Big waves and a mother-heart

16 Apr

We’ve just returned from a glorious 5 day break up the coast, hence my absence here. Each Easter, like so many Aussies, we head away with our car packed to the hilt- I literally had my legs crossed on my seat the entire trip so we could fit the coffee machine in- to enjoy the autumn sunshine and camp with friends.

It was a chunk of time dropped from heaven. The weather was perfect- warm during the day and hot enough to swim, but cool enough to enjoy an early shower, rugging up in trackie daks and smoking ourselves silly around the fire. The company was a blend of old riends, treasured and known and loved, and new friends with great kids and similar values.

Us parents jointly banned any electronic devices, so no DS, iPods, Wiis or anything else we didn’t have when we were kids. And no TV, unlike some of the other campers who surrounded our tents. Yes, we took a coffee machine  and a fridge, but when you’re feeding 12 adults and up to 20 kids, those little appliances make a world of difference.

Instead of having ‘screen time’, the kids played together. All day. Every day. And I can even say truthfully that there were hardly any squabbles to sort out. The kids have all been friends since they were babies and they don’t go to the same school, so they love spending time together, especially when they don’t have to say goodbye after a couple of hours. They rode bikes, dug in the sand, played cricket and soccer, found secret hideouts, played chess (I know-incredible), Uno, Yahtzee, got their faces painted, did drawings, toasted marsmallows and scribbled their names with sparklers. And they surfed.

We all enjoyed the beautiful beaches and clean surf. Mostly the waves were great for body-surfing, and the adventurous ones amongst us got out the body boards and surfboards. The water temperature lured us in with balmy promises, and the squeaky clean sand was hard to resist. The waves were generally kind, but occasionally vicious. After being slammed a few times, I got out exhausted and with sand in way too many places. But my 8 yr old daughter stayed out in the waves. She squealed with delight, and my heart squealed every time a big wave lifted her up and she was perilously close to being dumped.

Funnily enough, the Dads loved it. Frollicking about in the waves, they were like big puppy dogs, throwing their bodies around with reckless abandon, forgetting that they had to drag those same bodies to the office in just a few days time. Spun around in the barrel waves, they were swept up onto the sandy shore only to get up and head out again into the surf, grinning like little boys.

As the waves got more ferocious, numbers dwindled. One after the other, the kids came back to the safety of the shore, bleary-eyed and spent after one too many wave thrashings. My dear friend Jen and I kept count of the heads that we were observing. Three dads, six kids. No- wait, three dads, five kids. Is he one of ours? No, wrong coloured rashie.

‘Oh, no.’

‘Ahh. Ouch!’

‘Why do they do that?’

‘Oh, I can hardly watch any more.’

‘Be careful!’

As each wave rose, our hearts leapt into our mouths. With maternal foresight we could imagine danger lurking at the base of each wave, just waiting to see someone we loved, hurt and grazed at the bottom of the ocean floor. I know what that woman meant when she said that to be a mother is to forever have your heart walking around outside your body. We watched, chewing our lips, knowing we would feel better once everyone was safe and dry back on land again.

Something changed in the world of Neptune, and beach cricket suddenly got a whole lot more popular. There were now just two brave little girls out in the surf with one dad to watch over them. And then the massive set started. Lize caught it all the way in, a bit the worse for wear, but still standing on ever-so-slightly wobbly legs. Now there was just my firstborn out in the massive waves of the Pacific Ocean, just a few metres away from me, but achingly, just out of my reach.

It sounds melodramatic to say that the waves were menacing, but to me, watching helplessly as my daughter faced them, they were. I felt sick to my stomach as one after the other they rose up, shadowing her in their path. We leapt to our feet as if that would make an difference to the wave that was about to swallow her.

“Under! UNDER!” I screamed. She duck-dived neatly under the wave and I breathed out again. Adults around me were all standing, focussing on her and getting her out of the water safely. My husband bellowed “Under again!” as another big one threatened to dump her. She didn’t panic, but I felt sick.

One of the dads picked up a board to go out and bring her back in. It felt like forever, although I think it was only about five or six big waves, just pounding, one after the other. Finally, the set ended, and relative calm returned. She swam just a few strokes back to the shore and walked dripping and pale to me, sobs in her eyes. I felt like crying too, the near panic relieved by holding her salty, gritty body close to my heart and hugging her tight. She understood the gravity of the situation, and was aware that it had been a few scary moments for us all. She was teary, but happy to finally be back on dry land.

After a good cuddle and being wrapped in a snuggly towel, her equilibrium quickly returned. In half an hour, she was back to teasing her brothers and hassling me about what was for tea. It took slighlty longer for me to feel relaxed again, playing it over in my head and reliving the overwheming fear of ‘what if?’

That night as she lay in her sleeping bag, looking exhausted and still incredibly child-like, my heart swelled again as I watched her sleep. To be given responsibility of something so valuable and so irreplaceable is such a privilege. There are times, I admit, that it’s a privilege that I don’t really value.  And there are also times, little reminders like that day at the beach, when being a mother is something so sacrosanct, so special and so precious that I hardly feel worthy to hold the title of Mum.

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One Response to “Big waves and a mother-heart”

  1. Leeanne April 18, 2010 at 6:03 am #

    Treasure every moment because if you blink you’ll miss it and they will be off living their own life where you are no longer within arms reach to rescue. These are precious times, take each and every opportunity you are given to build and strengthen a strong bond because the time of letting go comes around all too quickly. Lxx

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