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Confessions of a Pool Pooper

I love summer. Watermelon, coconut sunscreen, bare feet on grass and even pool poop — which, as it turns out, helped me learn how to raise a kid with disabilities.

Living in the South, summer months become an utter inferno during which the only thing standing between mothers and madness are the estimated 1.1 million private and neighborhood swimming pools.

It was Memorial Day, and I wanted to swim with my 4-year-old, Cristina. Back then neither one of us was very cheerful or agreeable. She’d been diagnosed with mild cerebral palsy and intellectual disabilities. So while I spent my time obsessing about her future, she spent hers struggling with monkey bars and swing sets that other kids found easy.

But in that chlorinated heaven, we both found relief. She could dive to the bottom of the world in leaky goggles, and I could see the parts of her that were just like everybody else.

Unfortunately, I was also about to see the parts of her that could detonate a public health bomb.

It began when she swam away to a corner of the pool, refusing to come to me. My maternal radar was sounding as she gave me an ugly look and turned her head. When I reached her, the odor of sewage was overwhelming. Brown particles surrounded her like an inner tube. The girl, who dominated her bowels and had refused to poop for up to four days, had let it all go in the water. I grabbed her (at arm’s length, of course) and ran.

I ducked inside the clubhouse bathroom, where I stood her in the lavatory sink, cursing the lack of a retractable squirt nozzle or, at least, a hazmat suit.

I knew it was bad, but the pool manager’s disgusted stare drove it home.

 “A hard poop is one thing,” she said, blowing a stream of cigarette smoke in my direction when I knocked on her door to explain. “Thirty minutes and we’d be done.” She lived two doors down from me and was the mother of a little blonde girl, now holding her nose and staring. “But diarrhea? It’s a cat-aaaas-trophe.”

Mere E. Coli was nothing. Crypto, she warned, could lead to fever and vomiting that would last a month. It would take 13 hours of skin-stripping chlorination at six times the normal level to make the water safe again.

I connected the dots in horror: Memorial Day was over for our neighborhood — and the thermometer was already inching past 95 degrees. Clearly, mob unrest was possible. We would have to move to another state — and fast.

I hurried home as the pool manager wrapped yellow caution tape around the deck like a crime scene. As the day wore on, I drew the shades and turned up the radio, trying to drown out the teary meltdowns of water-winged toddlers that filled the street.

The next day, Cristina appeared in our family room in her spare bikini. I offered to turn on the garden sprinkler.

 “Pool.” She pulled the goggles over her pretty eyes and stood at the door.

That’s when I grew up as her mom.

What was I hiding from? The fact is, poop happens in life — sometimes in places and ways we’re sure we can’t bear. We survive anyway.

Sure, there would be more unexpected “pool deposits” over the years, some of which I won’t even confess to. But thankfully I didn’t know that as we walked along with our alligator float. All I knew then was that moms like me have to find their way back inside the deep water. That’s how we learn not to be afraid, how to kick off the bottom and rise up again.