I lugged her through the parking lot; she was an overtired heap of a thing by four p.m. With no nap and a day full of adventure on the ocean, my baby girl was spent. When she wants to be close to me, she has a way of tucking her arms into herself and bunching her legs up as I hold her. It’s endearing really, because I think she’s trying to recreate the feeling she had when she was swaddled as an infant. Today, however, I was carrying her like a sack of potatoes. She was writhing in my arms, tears streaming down her face, hair in knots from the ocean wind.
We had spent the day fulfilling Justin’s dream-well one of them. Along with wanting to own a ski chalet, travel the world, and ride across the country on motorcycles, he has also always wanted a boat. This was the one fantasy we could fulfill at present; with the kids so little, the other ideas are out of the question for the time being. Now that we have the boat, I’m predicting that all of our free moments will be spent on it, or cleaning it, or fixing it. So far, my prediction has held true. If you haven’t taken small children on a boat, I will paint a picture for you:
A two and a four year old child, both eager to explore land and sea, are running up and down the bow of the boat. Your heart jumps into your throat when you realize there is a tiny railing keeping them on board. They are ceaselessly climbing the ladder, and wrapping their tiny hands around the steering wheel. “No! Don’t touch that lever!” and “You need your life jacket on!” are called out from concerned parents. Wails of discontent come from the children when they are required to sit still, and cries of excitement are heard when an ocean resident pops its head up from the water. It is an exhausting experience for everyone involved, but especially for the mom, whose one responsibility is to keep the children aboard while her husband is captaining the ship. You’d think the confined space would make it easier to keep track of the kids, but their boredom sets in quickly at having to sit still while the boat was moving and it was nothing short of exhausting to wrangle them the entire time.
It is no wonder then, that by the time we reached land, Ella had had just about enough, and so had I. I was so relieved to be off the boat that the anxiety quite literally floated away the moment I reached the dock. Despite my child’s temper tantrum through the parking lot as we neared the car, I was calm for the first time since we departed onto the waters. I was holding her, smiling, because I was finally feeling confident again. You see, I am not a boater. I am not a sea farer. I grew up in Upstate New York, and although we did visit the ocean regularly, it was to dip our toes in the waves, not to drive out into the wild blue yonder. I can care for my children on land, but in the water, I am a basket case, constantly worrying. “Just get her back to the car,” I thought, “and she can rest there. We’ll be home soon.”
I was approaching a group of tourists as we walked through the parking lot of the marina. They all smiled at me sympathetically as they saw my baby girl in her fit. Even though I was feeling like a frazzled mess due to that kind of behavior from her, I smiled back. One of the women made a comment that will stick with me forever. She said, “I know this part is hard right now, but you look beautiful doing it.”
I walked away thinking that it is incredibly odd that anyone could find beauty in a wailing child with a snotty nose being hauled back to the car by her disheveled mother. I know neither Ella nor I was looking quite exemplary, with her in a hot mess and me just barely hanging on. And then I realized what it was: I was comfortable here. I was secure. I knew I could handle this disaster, even though it wasn’t easy. That woman wasn’t looking at my frizzy hair and my sunburned skin. She was a fellow mother looking at one of her own kind, recognizing that I KNEW I was going to get through. She saw the beauty that is giving your whole self to another tiny human being. And because she said something to me, I saw it too.
Say it, fellow moms. Compliment those ladies you see who are getting through. Build them up. Look into their eyes and see your own reflected back. It’ll make us all better people and better parents.
I will get on that boat again with my children. I will brave it. I may not love it. But I’ve been reminded-and I will remember-that I can do it.