Fierce winds gave the seawater the appearance of a tumult. Sand stung our legs and ankles like needle pricks. We were the only ones either brave or foolish enough to set foot on that stretch of coast on that grey-skied evening. But we could anticipate a different experience if we came at another hour.
By midday, waves crashed against the shore. Gulls flew over the dunes. Our little family walked out under the bright blue, cloudless sky. Nearly constant breezes blew. Had we judged the ocean on our experience the prior evening, we never would have stepped in the soft foam.
The grace of do-overs and persistence, perseverance and hope, choosing not to give up or give in: all were lessons we learned from our time away.
Our little one donned her swimsuit with a built-in, long-sleeved swim shirt. Boldly, she launched into the waves, which rolled more gently than she had seen a few hours earlier. She felt no fear, only days of stored excitement. She could not recall how the waves both push and pull at once. At her first visit, nearly two years ago, she was too young to stand alone in the weight and grasp of the water. Now, almost 4 years old, she has a sense of capacity, strength and certainty that she is still testing with trial and error.
A wave ebbed against her little ankles as another rushed against her knees and thighs. She fell backward. Wet sand flung upward into her hair and along her cheeks. Perhaps, she had too much memory of Water as portrayed in Disney’s “Moana.” In the movie, Water is a reassuring character of its own, encouraging, friendly, playful and an ally. In her real-life encounter, our little one met water that pulled her sense of certainty out from under her. She felt betrayed.
Her tendency has been to abandon whatever injures her — hot food, for instance. As a result, food must be room temperature before she will touch it. I feared that our jaunt might end in tears and a declaration that she will “never ever do that again.” Instead, we overcame by splashing followed with laughter. Older siblings and her father helped her dance over the waves. Such a thing is both an individual and family victory.
A few days later, we played in the pool. We had kept a vigilant eye on her. She is very cautious, but anything can happen. She floated on a pool noodle as if it were a horse. Someone on the patio spoke to me. I turned. She splashed away, happily.
We adults had finished two sentences before my husband sharply called my name. He is a trained lifeguard. He was a step from diving in the pool, shoes and all. I turned to see our little one struggling. She had slipped from the noodle, her eyes wide with fear. Her father had seen her open her mouth under water to cry for help, but she could make no sound. I was only a turn and step away. I had her quickly in my arms. But disaster was so close.
I held her, staying calm for her. All I wanted to do was weep. She wrapped her arms around my neck and coughed out the water as I patted her back. I understand why people talk about such experiences as happening in slow-motion. So much unfolds in milliseconds.
She clung to me. “I done. I not do this again.” I continued to hold her, patting her little back. Uttering words of comfort and reassurance, I sensed her spirit calming. I could feel her body relaxing. Suddenly, she seemed cold. I rubbed her to warm her.
We talked. I told her about bikes. She has been dreaming of learning to ride. I told her that everyone falls while riding a bike. Often, we get scrapes, we bleed, we hurt. We also make a choice to get back up and ride again.
She listened. I told her the same is true of the water. I told her, “We cannot give up. We cannot quit. We try again. We keep playing. Some days, we go under. Other times, we float.”
We kept talking and gently turning in the water. Then, I started to laugh. She smiled. We laughed together. I tickled her. We splashed a bit. We laughed more. We invented Bunny Spin, Puppy Spin and Chicken Spin. She relished in our play.
Great inventors, courageous leaders, and everyday people know what it is to fail, to make mistakes, to struggle. It is an element of being human. C.S. Lewis wrote, “Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success.”
Maybe our little one will learn to swim the next time we are in the water. This time, she learned that it is okay to fall, to struggle while going under, even to get knocked down. She also learned that we choose not to give up or to give in. We try again.