, a kiddie pool really is all that to my family: It became our everything when our world suddenly became very small.

In the end, I’m determined this damn pool will make it through this pandemic, just like us: forever altered, indeed scarred, but miraculously still standing.

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