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PART II:  Ladies Who Lounge

Maggie digging on the shore of the Aegean.

The girls and I took an immediate liking to the Kefaluka resort.  Maybe it was the breakfast buffet with overflowing bread baskets, fruit towers, pancake bar…I really could go on all day.  That first morning we frolicked in the restaurant for so long we almost forgot about the five pools and the Aegean Sea that lay waiting just below the balcony.  I lazily sipped Turkish coffee, making every effort to appear nonchalant and act as though I was accustomed to the incredibly strong brew, while the girls feasted.  If whining children threatened to interrupt my caffeine revelry, I merely tossed them a nutella covered pancake in a move akin to throwing a slab of meat to quell a pack of wild dogs.  Breakfast on that first morning, after a horrific day of travel, was nothing short of bliss.

Emma, getting used to the kiddie pool at Kefaluka.

We could not resist the call of the water for long, though.  After rolling ourselves out of breakfast, we headed to the kiddie pool conveniently located beside an enticing play structure, two seesaws (because who doesn’t love to seesaw in a soaking wet bathing suit), and swings.  On that first morning the girls were timid in the water.  Although the pool was intended for small children, it was still pretty deep on Maggie, and she could not be trusted to wade in the water on her own.  The first time she slipped she didn’t seem to mind the unintentional dunking, but the second and third times were not pretty.  Emma, eager to wear her brand new water wings, splashed and played happily, but I don’t think she got a drop of water on her upper torso.  Those water wings, though worn faithfully every day, did not get a proper dunking until four days into our trip when Emma finally braved the depths of the kiddie pool and began “swimming”  (i.e., crawling around on her stomach in shallow water and tentatively kicking one foot and paddling with one arm, Michael Phelps, she is not.)

After a few hours in the pool the girls were ready for a little break, but it was not quite time to meet Jim for lunch, so we explored the hotel for a bit.  We happened upon the Kid’s Club, a wonderful indoor play place with craft tables, a pirate ship climbing structure, and shelf upon shelf of toys.  The girls played happily in there for an hour, and I was tempted to forge new birth certificates that would prove they were four years old so that I could leave and do some solo poolside lounging.  (Emma, ever so mature, could easily pass for four.  Maggie on the other hand, well, her stinky diaper would be a dead giveaway.)  Alas, I was stuck with the girls, but the Kid’s Club offered some comfy pillows on which I could perch and with minimal physical exertion I could govern my flock.

The Kid’s Club was run by an adorable girl named Amandine, who Emma and Maggie took an immediate and affectionate liking to.  Amandine spoke five languages, I am not kidding, five.  She grew up in French-speaking Belgium, so she spoke French and Flemish.  She learned English in school; married a Turkish man, hence the fluency in Turkish; and had picked up a little German since working at Kefaluka.  When she first met the girls she spoke to them in perfect French, confused by their French activity books that are impossible for me to understand, but somehow keep the girls busy.  Her French pleasantries were met by our tried and true befuddled stares, and so she adeptly switched to English.  She was nothing short of amazing, and I felt like a dunce as I watched her dazzle a room full of children, alternating effortlessly between Turkish, English, and Flemish.  (She is also the bestower of our first European cheek kisses.  When we bid her adieu at the end of the week she gave us delicate kisses on each cheek.  Jim was the last to be smooched and I could see his face getting redder and feel his anxiety heightening as she turned her smackers upon him.)

Amandine was just one member of the famed Kefaluka “Animation Team,” a group of 20-something party people whose job it was to entertain (i.e., torment) guests with games, strange, ritualistic poolside dances, and evening variety shows.  The girls and I spent a great deal of time trying to avoid members of the Animation Team.  We all had our reasons.  Maggie and Emma quickly grew weary of the cheek pinching and tickles doled out by the overzealous crew, and I was terrified that they would force me to play one of their embarrassing pool games.  On our first day I witnessed a group of Animation Team members haze an innocent sunbather.  They forced the poor man to abandon his book, and play a game in which he stood on a lounge chair and attempted to drop a coin into a Dixie cup while six crew members jeered, poked, and harassed him.  When he failed to successfully drop the coin in the cup they pushed him in the pool.  No joke.  I waited for him to yell at the team, but he emerged from the pool with a huge smile on his face and jovially accepted the complimentary frozen beverages that they were offering as consolation prizes (not a very enticing prize considering that Kefaluka is an all inclusive resort).

I have a phobia of situations that demand audience participation.  It took root during an assembly featuring puppeteers in grade school and has been fed by a wide variety of street musicians, magicians, and jokesters.  I had a very, very bad experience involving a high school improv group and have tried to steer clear of audience participation assailants ever since.  And now, here was another group of seemingly innocent, amiable youths stalking me on my Turkish vacation, hindering my poolside relaxation with the threat of public humiliation, unwanted drenching, and watered down frozen beverages.  Luckily, my children provided me with the perfect excuse to opt out of their sadistic games.  Sorry, you can’t push me in the pool, I have a small child attached to my hip.  No thank you, I don’t want to play a raucous game of water polo with you and some other guests, I need to take my three-year-old to the bathroom.  Maggie and Emma spent a great deal of time being pulled and prodded in different directions in an attempt to shield their poor mother from the dreaded “Animation Team.”

