What’s a Mother to Do?
by Ann Edwards Cannon

Chapter 18
Fashion Folly II: The Pool Party 

[p.54]If your children were invited to a “pool party,” how would you dress them?

A. In a swimming suit
B. In a swimming suit
C. In a swimming suit
D. In a swimming suit

Admittedly, my experience with pool parties has been somewhat limited. I didn’t exactly grow up in the kind of neighborhood where people regularly threw parties of the pool variety. In fact, the closest I ever got to going to one was when I’d meet a few friends for the Free Swim at ye olde municipal pool where we mostly took hot showers and tried to figure out ways to get Sugar Babies out of the vending machine without spending any money.

Still, a pool party is a pool party, right? You show up in a suit you hope makes you look just like that model in the catalogue, then you lounge around the deck sampling a few Doritos along with the guacamole and bean dip. With any luck, you don’t even have to get wet before going home. Nothing to it.


Last summer our family of seven moved for a year to a toney neighborhood in New York where we more or less arrived like the Joads in The Grapes of Wrath. Still, people have been very kind to us, inviting us to gatherings and so forth just like the Victorians used to have the Elephant Man over for the odd cup of tea.

One of the first soirees to which we were invited was a children’s pool party.

“Hey, kids,” I said. “You’re going to a pool party. Just think what fun you’ll have doing jackknives and so forth off the diving board. By the time the party’s through, everybody will know who the Cannon boys are!”

When it was time to go, I told my kids to put on their suits. And [p.55]then because we’re in such a swanky place, I told them to (a) comb their hair and (b) put on T-shirts, all of which I thought was very farsighted of me. My kids would be both classy and appropriate.

Especially appropriate, don’t you know.

Some of you may have guessed by now that I have an unfortunate tendency to get the dress thing all wrong, so being appropriate is very important to me. Usually, I am underdressed for any given occasion, although I have been known to show up like a geek in a skirt when everybody else is wearing jeans.

It’s like everybody but me went to gym class for a special maturation program about what clothes you should wear for which occasion.

I don’t come by this lack of wardrobe sense naturally. The woman who gave me life has never once made a fashion misstep. Even if she’s the only woman in a room wearing a pair of  slacks, she looks so totally dynamite that everyone else assumes they’re all wearing the wrong thing.

“How do you do that?” I ask her.

She shrugs helplessly, because the last thing she would ever want to do is make somebody feel uncomfortable.

“I know,” I say, giving her a bitter snort. “It’s because you were a rodeo queen when you were nineteen years old, isn’t it. Once you’ve worn a tiara on your brim, you have an aura of confidence that never deserts you.”

I, on the other hand, was not a rodeo queen, which may explain my whole fashion problem. Still, I try very hard to get it right. And I tried the night of the pool party.

This is what happened.

We went to the pool at the appointed hour where we were greeted by a bevy of children, none of whom was wearing a swimming suit. Instead, this is what they had on:

A. The girls were wearing Laura Ashley-type dresses.
B. The boys were wearing khaki slacks and blue blazers.
C. I am telling you the truth.

So there we were at a pool party wearing, of all the stupid things, SWIMMING SUITS! Even my kids picked up on the fact that they were the only people present not wearing shoes.

So we sat around the pool with everyone else for an hour or so, [p.56]eating the kind of hot dogs Martha Stewart would make if Martha Stewart made hot dogs and trying our best to blend.

On the way home Ken turned to me and said, “Well, you got one thing right—everybody now knows who the Cannon boys are.”

“This isn’t fair!” I stuck my head out the car window and wailed at the cosmos not unlike Job in the Old Testament. “How was I supposed to know how people in New York dress their children for pool parties?”

In the end Providence smiled on me. When I went shopping the very next day, I happened to wander by the Brooks Brothers outlet and noticed that they were closing out all their boy’s navy blue blazers. I marched right in and bought one for each of my boys.

So now when it’s May and the swimming season is almost upon us, I’ll be ready.

“You’re invited to another pool party?” I’ll say to my children.

“No problemo! Your jackets, my sons, are hanging in the closet.”