Having a family is the very opposite of independence – or so it seems. All that responsibility for the lives and happiness of others. The obligation to put one’s own needs and interests aside at times. Sacrifice. Complication.
And yet, having a family has freed me, too. Although having small people dependent on me introduced me to an awareness of my own mortality, I am nonetheless far braver by having children than I would be otherwise. Left to my own, my inherent shyness and habitual people-pleasing may have preempted standing up for myself. Instead, I have insisted upon information and action from doctors, nurses, teachers and other figures of authority – nobody is going to mess with my kids without me understanding what exactly is going on and why interference is necessary. I’m not a jerk! But I do defend the interests of my children far more aggressively than my own. Of course, what’s happened over the years is, because my own success in life helps determine my family’s, I have stepped up, risen higher, tried to set a good example of how to assert one’s rights. Also, to ask for help when necessary – sometimes being brave has meant acknowledging vulnerability and trusting others.
With surfing, having a family means I prefer to dawn patrol because leaving the house is easier before everyone else wakes up and slows me down. Or on bad days, stops me. I would definitely surf much more if I lacked the other people factor. Or maybe I wouldn’t surf at all. I didn’t start till I was 29. I wanted to forever, growing up in Southern California, loving the ocean. But I was too insecure. Learning anything was terrible, a horrible awkward stage, and I couldn’t stand the discordant guitar notes, the stumbling over dance steps – too worried about how I looked from the outside, I gave up improving myself from the inside.
Until I had children. They teach you quickly that: 1.) there are far worse things in life than looking stupid; 2.) life is short, so do what matters. Parenting is so hard that learning to do anything else would seem a cakewalk in comparison. Also, a woman needs something to do lest she wind up losing herself completely in motherhood. So I followed that childhood dream and took to the water.
Thanks to their dad, all the kids played Little League. As a child, I would have died. To be up there, in front of everyone, all those people waiting for you to hit the ball? Nightmare. Even worse than striking out would be having to get back up and try again after already establishing yourself as a failure – at least, that’s how the young me would’ve viewed the situation. Of course, the reality is, everyone strikes out or flies out or gets tagged out sometimes, and the getting-back-up-there is part of the game. Players learn to roll with the punches, to keep trying. I would think about that as I paddled for bigger waves, especially after a particularly brutal wipeout. If my 10-year-old could survive the scariest pitcher in the league, if my 9-year-old could cope with being thrown in to pitch unexpectedly, if my 14-year-old could get back up after a slide that left her bruised and bloody, if my own kids could do all these things again and again and again, while grinning and having a good time, then I sure as hell could shake off kooking out and give surfing another go.
And give them the gift of learning to surf while they’re young, even when it meant waiting for later in the day and less waves for me. To see them share in the joy of riding along a pretty blue wave face, all one with the world, is a whole’nother kind of stoke. I’ll take that one, too.
So, yeah, they’re anchors, for better and worse. But they inspire more than anything. And so when Kaylee joined Bobby, Nick and me in the water for the first time in a year, the sloppy, mushy waves didn’t impede my happiness one bit.