When my eldest daughter was a wee little baby of 6 months old, we signed up for swim lessons. I don’t know why I did this but it seemed like something good parents did – swimming lessons! with babies! – and so we went to our local rec centre pool and bobbed in the pool with the other post-partum mothers, a few stay-at-home dads, and a couple of grandmothers. We diligently stuck our faces into the water and blew bubbles, cheering wildly when the bewildered babies dared to try it. We dragged the babies around the shallow end of the pool, chirping “kick! kick! kick!” at them. I don’t know if it was the hormones or what, but I remember crying in the pool on the last day because it was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen: people of different shapes and sizes and backgrounds and ages and races and religions, all of us in the public pool with the babies we loved, looking ridiculous for their little sakes, utterly and entirely here for this parenting gig.
We had our elementary school Christmas concert this morning – that little baby in the pink bathing suit from the pool is in her last year of elementary school now and she has three little siblings, two of them singing in other classes. Time is suddenly a bit too fast – wasn’t it yesterday that we were in the suspiciously-too-warm kiddie pool together and now we’re planning for middle school, she’s ducking her head embarrassed by my enthusiasm when I wave too big and holler “Annie!” across the gym to make sure she knows I’m here.
The kids all sang their Christmas songs and squeaked into their recorders and bonged their xylophones carefully. The school gym was packed with adults, parkas draped over the chairs, little brothers or sisters squawking and eating raisins. The adults took pictures, the kids all waved to their grown-ups, we clapped and cheered for them all. Carol of the Bells, Away in a Manger, Silent Night; all the classics. The music teachers of elementary schools deserve a Christmas bonus, in my opinion.
But the same thing happens in school gyms and soccer fields and ice rinks that happened in that public pool all those years ago: my faith in humanity is restored.
Look at all of us, most of us, doing our best, trying to show up for our kids and love them well. Look at us, tucking lonely kids into our families. Look at our teachers showing up every day to teach and to love. Look at us parents or caregivers, clutching our hearts and smiling until our cheeks hurt over kindergarteners hollering “Go tell it on the mountain!” and wincing good-naturedly at grade four recorder squeaks.
Sometimes I need to be reminded that these things – loving parents, treasured children, Santa hats, school gyms, carols, joy, present grandparents and neighbours, wool toques – are all just as true as Aleppo, just as true as the news reports, just as true as the terrible things of this life. Things like this don’t take away the terrible and horrible things of this world but these normal, gorgeous, ordinary joys are perhaps even more powerful once you’ve woke up to the real world thumping along beside us – these moments are filling us up, they’re what makes life worth living, they’re a glimpse of who we are at our best and that is sometimes everything we need to carry on.
Life is hard and unfair sometimes; not every kid in that room is happy or safe, I know that. But there are teachers who aren’t afraid to say “I love you” to their students and friends who say “good job” when you mess up on your part and parents who love the best they can and principals who sing solos and somewhere there is a new crop of parents with bewildered babies in the public pool, bouncing up and down in the water, and in that moment at least every one is singing.