According to 23andMe, one of my nieces and I share 23.11% of our DNA along 45 segments; given the variety of ways that families form and ours has, I know that my granddaughter and I are about 0% biologically related. Still, I think the mermaid gene that has beautifully expressed itself in those two is recessive in me: there’s no place I’d rather be floating in the heat of a Texan summer than a saltwater pool tucked into a hill. For years, I took my niece for near-daily dips in our neighborhood pool as often as summer and schedules allowed. Back then, she had an iridescent blue and turquoise tail and turned legions of mermaid agnostics—young girls and their parents—into true believers; now, she’s a rising senior in high school, and her boyfriend worships her even without the fin. There are fewer children in the neighborhood than there used to be—with (at all) affordable housing much farther from Austin’s city center, and the families who have stayed in place have aged along with me and my niece—so my ten-year-old granddaughter has more of the pool to herself and her cousin, but fewer adoring supplicants. Without the chatter and shrieks of clusters of children and their guardians, I can hear better the lap and stir of the water as my granddaughter breaches the surface and plunges again; see her freedom to roam widely without intersection or collision; feel the sun shining on my own skin without the random soaking splashes from chasers and divers.
The first summer of the pandemic, the pool was closed, and my granddaughter and I were in separate quarantine pods anyway, given the different caregiving and sharing responsibilities her parents and I had. The second summer of the pandemic, I avoided the pool if large groups outside my family were gathered there, and it was this Father’s Day weekend last year, on June 18, that I wrote about R.’s and my first pool visit since pandemic shut downs. This season, I’m struck by what feels like an increasingly fragile beauty and blessing of it all, and I want to create the moments of meeting with my children (both born-to-me and in-law, but no need to get technical) and granddaughter, concentrate on every detail of those moments, and hold those specifics not just in memory but in materiality, my body absorbing the gift of this time together in this place, right here, right now, with each other, free and able to swim in clean warm water under a wide blue sky.