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Two Decades of Kids and Counting

By Sally Torbey

E-mail Sally Torbey

About this blog: I have enjoyed parenting five children in Palo Alto for the past two decades and have opinions about everything to do with parenting kids (and dogs). The goal of my blog is to the share the good times and discuss the challenges of...  (More)

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Cold and wet in the dark

Uploaded: Jan 15, 2014
It is cold and I am shivering in my swimsuit. Why am I diving into a pool in the early morning darkness in the dead of winter?

It's my kids' fault.

A number of years ago I was swimming with my then 8-year-old and having trouble keeping up. "Are you swimming your fastest?" I asked her. She answered an incredulous, "No", and admitted she was taking it easy. I grew up in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, so I was water safe, but I had poor stroke technique. As participants in a summer swim team, my kids had quickly surpassed my swimming skills. I decided I needed to join the fun and take some swim lessons.

At my first lesson, I was unable to swim the length of the pool without gasping for breath. Fortunately, I had scheduled the lesson in the winter so nobody was at the pool to watch this humiliating performance. The coach looked a little concerned, probably regretting that she did not have on a bathing suit in case she needed to rescue me. Over the next few months she exhibited remarkable patience as she taught me the basics, making sure to give me a compliment for every criticism, less my fragile ego keep me from ever returning. Eventually I achieved some competency in each stroke and she suggested I join the Masters program to build stamina, assuring me all skill levels were welcome.

I did not sleep a wink the night before and arrived at the Masters practice with my first ever pair of swim goggles. I swam a few warm up laps before the coach stopped me to suggest I peel the protective film cover off the goggle lenses so I could see. For the first six months I almost completed the warm up portion of the work out in the allotted hour.

That summer I was timing the kids at a meet when word spread that our team was short a swimmer for the final race of the day, the all-important parents' relay. I tried to make a dash for the car, but the coach caught me. "We need you to swim or we'll have to forfeit!" My kids pleaded, too, so in an ill-fitting suit from the lost and found and my daughter's goggles and cap, I jumped in, my heart pounding, sure we would have to resign from the swim club in disgrace after I was lapped twice in a 25-yard race. Much to my surprise, we didn't lose, in fact due to a couple of parents who were former competitive swimmers, we came in third and a medal was placed around my neck.

I was pretty excited and admitted to my kids that this was the first medal I had ever been awarded in my whole life. As is the case with most children who live in Palo Alto, they each have many bedroom shelves cluttered with medals and trophies. They were astonished and felt really sorry for me. It reminded me of my Dad's stories about growing up in the Depression. It was all he ever knew as a child, and everybody else was poor, too, so it did not seem that bad to him, but my siblings and I were shocked as we considered his childhood to be one of terrible deprivation. Similarly, my children could not believe in 45 years I had never been awarded anything.

My kids stretch me. They stretch my patience, my negotiation skills and my tolerance for sleep deprivation, but they also stretch me to try activities I never thought I would enjoy. I've sung, danced and acted in front of an audience, coached softball despite never having played sports, and struggled up a 12,000-foot pass with a 40-pound pack.

And, because of my kids, I have a medal, and more importantly, know the joy of a rosy sunrise after an invigorating pre-breakfast swim.


Posted by Luke, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Jan 15, 2014 at 9:07 pm

Kids improve us!

Posted by Debbie, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jan 15, 2014 at 9:47 pm

You tell a great story, Sally! Love this one.

Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jan 16, 2014 at 7:26 am

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Thanks Luke and Debbie for reading and commenting!

Posted by TulsaNative, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive,
on Jan 16, 2014 at 8:37 am

This is so true!

Posted by Laura, a resident of another community,
on Jan 16, 2014 at 8:45 am

Inspiring, as always, Sally!

Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jan 16, 2014 at 11:41 am

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Hi TulsaNative and Laura,
Thanks for the kind words.

Posted by LJ, a resident of another community,
on Jan 17, 2014 at 1:56 pm

I am older than you, Sally, so I will say it loudly and proudly, "Old dogs can learn new tricks!"

Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jan 17, 2014 at 1:58 pm

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Hi LJ,
Thank goodness we can!

Posted by allison, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Jan 17, 2014 at 6:26 pm

you have inspired me!

Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jan 17, 2014 at 6:30 pm

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Hi Allison!
I'm so happy to hear that! Thanks for reading and commenting!

Posted by Kimberly, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jan 19, 2014 at 11:27 am

I love reading your blogs Sally! Great stories.

Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jan 19, 2014 at 8:16 pm

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Thanks, Kimberly, you made my day!

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