A while back, my swimmer daughter happened to tell me the vital importance of water in her life. When submerged in water, her brain stops running a hundred miles an hour; she thinks only of the movement of her body, a sense of peace envelops her.
In water, she can breathe.
“Everyone needs an escape, especially kids,” Natalie said at the time.
I have not forgotten.
A few days before she was going to compete in a large meet with her year-round team, swimming was canceled-–indefinitely—due to COVID-19.
Natalie was disappointed – not just because she was less than one second away from making a state cut in her best event, but also because her refuge, her place of peace, would not be available to her for quite some time.
‘Everyone needs an escape,’ I remembered her saying as I wondered how she would fare during this unusual time.
Quietly, diligently, thoughtfully, Natalie researched, and came up with a plan.
She proposed building a small above-ground pool in the backyard. She sent me several models that had excellent reviews and affordable prices, saying she’d use her savings to order the one I thought was best. Her plan would be to attach a bungee cord to her waist as she saw professional swimmers doing to maintain their swimming skills during the quarantine restrictions.
Our family talked over her plan and gave Natalie the go-ahead.
For several days, she worked tirelessly to build the pool frame, prepare the lining without tearing it, and set up the complex filtering system. One of the few times she asked for help was when it took our combined strength to click the last piece of the pool frame in place.
This project took a lot of work, and Natalie had to make sacrifices in other areas of her life in order to have the time and focus to carry it out. I’ll be honest, there were times when I had the urge to intervene and check her e-learning progress. But instead, I surrendered control, choosing to trust that she was completing the necessary work and that she’d take responsibility for what was not completed. It was also easy to see that everything she was learning through this meaningful, hands-on experience would serve her well in the future.
When the pool was finished, she invited me to be there for the first try.
I hope and prayed it worked.
Capped, goggle-covered, and bouncing with excitement, Natalie plunged into the frigid water and began her breaststroke routine. She did several sets before coming up for air.
It was cold. It was new. It was different—but she had done it!
“Does it work?” I asked, holding my breath.
“Yes!” she exclaimed with pure joy.
Day in and day out, Natalie cared for her place of peace. Cleaning, chlorinating, and covering it each night before she went to bed. Each day, I looked forward to seeing her walk through the house in her brightly colored bathing suit and team cap, announcing it was time to swim.
Her sets became longer with each passing day, working up to almost an hour in the frigid water.
I’d often peek out from my workspace, waiting for the moment she’d come up for air. Natalie always came up smiling, the same way she swam in competitive meets when she was six years old. Water was… is… her joy, her respite.
Natalie sophomore year ended uneventfully this week. When she told me her final grades, the recovering perfectionist in me wanted to make suggestions, or at least add my two cents. But the Encourager, Guide, and Truth-teller I am becoming kept the control-freak, bubble-buster quiet long enough to see the healthy, happy young lady standing before me. She was proud of what she’d completed using a self-teaching, self-motivating, virtual learning model she’d never experienced before.
Behind Natalie, the pool she built glimmered in the sun. The bungee cord is only temporary, I thought to myself as it floated atop the water. And when she is out of confinement, she now has the wings to fly.
The wings are what I saw when I looked beyond the surface.
Natalie told me the team practice pool would soon re-open with strict protocols to keep swimmers safe. I noticed she has the days marked on her wall calendar. Nevertheless, I will always remember the day a neighborhood reminder came to my husband’s inbox regarding above-ground pools.
When I read my spouse’s response, the way he stood for the mental health of our daughter and the well-being of families in our neighborhood, I cried.
Our family has come so far.
Mental health before academic skills
Emotional wellbeing over external validation
Inner peace above outer appearance
Growth over grade point average
Self-motivation over forced memorization
I’m not just talking about the pool, you know.
My friends, there is something important here if we choose to see it.
The rules, standards, and the expectations society has set for us and for our children are not always in our best interest.
They do not take into account individual strengths, struggles, limitations, interests, and passions.
They do not spark internal motivation.
They do not lead to meaning, purpose, and fulfillment.
They do not forge unity and cultivate compassion.
Therefore, we must build, assemble, and nurture places to thrive with our own two hands.
We must not wait until the water warms up to do the work.
We must dive in, knowing it's necessary to abandon what hinders us in order to embrace life and live love.
At times, it may feel like a bungee cord wrapped around our waist, but our hearts will beat with joy knowing the resistance only makes us stronger.
Over the past several months, have you come to see what matters more clearly? Have you come to see what hinders the human spirit and what helps it thrive? I encourage you to keep asking, keep searching, keep noticing.
If a place of peace, growth, learning, and confidence and can be found inside a small pool, what might be discovered in a wide open space if we are not tied to society’s standards?
If unburdened by walls, syllabuses, rigid paths, unjust systems, and outdated measures, how might our children teach themselves to fly?
If relinquished from the need to control, judge, and dictate our kids, how might we become who we are meant to be?
I think Natalie provides the perfect launching point in this excerpt from LIVE LOVE NOW. Come, dip your toes in the water as 16-year-old as Natalie speaks a brave invitation to us all:
“If I could give the world one message, it would be this: Open windows. Dare to ask hard questions. Dare to respond in your truth. Dare to step out in courage. Dare to reach farther than you ever thought you could. Because the reality is, our best ideas and our bravest solutions to the world’s big questions won’t have a chance to surface if they’re stifled by our worries, fears, expectations, or agendas. But they can be uncovered—by asking atypical questions; taking long walks with no destination; twirling tiny world maps hanging from a chain; going places we’re afraid to go; looking into eyes filled with pain; and grasping small, dust-covered hands that take hold of your heart.”
My friends, I believe Natalie is on to something. What if the best ideas and bravest solutions are just below the surface, and this is our opportunity to grasp them? Maybe by cultivating more places to breathe, we’ll find life beyond anything we ever knew before.
I see promising skies ahead.
Our hands in yours,
Rachel & Natalie
When we support our kids in developing skills for independence, we are not only preparing them for life, but we are also instilling in them a vital sense of the value they bring to the world. If you would like tools and scripts to resign as Micromanager, Critic, or Rescuer and embrace the role of Encourager, Soul-Builder, and Guide, it’s all in my new book, LIVE LOVE NOW, a Publisher’s Weekly National Bestseller.
To my honor and delight, Julie Lythcott-Haims, the New York Times Bestselling Author of HOW TO RAISE AN ADULT, read my book and had this to say about it: “Live Love Now is a gorgeous manual for how to rescue yourself, your family, and your kid from the malaise of modern parenting. You’ll tear up as you feel the truth of it and feel relief at having a clear way forward. This is a must-read for all parents.”
My deepest gratitude to all who are reading LIVE LOVE NOW and writing to tell me how it’s making a difference in your life. I read every message and every review and cry with joy. Thank you for supporting my life's work and my heart. If you have not ordered your copy yet, it's not too late. You can support local bookstores by ordering here. You can get it 30% off by ordering it here. I can read it to you by ordering it here.