Swimming at Portage Park

After The Girl woke up from her nap, we packed up our swimsuits and “scumscreen” (as The Boy calls sunscreen), grabbed Daddy, and headed to the children’s pool playground at Portage Park. I have been a handful of times with both kids, always with my husband because The Girl is at an age where she wants to stay close to a parent and The Boy can’t be left solely to the supervision of the lifeguards.

I have kind of a love/hate affair with the pool at Portage Park. The pool set-up itself is quite cool: a zero-depth entry leading into a depth of about 2′ at the deepest end. In the middle of the pool is an amazing aqua jungle gym, complete with a crawling tube, “tire” swing and a tube slide. There are all kinds of fountains and waterfalls on and shooting off of the unit. The Boy loves it, and was brave enough to try the tube slide today. The zero-depth entry is perfect for The Girl, who is a bit timid in the water after one too many baths with her rambunctious brother.

But I don’t like the way the lifeguard and pool staff act in general. The playground pool is only open at certain times of the day, for about 2 hours each time with 1-2 hour breaks in between open times. It’s unclear to me why the park district chooses to run the pool this way. Is it a staffing issue? A pee-in-the-pool issue? In addition to the odd hours, the staff cap the number of people allowed in the area at any one time (which does make sense to me), but when a line forms outside, they kick everyone out after about 20 minutes or so. Anyone with little kids knows how difficult it is for them to wait, let alone wait patiently. So if it’s very hot and/or crowded during the time you’re there, chances are that you’ll only be in the pool for about 40 minutes in a 2-hour time slot. Finally, no one on the park district staff communicates to the crowd about their actions or procedures. So you’ve no idea what is going on or why. I now understand why people join private pools in the summer.

We got there just after they opened for the 4:30 – 6:30 p.m. slot and, fortunately, it was not crowded, so we walked in. About 8 minutes later, just when The Boy was really getting into it, all the lifeguards blew their whistles and said, “Everyone out of the pool.” So we got in line to get back in while all the lifeguards went down to the main pool and played water polo in the deep end for about 15 minutes. The Boy kept asking us why they had closed the pool and we had no answer for him. Neither did anyone else. Finally, after we had all completely dried in the sun, a different set of lifeguards and a PD staff member came back and let us all in. We all frolicked in the water for another 40 minutes or so. The Girl really liked the tire swing until she let go of one of the chains and partially fell into the water (I caught her partway in).

We decided to go when we were all thoroughly wet and starting to get a bit cold, shockingly enough. It was just in the nick of time because the first drops of rain fell as we were walking back to the car. We stopped at the little hot dog stand outside the changing rooms for a packet of crisps and some Gatorade to restore our salt levels.

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