“Learning to Surf”

From the 2000 anthology, Breeder: Real Life Stories from the New Generation of Mothers.

***

Some of my friends were determined to get married or to have reached a certain tax bracket by age thirty. Me? I bought a surfboard.

So far, learning to surf is a lot like learning to mother: I bought the gear, I understand the theory, and I have occasional successes. But the ocean won’t stay still and neither will my kids. Stable ground exists but only under powerful, ever-changing current. Paddling out takes strength, persistence, and the ability to duck under the waves as they crash down. Make it out past the break…and wait. And, when the right wave comes, it must be recognized, caught, stood upon, stayed upon, and ridden. So far, I’ve done a lot more falling down than anything else. But I keep going out, keep watching the surfers who have found their groove, their sweet spot. I envy the people who are good at something and the easy habit with which they do it. I want, long for, that kind of grace. I’m learning. Last week, I caught the first wave that rolled under me. Then I spent the next hour paddling like an idiot, catching nothing. But that first small taste, those few seconds of reward, hooked me. Even as I’m battered by waves, exhausted from fighting the current, and feeling like my body weighs five hundred pounds, I’ll think one more time, just one more time and then I’m up, knees bent, standing, riding, grinning.

I’ve had days with the kids that have caused the thought, I’m not going to make it, to run through my brain, only to be forgotten as the sun shines in the window, lighting up Chelsea’s eyes, Kaylee’s smile, Nick’s grin. Or I remember the quick healing power of getting out of the house; we take a walk in the woods and all becomes well again. Or, after they don’t eat their tasty-and-healthy meal I’ve made, refuse to put on pajamas, don’t want to brush their teeth, just when I am about to go over the edge, they decide to get into bed and wait patiently for bedtime stories. And we lose ourselves with Harry Potter or Frog and Toad for a while.

I figure I’ve got about 92 more times before I’m any good at surfing. Meanwhile, the sun bounces off the water, the redwoods rise on the hills, and I inhale the beauty that surrounds me.

I figure about the rest of my life to get this parenting thing down. Meanwhile, the kids make me laugh, amaze me with their brilliance, and I soak in the love I’m surrounded by.

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