I love, love, love the Fourth of July. We are lucky enough to live in a small condo complex where everyone gets along (really, it’s possible! For now, this is our village). On the Fourth, we generally all show up by the pool in the late afternoon, and it’s an easy, relaxing cookout/swim/catch up on what everyone’s been doing. This year was no exception. Well, there was one small exception: Our granddaughter, Emma, who still can’t swim, as she approaches her fifth birthday. In Florida in particular, this is particularly problematic, given the prevalence of pools, lakes, the ocean – bodies of water everywhere you turn. According to the Florida Department of Health, Florida has more drowning deaths among children ages 1-4 years than anywhere else in the country. (Check your own state website or visit WaterSmartFL to learn basic safety tips.)
When my daughters were young, my wealthy, childless (is that redundant?) aunt “treated” my daughters to private swim lessons by the wonderful/horrific (depending on who you ask) “Ms. Jane*” (*not her real name). “Auntie Mame” was the glamorous aunt, the only one of my mother’s seven siblings who never had children and, in a prime example of cause and effect, had the fat bank account to show for it.
Ms Jane took no prisoners – ok, every student was her prisoner – but she had a remarkable success rate. Years later, we mostly taught our son ourselves, with a boost from the local YMCA, and follow up help from my father-in-law and our daughters, who by then were excellent swimmers.
Now, however, the ranks of our extended family have thinned, and Ms. Jane may no longer be in business (never mind that my daughter would never, ever, ever allow her daughter to be subjected to the rigor/torment of Ms. Jane’s swim program). In any event, here we were, on the Fourth of July, and everyone’s in the pool, including Emma, stubbornly clinging to the side with a grip so tight you’d think she’d been permanently glued to the pool edge. Luckily, our neighbors have a little girl close to Emma’s age, who’s already swimming like a fish. This, of course, piqued Emma’s interest in doing so too.
As we cooked out, swam, laughed, talked, and swam some more, I observed several of the adults cajoling/encouraging/coaching Emma. And I realized, not for the first time, the importance of the village in raising our children.
Actually, what I realized was that once again, I was born into the wrong family/generation/part of the country. Several months ago, my oldest daughter recommended that I watch Parenthood, an NBC series that ran from 2010 to 2015. There are many reasons to watch Parenthood:
- It’s a great show
- It’s an excellent reminder that your family sucks
- If you’re an only child (like me), it allows you to wallow in the self-pity of not only not having siblings, but not having amazing siblings
- Have I mentioned that it’s a great show?
- You can get great parenting advice, which is why I recommend watching it before your children become adults. If it’s too late for you, then I recommend a time machine. Please let me know when you find one that works.
- Depending on the episode, you* will always be entertained and enthralled, but you will also either be:
- comforted by the fact that the writers have clearly experienced the same bad parenting moments/horrid children that you have
- incredibly depressed that you were born into the wrong family, bought the wrong house, lived in the wrong place, didn’t have enough children, and didn’t raise the ones you did have correctly
*If you’re me. If you’re my husband, the theme music is a trigger sound that causes him to run and hide. Nevertheless, I highly recommend watching.
The Village Comes Through
Anyway, to me, the central theme of Parenthood is the incredible strength of having a (functional) extended family. To be clear, they face the same challenges that all of us face. It’s how they handle those challenges that makes this great television. And on this Fourth of July, I felt like that’s exactly what we had, that functional extended family, because – wait for it! – Emma became a swimmer. Finally, the combination of the “peer pressure” of our neighbor’s daughter swimming and the encouragement of all of the adults proved to be too much for Emma’s stubborn refusal to just “let go.” In a thrilling moment, there she went. The photo’s a little blurry because, granddaughter! Constant motion.
So, despite not living in the imaginary world of Parenthood, we have our village. And if you haven’t found yours, just keep looking – it’s out there, no time machine required.⧉