Saturday, July 12, 2014

Fear and Panic: My Beaches

The only thing that scares me more than the thought of drowning is the thought of my kids drowning. Which I picture a thousand times, in graphic detail, every time they set foot near the ocean.  I can see the waves knocking them over, snapping their little spines, their eye wide in terror as the water closes over them, while I fight and struggle through the undertow to try to reach them, but never in time....And then I hear one of them shriek, and I wrench my focus back to reality, only to see her splashing happily, throwing herself into wave after wave, spluttering out the salt water, oblivious to my fear.

Here's the weird thing: I am a really good swimmer.
I was a competitive swimmer until I ruined my rotator cuffs in high school.  I swam a 2-mile open water course when I was 12.  I complete an advanced lifesaving course when I was too young to even earn the certification.  I used to spend every possible moment in the water.  I used to scuba dive.  But then, something happened.  I grew up.  I had children.  I had panic attacks.  All roughly in that order.

The world became a terrifying place.

So I take my daughters to the beach, and my youngest runs out into the surf and informs me, "You need to come, Mom."  I know better than to pass up an invitation like that from an independent tween who otherwise wants nothing to do with me.  She leaves me on the beach, where I'm slathering on reef-friendly biodegradable mineral sunscreen and watching her.  My heart seizes as she runs out into the water, and not just because I can picture every shark, ray, and jellyfish lurking beneath its surface.  She is breathtakingly strong.  So sure, so unselfconscious.  She charges into the water with abandon; she is happy.  

No, more than happy: she is present.  With each wave, she is right there--taking each one in turn, jumping over or floating across or diving under, according to some combination of wave characteristics and her whim.  She is not worried about school, or chores, or what passersby think of her.  She is not worried about sea creatures or rip currents or drowning.

I trudge out into the water behind her.  She seems impossibly far from shore.  I crash through breaker after breaker, trying to remember back to when I did this sort of thing for the sheer fun of it.  I make it out to where she is, the stretch before the last set of breakers.  After that it's just open ocean.  (And a fish trawler.  And a parasailer.) 

I jump through or over every wave.  Through is scarier, because each time I have to take my eyes of my daughter for a few seconds.  I try to be present, like she is, but mostly I am vigilant, instead: waves, undertow, shadowy forms that could totally be sharks, sunburn aka future melanoma, those illiterate fucking surfers who can't read the sign that clearly indicates they are in the wrong area oh my god how long until someone gets decapitated by a wayward surfboard?

And lest you think it's only my intrepid younger daughter I have to worry about, let me clarify: My older daughter is splashing in the shallow water with her best friend.  They are both wearing bikinis, and although they are each many years shy of legal adulthood, neither they nor male passersby seem to understand this.  Capisce?

So, yes.  In short: Let's take a day off and go to the beach.  Because BASE-jumping seems too safe.

And because the only thing that scares me more than the thought of drowning in my own fear is the thought of my kids drowning in my fear.

1 comment:

  1. OHMYGOD, how much do I love you??? You speak the truth, and every mother worth her salt (...water...see what I did there?) felt every pang of your anxiety.