The Rockwood Files: Ready, set, go

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

When I was a kid, one of my favorite summer outings was to a swim park called Willow Springs. It was a man-made lake full of things to play on – springy diving boards, a rolling log, platforms, and slides. On two sides of the water, there was a grassy beach area on which to spread out towels, sunbathe or have a picnic. On the far side of the lake, a bright blue water slide snaked its way down a green hill.

In short, it was kid nirvana. My older brother and I loved it – especially the toboggan ride. We’d never seen anything like it. Riders hoisted what looked like an oversized skateboard up a set of metal stairs to a high platform. While holding an overhead bar for stability, we’d line the wheels of the wooden toboggan into the grooves of the slide and then sit on it, two riders at a time.

Then we’d push off and grip the sides of the toboggan with our pruny fingers as it rolled down the steep metal slide, picking up a blistering pace until the runway ended a few feet over the water’s edge. By then, gravity and speed turned our toboggan into a smooth stone, skipping wildly across dark waters. Bump, bump, bump along a wild, unpredictable path. We squealed the whole way, stopping only when we lost momentum and sank beneath the surface.

Then we’d stand up in waist-high water and high-five each other after an awesome ride, as if we’d commanded our own vessel instead of simply clinging to it while gravity and physics did the work. Then we’d tow the toboggan back to the starting point, climb the steps, and do it again. It was the closest thing to sledding we had in the South.

My dad, who was an unabashed big kid himself, often rode the toboggan with me when he wasn’t busy doing half-gainers off the diving board to impress Mom. But Mom was on the grassy beach doing what most moms do when their kids are swimming in a lake. She was watching – her eyes constantly scanning the crowd to spot her own ducklings and reassure herself we were still safe.

But I didn’t realize it at the time. I assumed she wanted to rest on the beach blanket and get the peace and quiet all grown-ups seemed to crave. But now as a mom of three, I get it. That’s what mothers do. We watch. We check. We check again.

Some people call it “hyper-vigilance,” being continually on-guard for potential threats to your kids. Perhaps well-adjusted parents can turn down the dial on hyper-vigilance, but some are convinced that it’s hard-wired. It feels almost impossible to stop watching, to stop safeguarding. Aren’t hyper-vigilant mothers how the human race has survived this long?

It’s no accident that these two memories – my childhood fascination with the toboggan ride plus my mother’s watchful eyes from the water’s edge – have bubbled up to the surface this week. Yesterday, my oldest son moved back to college for his junior year. And two days from now, we’ll set out on a 12-hour drive to move my middle son to college for his first year. I feel like I’m watching my babies gain speed on that steep metal hill, preparing to skip and bump along uncertain waters.

And I’ll be here, standing on the shore, holding my breath but also waving to them as they take on the world.

Hold on tight, kids. I hope you have an amazing ride.

Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at Her book is available on Amazon.