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Parenting from the Flying Trapeze

This circus-themed outing made me realize my children are listening

There are days when my life is circus-like. I have multiple rings under one tent, a few performers in the air, and some wild animals prancing around. I am in charge of every single component—a ringmaster to my own life. It’s certainly a juggling act and one I am proud to manage, but the only way I can maintain it, is to step away from it—to practice taking care of myself and to remember who I am as an individual. This recharges me and lets me continue on with joy and enthusiasm.


I have regular ways of practicing self-care (a daily commitment to a few chapters in a book, weekly dates with my running shoes, a monthly haircut), but sometimes bigger opportunities arise, and I try to take advantage of them if I can.


Imagine, then, the irony in my latest self-care outing: a two-hour class on the flying trapeze. In other words, I was going to take a break from my own personal circus and let someone else run the show?


Yes, please.


Ladies and gentlemen, enter The Philadelphia School of Circus Arts (PSCA) and their new class offering in the flying trapeze.


Under the tutelage of an experienced performer and instructor by the name of Mary Kelly Rayel, my classmates and I were guided through a brief instruction on a static fly-bar at ground level. In addition to learning how to grip the bar and some basic swing techniques, Mary Kelly’s most important piece of instruction was to listen to her—to do only what she told you, when she told you.

I completely understand this need for a singular voice. In fact, if I think about my own life—in my role as a parent—I am often this singular voice. This is, by no means, an easy role and comes with a pressure that is unlike any other. It’s one of the many reasons I practice self-care. I need to stop being the voice—even if it’s just for a few hours.


But could I really tune everything out and listen to this woman tell me what to do? I felt like she was giving me a chance to take on the role my children have in our family circus, and that could lead to something interesting. I agreed to give it a try–to see what would happen if I was the one who had to simply listen.


I climbed up the ladder to the platform, trying to ignore the fact that I was petrified. I let a complete stranger strap me into a safety harness, I willingly put my socked toes over the edge and reached out for the bar with my chalk-smeared hands. And, when Mary Kelly said jump, I did. When she told me to hang from my knees, I did. When she told me to let go and grab the hands of the catcher, on my fourth and final turn, I did.

This experience was profound in a lot of ways, but the direction to listen to that singular voice is what affected me the most. I was amazed at how I trusted Mary Kelly; how when I was zipping back and forth, 25 feet in the air, all I heard were her instructions. It was invigorating, motivating, and gave me a new perspective.


The best self-care outings are the ones where you feel as though you’ve done something for yourself, and you learn something that benefits the performers you are charged with raising.


There are times when I am certain my kids are tuning me out, but while swinging from a flying trapeze I realized, when it really counts– like the times when they’re scared, doubting themselves, or making difficult decisions—all they hear is my voice. They trust it, and that’s really important and necessary work.


Thanks to Mary Kelly and the PSCA staff for giving me this chance to not only care for myself, but be reminded of my value as a parent.


Keep the conversation going! Tell me about your self care habits, treats and adventures. How have you become a better parent because of it? Leave your ideas and thoughts in the comments below.