I was walking through town with a friend the other day after a multiple-hour hike interrupted by a champagne lunch overlooking the beach. It was not a bad day. We had covered all major topics: family, alcoholism, holiday plans, politics, when something she said brought the following words out of my mouth: “ride the wave you’re on.” Fuelled by endorphins and one-and-a-half glasses of booze, I thought, Damn that’s good. Even though it’s one of those phrases that could be relegated to a sign in the gift shop that we had just made fun of–life’s a beach, dance like nobody’s watching, etc. But I stand by it. And also, I’m dragged under and nearly killed by it. Both true.
Another friend (I have two!) and I were recently discussing how much parenthood is like drowning. Really! Isn’t that fun? We have such great talks. Stop by for one of our back-and-forths on depression sometime! Anyway, I told her about something I’d read that compared motherhood to being caught in a riptide. You know the drill with those: the experts recommend letting the tide pull you along as you swim in its direction, parallel to the shore, rather than trying to pull yourself out of it. Eventually the tide will fade and you’ll be released naturally. Motherhood is similar: we’re pulled along by something bigger than we are in a direction we wouldn’t necessarily have chosen in any given moment. Our instinct is to try and fight the tide, pull ourselves out of it into calmer waters of our choosing. But this attempt at control will only exhaust us. We’re not meant for shore; we’re meant for more.
Seriously–where do I get this stuff? I’m on a roll.
It’s like last week, when I took the boys to the gym and afterward we headed toward the down escalator. I thought Little Brother was stepping on beside us but at the last minute, he held back. With The Kid beside me, I watched the distance between me and LB grow; I watched as his face registered what was happening and crumpled in shock and dismay and fear; I watched (and heard) as he began sobbing despite the fact that I could see him the whole time and assured him I’d be right back up for him. I watched as kind strangers attempted to comfort him and he continued to wail. There was nothing I could do until I could. And the mofo still cried the whole way out of the building as though I were a stranger nabbing him. (A muffin seemed to help.)
There are moments, so many, of waiting to find out: will this wave kill me or save me? So far, they’ve all been the latter. But I still wait, breathless, in the seemingly interminable space between not knowing and knowing, faithlessness and faith, tragedy and triumph, sorrow and joy. It’s where all of life is, I think. And I keep expecting that to end, for one final stroke to pull me from the tide and away from…life.
The moment between my children being lifted out of me and hearing their cries. The moment between when they wheeled him off to surgery and brought him back. The moment between regret and forgiveness. The moment between Atlanta and Sydney. The moment between introduction and friendship. The moment between no and yes.
Interminable moments, all of them. Especially when lived on behalf of our children.
We went to lunch on Sunday, to a place where we haven’t been in awhile, and I heard, “Hi James,” before I looked up and saw a boy from his class. A boy who has called him “Our James,” a boy who often just calls him “Jamesy.” I nudged James anxiously, as I always do, attempting to broker another social interaction: “Look, James! Say hi!”
He did, barely. Little Brother did, emphatically. Then the friend loped off to another table and I was left wondering whether to mourn a loss or let it go. Left in the moment, letting the tide move me along whether it was headed where I wanted to go or not.
I sipped my wine and waited.
A few minutes later, he came back. He was waiting for his food; we were finished with ours. He showed my boys his iPad, and a game. He invited them to his hangout underneath his table, one over from us. The three of them lay on their bellies, propped up on their elbows, and I head their laughter and conversation. I kept looking back and checking. “They’re fine!” his mom assured me.
Her words were deeper than she knew.
There’s a scene in Moana, which my children watch every day now (in between listening to the soundtrack on every car trip; #blessed) in which she is felled by a huge wave. You don’t know whether she’s going to crest it until she doesn’t. Later? She does. The waves that feel like they’re going to kill us can bring us closer to the ones that save us. The tides that pull us away? Can actually be pulling us toward.