Sink or Swim

Fond of clichés? Don’t they breeze into our minds and tumble out of our mouths faster than a speeding bullet?

Catchy little phrases stick, don’t they? Good for what ails you? A quick fix? Oh yeah – tidy gems to sum up the world’s wisdom, like life isn’t fair, you get what you pay for, sink or swim.

These pert pronouncements may dismiss the complexities of a situation, but they come in handy. They’re the cliff notes of familial observation.

Sometimes, they hurt. Sometimes they help. And sometimes, they’re “just what the doctor ordered,” when we’re talking to ourselves.

Sink or swim

As a parent, I’ve tried to minimize phrases like “life’s not fair” when responding to subjects that require a patient ear and more careful consideration. But for myself, this week has been all about the catch phrase – from me to me.

Move over Nike – I’m cheering myself on with Just do it! And echoing a presidential Yes you can! But I keep coming back to this tried and true tidbit: sink or swim.

Parenting duty has hit hard this week, and without a buddy system for these worrisome waters, I’m surprised to find that I suddenly feel like I’m going under.


I’ve been at this parenting gig a long time. It’s an endurance race – a marathon of sorts – though as a non-runner I prefer to think of it as laps. Interminable laps. Occasionally you can hang on to the side of the pool (and gasp for breath), or change up the stroke for a bit of relief. But you’re still at it, back and forth, day in and day out. 

Sure you can tread for awhile, or float when you can. But you need to advance or you’ll fall back. So you take up the stroke again, because it’s about your kids. It’s really their do or die, their sink or swim, but it rests on your shoulders.

Lifeguard duty

For a few weeks this summer I had a taste of what it was like to go solo, in small measure. I wasn’t tied to shopping, cooking, cleaning, driving, worrying, listening, or scrambling to solve problems. I missed my sons, I was incredibly busy, but as the lifeguard, I was off duty – for a change.

But school just started, and I’m back in the pool flailing about and barely keeping my head above water. Already.

Do or die?

Last night an impromptu (teen) party woke me at one, again at two, and then mad as hell, I staggered out of my room and let my son have it. Oh, I wasn’t that bad, and I’ve known the kids who were here since they were babes in their cribs. But after a very long week, I’d had it.

The kids settled down, but my sleep was wrecked. This little lifeguard needs a hand, because right now I sense that I’m sinking.

Single parent story?

It’s not like I don’t know what would help. I do. But there are no miracles nearby, no rallying rescues, no muscle beach brawn on the horizon ready to dive in and assist. Instead, I resort to platitudes (for myself) – but they’re not doing it for this weary single mother.

So how do I crawl, float, or paddle my way through 12 more months knowing it really is sink or swim?

  • Ever feel like you can’t manage one more hour?
  • Feel like parenting is one long episode of Survivor?
  • What keeps you going when you can’t keep going?

© D A Wolf



  1. says

    Exercise! I am at the gym right now. My kids are younger so I take them to the child care here for a couple of hours to work out and catch up on the computer in the cafe. My yoga practice also keeps me sane. When I catch myself losing it, I usually find a way to change my energy. If I’m feeling frustrated I try the old redirect tactic with both myself and the kids. I’ll suggest a new activity that is fun for all of us to get us out of our funks.

  2. says

    Some days just suck. When that happens, I might just let it all go to “hell in a hand basket” allowing me some time to gain distance and perspective. The next day, I usually start to pick the pieces up again… which shows me that while I may go “over the edge” at times..I do crawl back time and time again. I’m not a quitter and we won’t live without food forever.
    Good luck! I suspect your sense of humor helps. It was nice meeting you at Jane’s anniversary party!

  3. says

    The thing about cliches is that they are rooted in deep truths. That’s why we need them, because they connect us to one another and make life so much more definable. I always nod at a good cliche because they carry so much knowledge. Unlike parenting, where knowledge is always so elusive. We are at opposite ends of the parenting spectrum, I’m just starting out as you well know, and I have the good fortune of a partner to help spell me off, but I do so understand the feeling of going under. Perhaps it’s the working mother syndrome, perhaps not, but I haven’t gained my bearings since they were born. And well, I’d love to! Great post!

    • BigLittleWolf says

      You’re right Christine. There is often a great deal of truth behind the cliché. And I think all mothers feel swamped at some point, if not for years! Pretty overwhelming job, under any circumstances. (Where’s that village we’re supposed to have, anyway?) 😉

      Katybeth – nice to have you. Enjoyed stopping by your blog!
      Molly – yoga sounds wonderful. I know it’s a great option for many people, good for you in so many ways.

  4. says

    It’s been a week for me too. Too much to handle, too many late nights. Some days I wish for a brief calm so I could just float. Just be. And often I stop and watch the chaos that surrounds me. Laugh at the ridiculous thing my baby is into (sitting in a basket half her size today), or want to cry (like at the car that wouldn’t start this afternoon).
    We all need our village to pick us up, dust us off and send us back into the fray.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Oh, yes. I so understand, Kate. And it seems like the car won’t start at the worst possible time, too!
      Maybe this is our village, in a way? If only it were more than virtual. Still, as villages go, it’s not so bad.

  5. says

    Oh, Katybeth! I sure do remember those parties! I thought it was all going change when my boys went off to college. (I made it mandatory that they move out of town. “No local schools, you need the full college experience!”)
    Hmmm…the oldest got a DUI just before he was due to come home for his very first semester break ($$). It got better (believe me, a few nights in jail will cure most boys). The second guy left in ’09. OMG! The house was clean for days at a time. They have both been home a bit for the summer, with girlfriends and old buddies visiting.
    Soon my oldest is off to USC next week! His dream come true. (I am so broke, now!) The youngest has an actual job and ready to start his Sophomore year. (Santa Barbara is really expensive, did I meantion I am broke?)
    By my 53d birthday, I will, again, be without kids (peace and cleanliness!) and I will cry a whole bunch. For both reasons.

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