LITTLE VICTORIES BIG GAINS
As the new year started, I found myself feeling quite low; not alone but definitely a little isolated. It had been a strange and challenging year, for all of us, right to the end. If you celebrate Christmas, the Northern beaches lockdown and limits on family gatherings merely underscored these challenges. Confined to my bed because of the wet weather, I binge on series TV, feeling exhausted, washed out and not at all looking forward to returning to work. I try to psych myself into a better frame of mind. I’m not complaining about the rain. I love every drop that falls, but when the sun starts to peek through the clouds after weeks of rain, hope accompanies it. I know that if I took myself to the ocean and felt the sand between my toes some of this weariness would shift, allowing space for light.
It worked. But not without its own challenges. Everywhere I go my daughter goes. Actually, she is doing ‘amazingly’ well, and we do have some short times apart. Those who live in families where mental health issues are a part of the daily routine will understand that ‘amazing’ is when your child falls but stands up. This may happen several times in the one day, but the fact that they continue to stand up is ‘amazing’! We go to the beach.
I take a photo of my kids, now young adults, at the beach with their surfboards. The sun is shining, the sky is clear and blue, and the water looks incredibly inviting with small waves rolling in. My son is grinning at me with his long curly locks and my daughter refuses to look at the camera, resolutely focused on the sea. The photo captures their natures perfectly. For a moment, I think about posting it on Instagram but put my phone away to enjoy the few moments of quiet on the sand. Had I posted that photo it would have told a completely different story to the one that unfolded
I watch as my son yells, ‘Let’s go’, throws himself onto his board and paddles effortlessly towards the break, whilst his sister, cautious and timid, paddles anxiously through the waves. She is not afraid of the sea, but people terrify her. I watch as she makes her way to the break and then gets off the board and holds onto its side. My mother’s instinct immediately kicks in and I know that things aren’t going well. I send telepathic thoughts to my son redirecting him back to check on his sister but, having too much fun he doesn’t notice her discomfort. I sit there hoping that he will turn and look; eventually, he realises and paddles over to ask her if she is Ok. Of course, she isn’t and therefore yells at him.
“If you don’t want to be here go in”, is his not so thoughtful response.
I watch the interaction from the shore knowing that a storm is about to hit. It flies at me full strength, arms flailing, wet suit recalcitrant, water spraying and disappointment and frustration oozing from every movement and sound. I calmly help to remove the wet suit. I clearly state that we won’t be leaving immediately and sit quietly looking out to sea knowing that the less said the better. I hope for nothing. A positive outcome would be for us to sit silently and leave when my son has finished surfing. Some time passes and she speaks. I answer. First, I acknowledged her frustration with her brother for leaving her; then I attempt to explain that he’s young and, probably, it didn’t occur to him that it was important for her that he stays with her. We chatter further about the challenge of so many people. We watch a couple of girls learning to catch waves on the small whitewash; wave after wave, they work on their standing position. Finally, she asks if I would like to go for a swim?
We have been to the beach many times this summer, and she has not once gone into the water. Always, by the time we reach the sand, for her, there would be too many people in the water, and she would not go in. She’d lie on her towel glued to her phone, waiting for us to leave, so to be asked to swim was incredible. We duck under waves and chatter about the surfers and how great it is that she is in the water. We have made progress.
Of course, we have to wait too long for my son and by the time we leave she is tired and frustrated all over again. But we have been victorious!
Since this time, she has completed her bonze medallion and gone swimming on her own at the beach. For us these are monumental steps and make for a great start to the year. Maybe my photo did hold within it a fragment of truth. Perhaps it portrayed the reality of our fragile world rather than the perfect one of Instagram.