I would like to think I’ve said “I love you” to my sons as often as I’ve suggested they drink some water. And surely, I have. I am quite verbal, and “I love you” is a constant and heartfelt refrain from my mouth. But a pie chart showing the phrases “Drink some water” and “I love you” as percentages of my total speech might surprise even me. Offering water might actually win. I would probably need a glass of water myself, after I saw the figures.
I’m an anxious introvert with twin teenage sons, and I rely on water in many instances. I think I keep myself well and basically functional by drinking plenty of water. It’s an aspect of my life I can control. And every parent knows there are a lot of things we can’t control. So I do what I can.
But water is good for other situations too. If I don’t know what to say when my sons confess something shocking? I sip my water while I think. Too much emotional tension in this houseful of men? A shower washes the testosterone away, perfectly. When I need space to think and reflect? I take a walk at the beach, and let the gushing and roar help me sort it all out while I breathe in the spray.
When I want to provide nurturing and be appreciated in return, but my husband’s not home and my teens have emphatically closed their doors? I go out and give the plants their water as I murmur lovingly to them. Water makes everything better; it refreshes my soul and helps me feel connected to the earth and to myself. Drinking water brings me into the present, and into my body instead of floating in my head, to which I’m prone.
Water has long been my healing, grounding source. As a child in my semi-arid and landlocked home state of Kansas, I loved to lie in the grass of our yard. I had a lot of free time for daydreaming on the farm. I would gaze at the sky, and imagine it was the distant ocean with cirrus-cloud waves, and that I could plunge in.
When I learned that the plains were once an inland sea stretching in every direction, I thrilled to know I was in fact lying on a seabed. One of the world’s largest aquifers, the Ogallala, runs under the Great Plains. Perhaps I could also sense the water’s murmur below my body, saying There, there.
In a frenetic and stressful world, water is elemental and simple; and it makes up the bulk of my own body mass. So, I think more water would be good for everyone, and over the years it became my go-to solution with my sons in particular: You’re tired, huh? Have you had any water this morning? Or in the last twelve hours? Your throat hurts? It’s probably dry. You’re feeling anxious? Drink some water and go take a walk. Is that a sniffle? Take a hot shower. Here: you can also splash your face with water, soak in it, put it on a cloth and lay it across your hot head.
I believe water can help fix almost anything that’s bothering them. My sons’ complexion. Their digestion. Their insomnia. Their depression. Their lack of attention: it’s not that they don’t know the ice cream belongs in the freezer, not the refrigerator. How can they expect to concentrate when they’re dehydrated? Their cognition: “When we go to take the permit test tomorrow” I tell my son, “you should drink plenty of water beforehand. It’ll help your brain function.”
Having water always within reach helps calm me down. I rarely leave home without a supply, and when my sons leave the house, I press their water bottles into their hands as I tell them to be careful and make sure to let me know where they are. I can’t guarantee that they will get along socially or drive safely, but I can make sure they’re well-hydrated if they crash.
But of course, they’ve grown up, despite often refusing my offers of water and rolling their eyes at my single answer to everything. My sons no longer tell me every strange twinge and worry and funky feeling, physical and emotional. They know I’m only going to scan them up and down, say “Huh. How about that,” and then hand them my drink of choice. The larger question is: Why do I think I have to respond to everything and everyone around me with a glass of water?
The truth is, parenting—helping our children become contributing adults and good people—is a relentless but constantly changing responsibility, and so much of the future is unknown and uncontrollable. I can’t guarantee anything for my sons, certainly not long term, except that I will do my best to be here for them, and that they will always find love and acceptance at home. A lot of the rest, I’m making up as I go along.
When I suggest my sons drink some water, I’m often actually saying “Here. Look, I have no idea what to do about that. My own internal reality is complicated enough, frankly. Whatever you’re experiencing in this moment, it’s probably nothing big, or anyway, nothing I can fix. But you know, water can’t hurt. And I do love you.”