The Zone Defense and The Deadly Peril

By Jason

To painters, the oceans of the world are a blue-green tumult surrounding white-sailed ships, straining toward a distant shore. To poets, rivers flow with the swiftness of time and limpid pools are to be employed metaphorically. To Athena, oceans, rivers, pools, and all bodies of water are irresistible magnets. Deadly, deadly magnets – or they were, until now.

Swim lessons have been going extremely well. We’re really proud of her. It hasn’t been easy for Ann and I to leave work early 4 days a week (Ann more than me) to make it to class but it’s really paying off. And the biggest payoff is that we are lessening The Deadly Peril.

What is The Deadly Peril, and can I explain it in the most long-winded rambling way possible? Of course.

Athena loves being outside. If we’re ever visiting you or planning to meet up, going to a park is a great idea – she’ll have a blast, and her joy is so infectious we’ll all have fun too. While Athena will most likely be a delight while running up a hiking trail or climbing a jungle gym, you will have to excuse some, well, suspicious behavior from her parents. Sideways glaces. Trailing in and out of conversation. Asking questions like, “how far are we from the street,” or “how long is this pier,” or “is there a creek over there past the treeline?”

I wouldn’t blame you for thinking we were up to something sinister. Casing the joint for later robberies, perhaps, or looking for a convenient place to bury victims. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Ann and I have developed a system, I like to call it the “Zone Defense”. I like to call it that because I vaguely remember that being something from basketball so it sounds manlier than calling it “How we keep Athena from jumping in a river.”

Athena has a perplexing mixture of intense focus and unpredictable distractibility. This, along with prodigious running speed, makes for fun times at the park. When we visited Cleveland in June, my Aunt Linda took us to a playground that is partially surrounded by Tinkers Creek. This was a great idea – Athena got to see ducks, she got to swing on swings, she got to climb up the jungle gym and jump up and down on the wobbly bridge part with such fervor that Aunt Linda gripped the guardrails for dear life.

As this was happening Ann and I were also scoping out the distance to the creek from each possible exit point of the jungle gym. We positioned ourselves at a wide angle, so at least one of us was between Athena and the creek at all times. If Athena needs one of us to spot her to climb to some dizzying height, the other will drift back out, to better cover the field.

I was explaining this system to my Mom and Aunt (in fact, I may have been at this very point in the dissertation), when suddenly Athena noticed the creek again through a small gap in the trees and took off like a shot. I sprinted after her, snatching her up just before she hit the edge of the embankment.

Another example is timely because Ann’s company picnic is coming up. Last year, between Ann and myself, we saved Athena from five or six soakings after she decided that she needed to be in the pool immediately, never mind dinner. We were only able to do this because of the Zone Defense. No matter how engrossed Athena was in petting a doggie or breaking in to the tennis courts, we knew to keep one adult body between her and the pool. A year later, she is twice as fast and much more ambitious, so we will be rotating between her position and the diving boards.

Rivers, busy streets, oceans, thickets of poison ivy, really anything like that can very quickly go from being picturesque backdrop to The Deadly Peril of the day.

So now, we rejoice, because one class of Deadly Perils is slowly but surely becoming a little less perilous. Don’t get me wrong, Athena’s dog paddling record is about 8 feet to the edge of the pool. So we will still employ the Zone Defense and we will still ask you strange questions about local infrastructure. But when we go to Ann’s company picnic this year, we’ll know we have a few extra precious seconds when Athena decides it’s time to jump in the deep end.

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