Surviving a Code-Brown Situation In a Public Pool

I can see the wide-eyed panic in the eyes of my two-and-a-half-year-old boy. The panic is contagious – I immediately become red-faced as a widening circle of floating brown particles surround us in the public pool we were happily playing in.

Now, the fun is definitely over – this is a code-red situation every parent dreads when out in public with their little ones. And this code red is actually a code brown.

Self-consciousness goes out the window when you’re a parent of young child. Out walking in your trackies and pyjama top? No worries. Snot or spew showing on your jumper in a Zoom meeting? No biggie. No shower for the second day in a row? Tomorrow is a new day.

But sometimes a situation unfolds that leaves you so mortified your life changes at that very moment.

For me, that happened at my local public pool with my son shortly before it was forced to close its doors due to Victoria’s COVID shutdown last year.

My son loves swimming (or splashing about, more to the point) and our trip to the local public pool began just like any other. He had recently taken to toilet training like a duck to water but I still persuaded him to wear a swimming nappy underneath his bathers, which were supposed to be a safety net in case any accidents reared their ugly head.

A few minutes in, I and the other parents and children in the family section of the pool – realised how imperfect those swimming nappies were.

Anyone who has watched, in cringeworthy horror, the infamous Caddyshack ‘Chocolate bar in the pool’ scene can perhaps feel some sort of empathy. But unlike that fictional incident from the 1980 American comedy classic, it wasn’t a single, chunky log that was floating in the water, more a widening circle of murky brown flecks expanding around us.

It felt like it unfolded in slow motion. My son’s widening eyes as he realised something other than water was sloshing around under his bathers … my skyrocketing heart rate as what was unfolding dawned on me … our collective panic as the brown ring encircling us continued to expand … locking eyes with an open-mouthed, disgusted mother a few metres away as I scrambled to the pool’s edge. All I could say to her was a shame-filled matter-of-fact “I’ve got a situation here please get out and tell everyone else to get out too. And please let the lifeguards know.”

A few minutes in, I realised how imperfect those swimming nappies were.

With that, I left the messy carnage behind me, scooping up my son in one arm, a brown and yellow trail still trickling down his legs, and dashed as quickly as I could – while still trying to reassure him he hadn’t done anything wrong so he didn’t feel any sense of shame – to the pool’s only joint family/disabled bathroom stall. I didn’t have the time or inclination to look back at the destruction we’d caused.

But that wasn’t when the horror ended.

Inside the dual-purpose stall, I tried my best to calmly but efficiently strip my boy down without smearing last night’s dinner anywhere further than it already had. Stretchy shower hose in hand, I valiantly tried to clean things up but in my toddler’s eyes, it was a fun new game! I’d aim the hose at him and he’d shoot to the left. Then to the right. Then in between my legs – all with a slippery floor underfoot and mucky bathers and brown splotches in and around the central drain. My temper was being tested like never before when suddenly there was an impatient knock on the door. What now?!

I stopped in my tracks, almost disbelieving the sound I’d just heard. With my stress levels through the roof, I waited in horror. Then, with an exhausted yet excitable – and still very wet, and if I’m honest, possibly not completely clean – toddler buzzing around my ankles, I heard it again. This time the knock was followed by an impassioned request for me to hurry up, as the person on the other side of the door needed access as quickly as possible.

“In a few minutes!” I blurted out, knowing full well I was going to be much longer than that. After a scramble to get dry and packed up – and bit of back-and-forth between myself and the faceless person on the other side of the door – we were finally ready to leave.

As I unlocked the door, all I could offer the person waiting was a “sorry – I had a bit going on in there.”  I kept my eyes glued to the ground as I rushed towards the exit door, not wanting to witness the aftermath of our incident.

Then the nightmare was over. I was a shell of a man. My boy, like kids tend to do, seemed completely unaffected, skipping down the pathway to the carpark and singing to himself as my mind started to compute what had unfolded in the previous half hour or so.

“Can we go swimming again one day?” he asked ever-so-innocently as I loaded him into the car.

“One day,” I replied.

As much as I want to encourage his excitement at taking to the water once again, I’m shitting bricks, as they say, about the next time.

Hopefully he won’t be once we’re back in the water.

Niall Seewang is a Victorian-based freelance journalist and dad.


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