On my arrival at Ambleside I was interviewed by Miss Mason who asked me for what purpose I had come. I replied: “I have come to learn to teach.” Then Miss Mason said: “My dear, you have come here to learn to live.”
--Essex Cholmondeley in The Story of Charlotte Mason
I have often viewed appointments and lessons and such as a time for me to read books. So there I was by the side of pool as my children were in lessons with my mind and thoughts buried in When Children Love to Learn. I have often squeezed, clutched, and grasped these times as my time. “No, I cannot read a book to you right now. No, I cannot play a game with you right now. No, I did not bring my swimsuit.”
There is no doubt I was reading beside the pool. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.1
Perhaps I would have just brushed the memory of the words aside if at that moment a very nicely dressed father with his curly haired girls in tow had not walked right past where I was sitting. Something about them caught my attention. He was much too nicely dressed to be with his children at a YMCA pool on a Saturday morning. He looked out of place and did not fit in. The cute little girls were in matching swimsuits and matching safety gear…bright blue arm band floaters attached to a thick blue ring which wrapped around their chests. The little girls ventured into the pool, but did not move too far from their father who took a seat on a bench and pulled out his phone.
In the center of this section of the pool, which does not get much deeper than about fifteen inches, was playground equipment with a double slide. Over time, it became apparent the little girls were quite interested in going down the slides. At first, they climbed a few stairs, but were quickly back near father. Then, they made it to the top of the structure, but once again were down the stairs near father. The next time they were up at the top, father stood and went near the structure to cheer them on. It was to no avail. How badly the girls wanted to go down the slide, but they could not overcome their fears, even with father on the sidelines clapping, smiling, and coaxing. Just once, one of the girls was able to sit herself down at the top of the slide, but she quickly retreated. At the time I left the pool, they had moved on to their swim lessons, never having gone down the slide. I don’t have a memory of seeing joy on their faces; I don’t have a memory of seeing them laugh; I only have a memory of shy smiles as they moved about in the water.
At this same time, another scenario was also playing itself out before my eyes. A mom was in the pool with her young son. They were laughing and giggling with joy and having a grand time. The mother climbed to the top of the slide with her son, set him on her lap, and down they whooshed together, landing in a smiling splash at the bottom. Again and again and again they went down the slide. Then, instead of the son sitting in his mom’s lap, they each went down one side of the double slide, but at the same time. Finally, the little boy climbed to the top of the slide on his own and in a rage of laughter, flew down the slide into his mom’s awaiting arms.
Conviction was tugging on my heart. I looked around the pool. There were twelve parents. Seven were on devices, one was reading a book (ahem), one was feeding a bottle to a baby, one was sitting with other children, one had on a suit with his feet stuck in the water, and one was in the pool with her child. Which of these parents had learned to live?
As the whistle blew shrilly to announce a ten minute break, my children wandered back to me. I wrapped them in their towels and then wrapped them in my arms. I knelt down and looked them in their eyes. “Next time, Mommy will bring her suit.” What a look of joy I received.
1. The inspiration for the introduction was taken from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.