I’m not a big fan of communal bathing but I understand its social significance in the affaris of those who have patterned their lives in the mode of Greek philosophers and Roman senators who conducted a great portion of their business and politics in spas. And let’s not forget those who conduct alternative forms of business in hot tubs, Hugh Heffner being the most prolific and most public about his business ventures and associates.
Those of you who know me well enough know that I am a germ freak and the phobia gets worse as the years wear on. Certainly in my childhood and youth I was a little more liberal with my obsession but anyone who has ever cleaned a swimming pool or spa will tell you that there are valid reasons for my anxiety. That aside, Super Mom dutifully packs my swimsuit on every family outing and vacation in the hopes that she will at some point and in some way coax me into at least dipping my toes into the sauna. Sometimes I cave in; most times I adhere to my persevering, self-imposed ban on public swimming pools and hot tubs. It’s just not my “thing”.
But on the rare occasion that I relent and Super Mom convinces me that there are no monsters hiding in the hot tub, I find myself enjoying a little dip in the afternoon sun and on this occasion I was cooling my jets after a long hot day in the Cabo San Lucas sun. A little rest and relaxation was exactly what the doctor ordered but what I got instead was a little lesson on being friendly, sociable and approachable.
For starters, we realized on our trip to Mexico that we are doing a horrible job at teaching our boys to be outgoing. They are very good at being friendly mind you, but when it comes to initiating conversation they are horribly inept. This coming from parents who strike up random conversations with random people in airports, subways, restaurants and pretty much anywhere that we can find people who will respond to our arbitrary and unsolicited queries. Super Mom sometimes shoots strange glances my way whenever I feel the urge to just talk to people. I do the same. But we always walk away from a chance encounter knowing that we have taken a moment to learn something new about someone that we may never have had the chance to learn from if we had just stayed quiet.
WARNING: People will think you are crazy if you just strike up a conversation with a stranger – but then again, being a little crazy shows that you are committed to the human experience.
So there I was, having been gently cajoled into taking baby steps towards the hot tub and ever so slightly dipping my toes in when suddenly Super Mom were goaded into a casual exchange with a young man in the hot tub.
“Where ya from?” the young man asked, slushy in hand, big brown eyes waiting for a response from the two pale creatures from the north.
“Uh, from Utah,” replied the fair headed one who appeared to be the faster thinker of the two. The large brown guy was still in shock that he had been beaten to the ‘crazy conversation starter’ punch by the young man.
“Oh…” was the young man’s reply which is the most common response given by people who receive the answer, ‘From Utah’ with skepticism and veiled apathy.
“And where are you from?” the dull brown guy asked with a little too much aggravation.
“I’m from Northern California but my dad is from Fiji.”
At the mention of the word ‘Fiji’ I was immediately intrigued and the conversation began in earnest. In the span of 15 minutes we knew more about this brave young man than I would have ever known if he had said he was from Mars on a foreign exchange program to Mexico. In the next hour and half we were joined by his parents, a soft-spoken couple with an easy manner that makes one feel as if they have known someone for a lifetime when in actuality the lifetime of our conversation had been only a few moments.
We have always taught our sons to be wary of strangers because we don’t often know what a person’s motives may be. But when in a safe setting and within earshot of your parents, we have encouraged them to make friends, be a part of the conversation and share a bit of yourself with those whom we might otherwise never have an association with. This is part of the human experience we have tried to instill in our sons: that your education in the world sometimes requires stepping outside of your comfort zone, especially when trying to understand people and cultures outside of our own.
With our children, this learning experience must of course be done within reason. I do not advocate that your young children start conversations with random adult strangers. But when they have a chance to speak with someone their age to learn a little bit about where they are from, how they live and things they are interested in, take the leap and initiate a conversation that will definitely become a life changing experience.
I’m slowly overcoming my fear of hot tubs, but I will never overcome my love of people and what makes them tick. I hope that I never stifle that part of me because it is what gently opens the window into the life and experiences of others.