The Secret Beauty of Incremental Growth

by Ruminate Magazine November 03, 2016

By Micah Conkling

My wife and I recently joined our local community center, that sweaty civic hub where pick-up basketball teams are still selected playground-style, octogenarians prance to water aerobics set to "Yakety Yak," and high school sophomores tote barbells attempting to chisel biceps into their arms.

A key inspiration for our membership was the aquatic area of the community center: an extensive chlorinated nucleus comprised of a zero entry pool, fast-paced lazy river, three lanes of lap swimming, and kids' activities. Dispersed amidst the water region are a cartoonish slide made to look like a baby turtle, sporadic fountains acting as minuscule geysers, and an intricate Rube Goldberg-type device of multi-leveled heights that runs small streams of pool water through various chutes partitioned by manipulable dividers that act as dams.

I took my son, a white-haired, sprightly 18 month-old named Lewy, for a dip in the pool while my wife sweated through her first group fitness class. I was thrilled to be accompanying him on his maiden voyage into the vast pitch of water fun, but as he stood stubby-toed and wide-eyed at the cusp of entry, he began to whimper.

"Mama, mama!" he cried wistfully.

"No, no, no, no, no," he repeated determinedly, a linguistic insistence usually reserved for voicing his opinion whenever we try to feed him something green.

I tried to ease his nerves.

"It's okay, Lewy! It's okay! It's like a big bath," I said.

"Baff," he responded, voice still shaking. "Baff!" he cried a bit, trying his best to pretend he liked it.

Gradually, as I held him close to my chest and moved deeper into the pool, his fearfulness dwindled.

He worked his way up to standing unaided in calf-deep water.

Then, he slowly bent over to make a splash.

After a few hesitant minutes he started to wade gawkily on his own toward the colorful troughs of flowing streams.

A while later he was pointing toward the various fun zones of the aquatic area yelling "This! This! This!" which, in Lewyspeak, means, "Please, I want that."

After a wary initial foray, we took myriad trips down the kitschy turtle slide, notwithstanding the amusing reality that my legs were longer than the concrete slope.

Next I held him so that he could wrap his arms around my neck, and he'd allow us to float together in the strong current of the lazy river, dodging goggled kids wielding foam noodles and elderly couples powerwalking against the flow. We dodged daringly as if they were fan rocks in the Colorado River, and the pair of us courageous whitewater rafters.

After some half an hour of pleasure, an unflinching smile transmitted from his soft face and the splish-splashes of children playing and bleached fragrance of chemicals became all right with him.

And, when the time came for us to say farewell to the giant "baff" and head home for a contested dinner involving spinach, Lewy was nothing short of gung-ho toward the indoor community center pool and all its auspicious offerings.

As a father, my boy's joy is my own.

It's a mysterious grace, a hallowed property of multiplication not yet advertised by mathematicians, and it allows the goodness I taste to be multiplied exponentially by each grin and snicker my son emits. That my boy's joy is my own is a holy swelling, a consecrated formula embedded in humanity, perhaps authored divinely some eons ago, a wink in God's eye meant merely to please us with the plan.

My boy's measured passage at the pool from cautious to unbridled enthusiasm is more than a pleasant reminder of grace, though, it is illustration of the radical beauty of incremental growth. Lewy's posture of meeting the world as he is something honest. And naked, unfiltered honesty is a contemporary miracle, the closest thing we've got to water becoming wine. The authenticity and vulnerability he exudes as he grows in moments from one brave stride to the next is a marvel.

His unhurried development is also a prompt to pay attention to every creeping vestige getting carved out in the adamantine escarpment of being. Yielding to fatherhood as a grand narrative of "training up a child in the way he should go" is an alluring conclusion. Viewing parenthood as parent as the most important job glamorizes and fetishizes the calling of being a mother, a father.

Floating in the unquestionably urine-tainted margins of a community center indoor pool, I uncovered a secret of great price I hope others unearth and hawk their obligation to negligence in order to procure.

The call to be keenly aware of the crevices of incremental growth, to be astounded by each dawdling trod, offers an inexplicable substance to the whole damn thing. The cliché about life not being about the journey but the destination is only half-right.

It's not even the voyage that delivers meaning, but the small steps.

The tiny, overlookable moments.

The littlest and least of these.

Micah Conkling teaches at a private high school in Kansas City. He earned his M.A. in English from West Virginia University, and has had work published in Steinbeck Review, Partisan Magazine, Relevant Magazine, Deep South Magazine, and Wales Arts Review.

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