The underwater summersaults of parenting
I was genuinely grateful I still had time to hit the brakes and not run over his beautiful family of three. That would’ve ruined both of our vacations. What frustrated me was that he was carrying his baby as he jaywalked in my right of way without even looking.
When he was done walking out of my lane, and without looking at me, he just flickered two of his fingers up in the air as if he was calling for bottle service but instead he was thanking me for stopping and imagine he was also thanking his guardian angel.
Maybe he has read the same psychology research I have read on parenting. Maybe he read that a tough upbringing creates resilience in kids. What can be tougher than surviving a car crash?
Sometimes I wonder if I should drop my baby on the ground and give her a swift kick in the head. Then I’d bend over at the waist and tell her, “I’m only doing this for you. A tough childhood will motivate you to accomplish great things in life.”
I’m not sure if I’m down for the trade-off. I would deprive the world of my daughter’s potential world-class accomplishments if I could gift her a little happiness.
I want to provide her with the stability I didn’t have even if all the pop-psych pundits say that the success of all great men and women can be tracked to a difficult upbringing.
Part of providing that stability is to keep learning about parenting.
Parenting to me means getting over my bullshit so I don’t transfer it to my daughter. Like not wanting to get on the beach in Kauai because there were too many people there. Like getting over my unearned bourgeois desire to have the beach to myself as if I own it and just jump in the water with my daughter like the peasant that I am.
By jumping in the water, I was able to see my daughter tread and swallow water with glee. I witnessed her blissfully ignoring the dangers of the sea either because of the unlimited confidence of her childhood or because she knew I was there.
To get over the bullshit, I have to do a lot of work to figure out what parenting baggage I inherited from my parents. I know is there and they span the range of categories.
For water-related activities, I have inherited my mom’s aquatic canons like you cannot go in the water for exactly 60 minutes right after having lunch, you don’t want to tempt the ocean, swim in the shallow, and you can only go to water events (whether a pool or a beach) if one of your parents is present.
The last one my mom enforced tirelessly. I never went to the beach if my mom or my dad were not present.
What better way to get comfortable with shedding some of those antiquated beliefs than by including grandparents in the definition of parental supervision? That’s what I recently did.
We were hanging out at the beach with my daughter, my wife, and her parents when a stranger approached us and asked us if we wanted a boogie board. We accepted it even though I didn’t really want to. You know, delta variant and all.
But we took it.
To my surprise, my two-year-old daughter already knew it was called a boogie board and she asked her grandparents to take her to the ocean to use it. My in-laws obliged.
My in-laws would do anything for my daughter. They love her and she loves them. So they obliged. They walked her down to the water and got to work on balancing her on the board.
It was interesting to see her balance on the board. She is a great walker for a two-year-old but she still spends 70% of her walking time on her tippy-toes. So I would call her balance still rocky.
As they were balancing my daughter on the board, my father-in-law must have heard an inner voice that said, “now, push her!”
So, he did.
And there it was.
My two-year-old who can barely walk with a solid C+ strut was thrown ahead expected to balance herself on a board even though she doesn’t even know how to swim.
What happened shouldn’t come as a surprise but it was still shocking to see. My daughter did two underwater summersault before she was rescued by her assailants.
I kept muttering under my breath to my wife, “in what world?” “in what world?” “in what world?”
From our beach chairs, we could see her being rescued by my mother-in-law and after knowing she was safe, I turned to my wife and said, “ I thought they were going boogie boarding not water-boarding.”
“Well, it was nice to have a water baby while it lasted. We will try again with the next one.”
The other part of parenting I’m working on is not reacting to events that happen to my daughter so she can make up her own mind about them.
It is one of the hardest things to do because I am suppressing the infinite pit in my stomach that opens up to swallow me whole when something slightly negative happens to my kid.
And this wasn’t ‘slightly negative’. This was negative.
As expected, my daughter found our gaze, and with a look that said, “what the fuck were you thinking letting me boogie-board with these people?”, she inspected our reactions.
We gave her nothing and with that, she quickly got over the fact that her grandparents had conspired to drown her.
When we finally packed up to leave, my daughter put the boogie board under her arm, something we never showed her how to do but she had seen people doing all week. And she just walked off ahead of us.
The most important lesson about parenting I like to remind myself is that kids are more resilient than we give them credit for.
Maybe not resilient enough to survive being run over by an SUV when their bones have not fully fused.
But resilient enough to survive an attempted drowning by their grandparents and still go back to the ocean the next day with their boogie board in tow behind them.
If you enjoyed this essay, you will enjoy my book, “A Kick in the Balls: Buying Underwear and Other Funny Musings for the Post-Pandemic World.”