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Riptides and Other Life Adventures

Yesterday my sixteen-year-old daughter Lucia went surfing with her friends. She’s only surfed once before in Mexico and that was when she was ten or eleven years old. She went surfing with her cousin and two friends, all sixteen, to a beach two hours away.


We live in the Pacific Northwest and the water is cold. People die in that water every day. As a mother, especially the mother of a teen, I live in a constant state of low-grade anxiety for what I do not know and what I cannot control. I worry about the big bad world eating up my little girl and spitting her back out.


At the same time, I want Lucia to have experiences in her life that will make her life richer, more fulfilling. I want her to do things that help her feel engaged and alive. When Lucia told me she was going surfing yesterday I immediately began to worry about her drowning. I didn’t even know one of the kids she was going with. Maybe he was an asshole, one of those kids you read about who is just a bad seed, who always brings trouble. Lucia assured me that this kid was a good kid and a good surfer.


When Lucia and her cousin got home last night they were rosy-cheeked, frizzy-headed, excited, and exhausted. Lucia told me how she’d been hit by a big wave and pulled out into the riptide. She said it was really scary, that she’d tried and tried to swim but felt like she couldn’t get anywhere. Finally, she was able to get back. It wasn’t that long, she said, but it felt like forever.


This is what I had worried about. That the Pacific Ocean would swallow her up and keep her. That her friends would lose sight of her or lack the ability to recover her. That she would die alone and afraid in the freezing cold water. But that didn’t happen. She saved herself. She figured it out.


At that moment, time stopped. Light swooshed in and around me from all directions — from outside my body, from inside, from above, from below. I was like a time traveler coming back to the present moment. Everything was okay. All of my fears and worries, images of her lost at sea, whirled around me as I looked at my daughter — smiling, healthy, happy, and alive. This was reality. She’d made it. She had figured it out without me.


How many of these moments will my daughter have? Close calls? Almosts? Could have beens? And I will not be with her for most of these moments. The thought of her navigating all of that on her own overwhelms me. How do I prepare her for this life she is living, more and more without me?


When Lucia was little I had the daily satisfaction, a sense of immediate gratification when I helped her cross the street or put on her f