Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Mother Ocean

I recently had the opportunity to watch on the shore as my two daughters played in the Ocean.  
It was a remarkable to me for many reasons.
First, I have a lifelong fear of water. I remember being six going down the slide into a cousin’s pool and going under water. The time it took to hit the bottom and reach the surface was an eternity. I coughed and choked on the chlorinated water. The sound of the water rushing past my ears was a sound I will never forget. I was sure at that moment I was dying. Perhaps it’s the Jungian idea of the collective unconscious that caused me to think I was dying. Or perhaps, if there are past lives, I drowned in one of them.
My childhood and teens are filled with memories of me avoiding the water at all costs, much to my father’s chagrin. My father grew up on the shores of Lake Erie and loves everything about the water; swimming, boating, waterskiing, fishing. I do not share his joy.
That I had reached the point in parenting that I could watch my children enjoy the ocean while I sat on the shore was a miracle in itself. Somehow I managed not to pass on my fear of water to them. Last summer my youngest decided to try out for the town swim team. She brought home a slew of blue ribbons. This summer her older sister joined her on the team. So far she’s taken second place in each meet she’s competed in. If they could they would spend the summer in the water.
This was the first summer I was confident in their aquatic skills and their ability to judge what was safe to do and what was unsafe. During past vacations their father or I would take turns playing with them in the waves. Of course they always had more fun with their dad as he would go out further than I.
This year, it was all different. Their father ended our 15 year marriage the day after Christmas. This year I was vacationing with my girls solo. We were at my sister’s condo on the Jersey Shore not our time share in Myrtle Beach.
This year I was also forbidden to go in the water as I was recovering from major surgery. The steri-strips were still firmly adhered to my abdomen. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t go in the ocean.
So I sat on the shore and watched my girls’ body surf, jump, splash, and laugh in the ocean. I couldn’t hear a word they said. I could see them laugh and beam at one another. I could see them reach out for the other’s hand; I could see each of them help the other get up after they were knocked down.
Watching them knocked down by the waves and help each other up gave me confidence about their future. I wasn’t with them in the ocean, but they were fine. Someday they wouldn’t live in my house, but they would be fine. One day I will leave this world, and they will be okay because they have each other.
Life will hit them with waves just as it had hit me and my siblings. This year I was hit with a tidal wave when my marriage ended. But there was my sister picking me up. She took a day off from work to take me in for surgery; waited for the surgeon to come out and give a prognosis; helped me get settled in my room; made sure I had pain meds.
My brother was there too as was his wonderful wife. (Sister-in-law does not adequately describe what she means to me.) She was there daily with food, magazines, and inspiration. My younger sister assisted after the tidal wave by providing financial planning advice and by lending the girls and I her vacation home.
I’d like to think I helped my older sister with her own tsunami the year before when her husband was diagnosed with cancer. I did my best to listen, coordinate food and other assistance. I’m not sure though, if anyone can really help someone through something as awful as what she and her husband went through.
Sitting in the warm July sun with my feet firmly planted in the sand I felt part of some great motherhood continuum.  My mother was just a phone call away, but I felt as if she were sitting a few feet behind me on the beach, and her mother behind her, and so on. We do our best to raise decent, resilient people. We know that they will be knocked down by waves and we know we won’t always be there to pick them up.
My parents gave me a gift in my siblings. They are my lifejackets buoying me as I navigate the challenging Atlantic.
I have made many mistakes as a parent, but as I watched the July sun dot my girls with freckles I knew I had done something right. They know that they are a team; a package deal; a duo; a family. They will take care of each other through high tide and low and I will forever watch them with wonder from the shore.