Those expectant-mother classes neglect to warn you, among other things, that in a few short seasons you'll be taking your toddler to the baby pool. It is a major omission.

For my 2-year-old's maiden voyage this summer I rose at 6 to orchestrate the day. After packing the pool bags for most of the morning, I had enough stuff to last two hours at the pool or a week in the Adirondacks. I counted out the grapes for each of the three boys' lunches, tried to tell by the toothmarks whose snorkel was whose and spent a good 10 minutes cramming a tiny stretch bathing suit over my toddler's padded backside.

The joint was jumping by the time we got there. Several sets of kids were at deathgrips over plastic toys. A bunch of really jiggley little ones were white-knuckling it on the edges of the pool while a 3-year-old methodically poured jugs of water over their heads. One kid appeared to be seriously drowning in the middle of the pool. Perhaps because the water had a suspicious yellow cast, no one was moving too quickly to fish him out. Several kids were busy cramming old Popsicle sticks and small toys into the drainpipe.

All of them looked like they belonged to some cult. Out of one or the other leg hung a huge soggy white balloon of plastic diaper. If one more kid showed up with a disposable diaper, he'd suck up the last drop of water in the pool.

I plunked my bags down, tied my middle child into his water wings and sent him and his older brother to the big persons' pool.

"Now look," I said, pointing up to the lifeguard chair, "the lifeguard will be watching you and you know the rules, so don't screw up." The lifeguard at that moment was looking down the front of a young lady's bathing suit.

I unpacked the baby, covered his nose and back with No. 15 sunblock, face and chest with No. 6 and legs with No. 4. That made a total of 50 -- I figured he had to be all right.

I sat down to start my vigil as the baby dangled his feet in the water. He refused to budge from that spot the entire time we were there.

The guard tore himself away from his girlfriend long enough to blow the whistle to announce the adult swim. Within seconds, there were two dozen huge kids galloping into the baby pool. The little ones were washing up in waves on the apron.

I appealed to the marauders' sense of fair play. "Come on you guys," I shrieked over the noise, "this is a pool for babies. You don't belong here. Scram!"

Not only did they ignore me, but they started to use my baby's ball for their game of Marco Polo.

I strode over to the nearest large child, grabbed him by the shoulders and kissed him loudly.

"Yech!" he yelled, struggling to get away. I moved to kiss him again and he raced out of the pool area. I only had to kiss two more boys before they all left.

Unfortunately, the worst part about the baby pool isn't the kids: It's getting to spend the whole day talking to the mothers. Most conversations center on children.

You may spend the better part of an hour feigning interest in the capacity of various diapers. You're also expected to show some enthusiasm as that same child attempts to float his peanut-butter sandwich.

The psychodynamics of pool-mothering are different than home-mothering. At the pool, a child's rotten behavior is always a stunning surprise to the horrified mother, who maintains that his most violent act up to this very moment has been failure to cover his mouth when he coughs. Mother's measured response to her child is always uttered in a low register and sounds like the parts you underline in a parenting manual.

For instance, that day at the pool four-year-old Sean kept riding a six-month-old baby like a turtle.

"Sean," his mother cooed, "I respect your right to have fun your own way, but you should respect the baby's right to breathe."

To me she whispered, "It must have been the chocolate he ate at lunch.Only sugar could make him act like this."

Sean had considerately dismounted the infant and was busy dragging another child into the water by the hair.

A woman placed her low chair next to mine. "I can't believe my little Jeff is swimming already and he's only two!" she clucked.

Little Jeff was kneeling in the water flapping his arms.

"Of course, we're not suprised. We had him IQ'd last week, and it wasway up there."

Luckily, at that moment someone spotted some material floating in the water. The guard closed the pool and we were all let off early.

It had been a long 37 minutes; thank God for Labor Day.