The girls and I quickly fell into a grueling, harsh routine at Kefaluka that included waking up at the crack of 8:30, hitting the breakfast buffet, and then making the bothersome decision of whether to go to the pool or the beach.  The beach, though not as good for swimming, offered lots of sand to dig in and rocks to throw.  It was a very difficult decision.  Most days we went to the beach for a little bit, hit the snack bar for a morning treat, and then visited Amandine in the Kid’s Club.  We would meet Jim for lunch, trying not to gloat too much about all the fun we had while he was stuck in meetings, and then the girls would nap.  Nap was by far the best part of my day, because Jim, who was not really on vacation, held down the fort on our balcony and did more work, while I got a few hours to truly lounge by myself.  The Kefaluka provided ample cozy spots for quiet repose with a book, and I took advantage of each and every one.  After naps, we would head to the pool for a few more hours of sunshine and an ice cream cone.  It was a glorious schedule.

Emma demonstrates her "swimming" abilities. Next stop...Rio 2016.

Jim and Maggie trying to understand the physics of an authentic Turkish water slide.

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Today we ventured over to the pool in the Swiss town of Meyrin.  After an almost two-week hiatus, summer has returned to the Geneva area.  The temperature was finally warm enough for a pool trip, so we grabbed our towels, loaded up the pool bag with necessary supplies (sunscreen, pink Disney princess cups, without which a pool trip would be disastrous, hats, safari sunglasses courtesy of James’ fourth birthday party, and lunch.  A moment of silence, please, for the cute, brown, J.Crew cover-up, still missing in action.)  The Meyrin pool is gigantic, with lovely green space for picnicking, play structures, and three different sized toddler pools.  Emma, normally the slowest walker on the planet, sprinted ahead of me into the pool area in a water-induced frenzy and promptly tripped and skinned her knee.  We made quite an entrance; frumpy mom, laden with three different overstuffed bags, wailing child clutching a slightly skinned knee, and a straggling toddler, wandering off to pillage the nearest open picnic basket.  As quick as a fish, I whipped off Emma’s pink terry-cloth beach dress, and shoved her into the ankle-deep water, muttering something about the healing powers of chlorine and telling her to soak her skinned knee.  It was all I could do to restrain Maggie and wrestle her into a swim diaper while she watched her sister frolic in the wading pool.  As evidenced by her screams, I am quite sure that until the moment I let her go, Maggie was convinced I was going to stick her in a trash bin and force her to watch our water merriment from behind grimy steel bars.  Of course, once her bottom was carefully swaddled in plastic I set her free and she barreled into the water to join Emma.

We are pool novices.  Last summer we spent the majority of the hot, sticky days at a magical place called a “spray-ground.”  The wonderful thing about a spray-ground is that it consists solely of sprinklers and there are no pools of water for clumsy children to fall head first into and flounder around in until their mothers yank them to safety.  Emma,  though she is three and tall enough to comfortably stand in the wading pools, managed to lose her footing and disappear under the water on three different occasions today.  Luckily, I was always within arm’s reach of my graceful daughter, and easily rescued her from the murky depths of the two foot pool.  I couldn’t help but marvel at her incredible non-swimming abilities, and in a fit of curiosity I googled “animals that cannot swim” in hopes of finding a nick-name for my un-amphibious child.  On straightdope.com I found an informative tidbit that shed light on her inability to stay afloat.  Tom Silva, the mammal curator from the Rio Grande Zoo in New Mexico claims that “most large primates such as gorillas and orangutans cannot swim, partly because their centers of gravity are in their necks and sternums. ‘They sink like stones,’ says Tom.”  Interesting.  Ever since she was an infant Emma has had impressive head measurements, topping the charts in the 98th percentile even though her height and weight hovered somewhere in the 30s and 40s.  My poor child cannot help her swimming deficiency, it is all in her head.

Big head aside, Emma was a trooper at the pool.  After her third dunking she declared a moratorium on “the deep water” (i.e. the only wading pool where the water came above her knees), but found plenty of ways to entertain herself in the shallower spots.  I really enjoy watching Emma and Maggie interact with French-speaking children.  It is remarkable how they manage to work out games (I pour water from the watering can, while you hold the bucket), take turns, and share, all without common language.  The children are usually yammering on in their native tongue, not caring or noticing that their playmates are not responding with understandable words.  There are no corrections, no attempts to teach appropriate pronunciation, or scolding for improper sentence structure.  They are able to relate to each other solely through shared play.  Remarkably, I found that less fighting broke out between playmates using differing languages.  There is the usual stealing of toys, but the squabbling that often accompanies the grabbing is absent.  It is almost as if they recognize that fighting is fruitless, so they solve their problems in other ways, like by trading for coveted toys, or moving on to another activity.  At least this is what I observed at the pool yesterday, but pools generally put children in very good moods so that may be the reason for the utopian-like interactions.

Another thing I noticed at the Meyrin pool was that I was one of the few women wearing a one-piece suit.  The French/Swiss sure are fond of teeny bikinis.  Again, how this is possible with their carb heavy, cheese rich diet is beyond me.  We also saw a few women who opted to forgo their tops altogether (prompting Emma to ask “Is that lady going to feed her baby?  Where is her baby, Mommy?”) which people had warned me we would see, but was shocking nonetheless as this was a public pool, not a sandy beach on the French Riviera.  In many ways the Meyrin pool felt like any other community pool in the United States with giggling, shrieking children splashing in the water, life guards patrolling the deck, issuing stern warnings to walk, not run, long lines for the twisty slide, serious swimmers dodging the crowds on their way to the lap pool.  But then out of the corner of my eye I would catch a glimpse of a topless, espresso drinking lady, puffing on a cigarette between sips and chatting with a Speedo clad man and I would remember that I am, indeed, not in the Midwest anymore.

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