Lasker Pool

Lasker Pool
Central Park, summer 2011

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Summer in the City

I meant to write this a few days ago, but, well, just couldn't find the time to do it during the day and got tired of trying to wrestle the computer away from my kids and their RPGs (that's role-playing games for the blissfully uninitiated)at night.

Like a lot of New Yorkers, we try to spend as much time as we can away from Manhattan during the summer. Between the stench (sun-warmed garbage with an overlay of, um, urine), the absolute awfulness of standing sweat-soaked on miserably hot subway platforms waiting for trains and the forced rubbing of elbows with hordes of perspiring visitors, New York City is no place to be in July and August.

Except sometimes. Last weekend, just after the week's grueling heat wave broke, was one of those times. My oldest was invited to a birthday party in Central Park, and since my husband was working anyway, I decided to drag all three boys. Unlike our usual Central Park haunts—like Strawberry Fields, a mere two-block walk from our apartment—the party was a subway ride away.

The celebration kicked off at Lasker Pool, a 60s-era Olympic-size jewel hard by the Harlem Meer (which is, apparently, the Dutch word for lake).
After showing our locks (one of those bizarre city rules: no lock, no entrance), we crammed our clothing, bags, and other detritus into tiny lockers, showered off in a grimy stall (which made me gag just a little) and headed for the pool.

Which was clear, clean and absolutely enormous—Lasker can hold more than 1,800 people. But at 11 am, right after its official opening time, the pool looked almost empty, and, surrounded by huge, leafy trees, impossibly inviting.

Yipping with joy, the dozen or so boys at our little bash leaped in and we all spent the next two hours staying wet and getting wild in the water.

Right there in the middle of Manhattan.

Surrounded by the lush growth of the Park. And people kayaking in the Meer. And families picnicking on the grass around the Meer. And did I mention the kids fishing, with the free fishing poles they borrowed from the Central Park Conservancy?

After the swim, we picked a spot on the banks of the Meer, under a couple of huge old oaks, spread out towels and blankets and the boys just kind of...relaxed. Some tossed Frisbees back and forth, despite the heat. Others played cards.

One boy even pulled out the book Animal Farm, lay down on a blanket and read. When one of the fishing kids landed a fish, our boys ran to the shoreline and surrounded him, eager to see his prize. They came back to our picnic spot with their hands full of snail shells from the Meer. (Possibly a little yucky, but cool)

By late afternoon, the area was crammed with other groups of picnickers, elderly men sitting and chatting on benches, couples whispering in each other's ears. A radio playing one of the ubiquitous songs of summer 2011—I'm sure I couldn't tell you the name, but the boys knew all the words. When the birthday boys parents handed out the goodie bags, the kids spent a happy half hour sitting in a circle, trading pieces of candy and Legos minifigures. Then we all had a slice of homemade birthday cake.

It was idyllic, really.

During the ten-minute ride home on the subway—two stops on the express train—my kids leaned against me, tired, but full of the happiness of the day.

I felt proud on so many levels. Of my community, of the rich and wide variety of kids and families we get to meet and befriend here, of the way the boys had just seamlessly, easily gone with the rhythm of the day. Of the joy we'd all reaped from an afternoon in Central Park.

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