My mom never went in the water.
I think she thought she looked fat in a swimsuit.
I think mine didn't want to get her hair wet.
That's not the kind of mom I want to be.
We were standing with our feet in the Atlantic, the sun behind our backs casting long shadows out into the water. We'd stopped applying sunscreen hours ago. We'd given up trying to get our kids out of the ocean. The outgoing tide pulled them further and further away. We stood on the shore watching.
A few years ago my husband was interested in getting our sons up on skis. He grew up skiing. I grew up in Florida. But I didn't want to be a family of three skiers and one non-skier, so at 35 I learned too. Now we all ski down mountains together.
I wanted to show my sons that it's never too late to say yes to something or to learn something new. I want to be active and have new experiences right beside them not watching from the sidelines. I want to be the kind of mom who says yes. But so much of the time, I want to say no.
Mom, want to go sledding?
Mom, want to build a sand castle?
Mom, can you play Legos with me?
Mom, can you come in the pool?
The internal battle begins. No. I can't. Not right now. You're old enough to do it yourself. Let me sit. Let me watch. You don't need me. Just give me a minute. I've been hovering for years following every misstep, keeping you safe, and intervening when you got frustrated. You don't need me. Go ahead. I'll watch.
I think about my oceanside pledge, and I feel torn between my need for stillness, solitude, a simple break from the constant activity that boys bring and the idea of the type of mom I want to be. A mom who is always willing to play. A mom who is not relegated to the sidelines.
Some days I fantasize about being a French mom like in that book about how in France children live in a separate realm from their parents. But I haven't been to France since I was twenty-one when I slept all day and wandered the city all night. No, this is not France. My boys are in my realm, and I am in theirs. I know this time is fleeting. I know one day they will stop asking. I don't want to miss my chance to say yes.
Mom, can you come boogie boarding?
Not right now. Maybe in a bit.
Mom, are you ready to come in?
Oh, I don't know. Don't you need a break?
Mom, how many minutes until you think you'll be ready?
I hadn't boogie boarded in years, maybe ever. The surf was big and the wind was blowing hard. Beach umbrellas were popping out of the sand left and right. All I saw was cold water. Goosebumps appeared on my arms just thinking about it. Everything in me wanted to say, “Not today,” instead I said, “Okay. Let's do this.” It was my oldest son who finally said, “Mom, I'm cold. Can we please go in?”
It was in that shared experience of trying to catch a wave that I felt a certain kind of closeness to my sons, different than I feel cuddled up reading at bedtime or during one of those rare times that they still crawl into my lap all sprawling arms and legs.
I know this will be the push and pull of the next few years, pushing them away while still trying to bring them close. Now I understand what I have to do. If it takes skiing down mountains and getting my hair wet, I'll keep saying yes. I need to start putting my money where my mouth is, because that's the kind of mom I want to be.