Simon SaysSimon Says NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small

Our Summertime Hero

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Tanya, a 19-year-old lifeguard from Ukraine, keeps a careful eye on Scott Simon's young daughters at their apartment building pool. (Elise Simon) hide caption

itoggle caption (Elise Simon)
Tanya

Tanya, a 19-year-old lifeguard from Ukraine, keeps a careful eye on Scott Simon's young daughters at their apartment building pool.

(Elise Simon)

Our daughters have been having a wonderful summer. There's been Chinese camp, art camp, and zoo camp. But after they've finished learning something, they spend most afternoons splashing in the pool of our apartment building, where they've gotten to know neighbors who, like hybrid tea roses, we rarely saw in winter.

Marcos and Jose; Azar and Bijan; Martin and his son, Daniel; Steve, Dennis, and their son, Jared; Maria Elena, Luis, Kevin and Gabriella. A typical American group, I like to think: people from Spain, Iran, Italy, Puerto Rico and Britain.

Bijan plays the monster for our girls. Marcos brings them upstairs to play the first six notes of "Mary Had a Little Lamb" on the piano, on which he composes operas.

It's delightful to come home, turn the corner, and hear giggles and guffaws from half a dozen people, including a few you've never seen before, gathered around a poolside table.

Our daughters are as friendly as Fuller Brush salesmen. They'd invite Muammar Gaddafi to have a slice of pizza with them. They grab the hands of kids who are three, and grandmothers who are 70, to bring them over and announce, "My friend."

I'm delighted that our daughters are so friendly, even as I realize that the highlight of their day is seeing Manny, Fanchon, or Daniel: no longer me. As long as I can still make them laugh when they're sleepy and grumpy.

Tanya is the lifeguard. She's 19, from Ukraine, and sits with a Russian-English dictionary by her elbow, though, as a precaution, I've learned that na pomosch means "Help!"

Because Tanya is blond and leggy, some people have whispered, "Can she can actually swim?"

She lifts our girls onto her lap. She lets them crowd around her and hold the vials in which she tests pool water. When there's a storm with thunder and lightening, our daughters run to our window overlooking the pool and cry, "Is Tanya okay?"

The other night, Elise, our 6-year-old, had a small moment of panic in the water. My wife, who is a lioness about our daughters, was poised to jump in, but saw that Elise could touch bottom with her toes, and began to reach out for her with one of those swim noodles.

Know what? Tanya can swim. When she heard a giggle become a gurgle, she dove in a flash and swam straight for our daughter. She swept Elise up in her arms.

The next day, our daughters brought Tanya a lot of little gifts. I'm sure I was a little weepy when I thanked her for diving in to na pomosch our daughter. Tanya said, "Oh, Mr. Simon, it's my job."

That's what heroes usually say.

When Elise and I talked about it that night, I told her, "Of course, Tanya loves you. But the great thing is, Tanya would also jump in the pool to help a stranger. " Elise looked somber for a moment, then said, "I want to do that, too."

This summer, our daughters have learned a little Chinese, a lot about gorillas, how to make clay snails, and that strangers from different sides of the world can find, change and cherish each other.

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Simon SaysSimon Says NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small