“Never turn your back on the ocean.” It’s a phrase my dad uttered every summer as we raced towards the Maryland shores that we waited eight long hours in the car to visit. While those words still ring in my head today (and even leave my lips every now and then), I find it fitting for motherhood. The unpredictability of the waves can parallel the tantrums of a toddler, while the ebb and flow can mimic the transition from preschooler to big kid: Gentle enough to remind you of its peaceful nature, yet forceful enough to bring a reality check at the very second you let your guard down.
On our most recent vacation (and I use that word loosely with a five- and two-and-a-half-year-old), I had the rare moment to just sit and stare at the vast body of water in front of me. I gave my kiddos the challenge to bury my feet in the sand so I could relax a little without the fear of the ocean sweeping them away. As I strained my eyes to see the lone sail of a boat upon the horizon, I wondered how many people were sailing on that vessel. Was the ocean kind to them that day? Did the speed of the wind favor their sailing goals? If it was only one individual, was he/she lonely on the expedition, or elated to welcome the open sea and unaccompanied time? It became clear to me at that point, feet buried and all, that motherhood is all that the ocean encompasses: times of loneliness and times of fear; stormy weather and sunny days; seasons that cause destruction and moments of relaxed peace. As mothers, we experience emotions from one extreme to the next—sometimes within the same hour (it is summertime, after all). I know there have been days when I felt as though my journey and that lone sailboat’s were one in the same, while other days found me surrounded by fellow sailors in the yacht’s harbor.
The face of isolation in motherhood can look like another all-nighter, with a newborn who refuses to sleep, a biting habit in your toddler that keeps you from playground dates, or the lack of a support system for your tired and weary soul. Much like that sailboat on the horizon, stillness and emptiness may be guiding your vessel with no end in sight. You ride the waves and pray for the season to change (as everyone assures you of said change), trusting your instincts and every parenting book you received from those who entered the club before you. You pray for another passing ship to nod in solidarity, or for a crew member to hop aboard and take the wheel for a while. One of the most amazing aspects of motherhood lies in the fact that someone has been in your deck shoes before, and will most likely offer advice or a shoulder when you need it most. In turn, you will most likely notice when a fellow parent needs to be pulled in to shore, and when she needs to sail alone.
Thanks to motherhood, our awareness of others’ needs is heightened, allowing us to throw out a net to a struggling mother, feed and comfort a friend who yearns for nothing more than to be in our place, or simply listen to the stories from the mothers who have decades of experience on us. Just as an all-inclusive resort offers everything you need, want, and more from one package, so does motherhood.
Before you know it, the surf has subsided: the nocturnal baby is now sleeping through the night, while your toddler has moved on to bigger and better things post-biting. The first born whom you swear JUST learned to write her name is now reading independently and preparing for a full day’s work in school come fall. You are on top of the wave now, feeling the gentle roll and ripple effect of harmony. Both paddles are in the water, primed for the change in the currents of raising littles. Your legs stretch to find the steady sand beneath you as you stand tall with the knowledge that motherhood is a constant force that pulls you emotionally and physically. The ups and downs of each childhood phase will balance out as you became more proficient in navigating the seas of parenthood. The stormy seasons of mothering serve as a reminder to look forward at all times, no matter the size of the swell (or tantrum) in front of you.
As I write these words, I have one child engaged in a puzzle while another naps. What a far cry this moment is from the day before, when sibling arguments, too much pool time, and overall exhaustion from the summer sun took a tool on our home. Despite my wave acting strong and fierce yesterday, today’s tide chart is cool, calm, and collected. Mother Nature and motherhood tell me this weather is temporary. We will be on a different weather pattern tomorrow and the next day and the next after that. In the time that I’ve learned to “never turn my back on the ocean,” I’ve experienced the change of the tides from all angles of this wonderful voyage called motherhood.