Parenting Uphill: Teach Them How to Swim


I was hoping we would be on our way out the door by 4:30—no such luck. In a family of four there are at least four agendas in play at all times. Lord knows I have a hard enough time managing my own, let alone three more. The show starts at 6:00 and we have yet to pack the car and pick up my mom. Ugh.


With years of practice behind me it’s hard to believe I still have a difficult time getting up and out for a show. The residual anxiety about getting there on time and making sure I am comfortable means that I spend lots of time preparing all the right “stuff” in case of weather, hunger, or general discomfort. With kids, I have to be as concerned about their well-being as my own, if not more so.


This is the stuff no one tells you about—the stress of managing two tiny humans while my own high-maintenance self tries to keep his shit together. The kids behave for the most part. We have a brief discussion about clothing and some tears over not being able to wear a summer dress to an outdoor concert in September. My blood pressure elevates, breath gets shorter, and volume increases, but we manage to sort it out with only mild friction. All things considered, not so bad.


Finally in the car, we grab mom at her place and realize, right on cue, that something essential was forgotten. Sigh. Back to the house.


And off we go. It’s an easy drive, and getting into the venue and situated is far smoother than I had anticipated, in part due to the additional hands of ever-capable Bubbi (my mom). I spent the better part of my 20s and early 30s traveling and attending hundreds of concerts, festivals, and gatherings, yet I am still uptight about getting into a venue and getting settled. Being patient with myself often proves more difficult than being patient with the kids.   


Looking for a spot toward the back so my posse has space to run amok is made easy by the appearance of my sister-in-law who has graciously staked a large claim for the clan. The kids acclimate more quickly than I do, pulling me toward the stage to start dancing. I am relieved by their excitement and relax nicely into the festival vibe.


My every experience is different now that there are three other agendas in the mix. No matter how good the music is or attractive the surroundings, my attention is divided. My children occupy large swaths of psychological real estate—at two and four they require it.


I used to treasure the opportunity to lose myself in the music and atmosphere—dancing, wandering, being anonymous and part of something bigger than myself. I found a spiritual connection in mass gatherings, shared experiences, and nature. A show like this brings those aspects together with the added dimension of the younglings creating their own story. In many ways I’m along for the ride, a rudder in the ocean.


My youngest likes to wander; “Let’s go on an adventure,” she’ll say. Oh joy, I love an adventure.

It’s dark now, and we wander around the back of the venue under strings of lights that create the feel of a big picnic ground. She is dazzled by the imagery, booths, food trucks, and people, and has no idea where to focus. In the center of the food trucks I see a large, round wooden structure with a little tower in the middle and a bench running the circumference. It’s perfect for climbing and giving me mini heart attacks.


At one point she decides to jump from the bench, a daunting three feet off the ground—as tall as she. She startles as she falls backward almost hitting her head. “Brush it off.” She does. 

Back up on the bench for another go. This time I suggest jumping forward and bending her knees.  She seems laser focused now and hesitantly willing to try. She jumps out and falls gently forward onto her hands and knees. She looks back at me. “Nice work,” I say. She smiles.


In that moment I feel it—a purpose I had not recognized so overtly before. In the Old Testament there are 613 commandments, not just the top-ten list we know so well. If I remember correctly just one of those pertain directly to child rearing: “Teach them how to swim.”


My experience of these gatherings is different than before. Now there are other perspectives to consider and adventures to be had. Perhaps more than ever I am enjoying the experience rather than looking for something special to happen.


The music was great, too.     

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