…Tomales Bay on the night of our journey
The Dudes slipped into their wetsuits and ran to the car. I followed with a bag of warm clothes, wool hats, gloves, neoprene caps and booties and a change of clothes for me. In case I flipped. Out.
I could feel the butterflies in their stomachs. Much easier to feel theirs and not have to acknowledge my own. Nervous energy had them sitting upright in their seats, looking out the car windows as we S-curved our way to Marshall, a tiny (as if there is any other kind) West Marin town that sits on the shores of Tomales Bay. At the mouth of the bay swim Great Whites. Yippee. Beneath the waters lies the San Andreas Fault. Sweet. On top would be The Dudes and me paddling a mile across to find microscopic lights in pitch black liquid.
Now this I am stoked about.
I’m a late bloomer, all the way around. So when I take a step it’s often a giant sized one to make up for lost time. The Dudes and I have never been kayaking together, and I’ve kayaked only a few times in quite calm waters. So why not start with a crossing of Tomales Bay in the dark on a quest to find bioluminescence. While a late bloomer, I’m not a lunatic, so I gratefully accepted the help of a friend who runs tours out of Blue Waters Kayaking in Pt. Reyes Station.
The Dudes loved putting the kayak skirts on and chasing each other as our guide readied the kayaks, placing glow sticks on their ends and sliding them to the edge. The water lapped calmly at the hulls. It was a balmy, still night dropped in the midst of windy late November. The moon set with the sun; the stars blinked on. The water’s surface, a mirror to the sky, would be heard more than seen, at first. And felt as we put our paddles in and pushed off from shore.
The Little Dude fronted our kayak, and the Tall Dude led the guide’s kayak. We made our way out of the protected, bite-sized marina and began our crossing. Twenty feet beyond the dock, as my gaze settled on his little body sunk in the hole in front of me, the silhouette of his face with a ski jump nose looking into the dark, and the mile of black water yet to cross, I began the process of letting go of the What ifs…
What if we capsize? It’s totally dark.
This boat feels so incredibly narrow.
I wonder what the tide will feel like in the middle?
If we get bumped by a fish, a seal, a…DO NOT SAY IT!…a black-eyed thing with big teeth…stay calm, grab him by his life jacket. Beat the crap out of whatever comes near the boat.
Cleo, relax so you can enjoy this.
Dude, do not shove your paddle straight down into the water – we’ll tip! (That was said out loud.)
Okay, if we tip, our guide, the only human being around to save us, will be here in two strokes. This is what he does for a living.
Why do I feel like a sitting duck in a kayak but totally safe when I’m actually in the water?
Now is not the time to ponder.
I really need to do a will.
I was completely calm on the outside. Stroke, stroke. My paddle grazing the top of the water. Not too deep. Not too hard. Eyes focused on the cliffs that shot straight up out of the water on the other side like black curtains on the edge of a stage.
On the inside I felt the type of maternal nerves that are unique to divorced Moms. We all get nervous when our children are doing something adventurous on our watch, Moms and Dads alike, married or not – biking down a steep hill, catching a wave, kayaking across a deep bay in the dark, the wind capable of kicking up at any moment turning the tiny waves into a storm in a tea cup. But there’s an intensity to the protective nature of a Mom when she no longer feels as if she shares the role of protecting her children with their Dad.
You okay, honey?
Uh-huh, the Little Dude said, distracted by feelings of being in limbo, possibly wishing he was in the other kayak. Are we almost done?
It’s a subtle shift that happens after separation. One day completely at ease being alone and then after the separation feeling anxious at the thought of any event out of the ordinary occurring on your watch. I recall rehearsing the steps I would take in an emergency the first few nights alone with The Dudes after their Dad had moved out. For the first time as their Mom I felt alone. Not physically, but as a parent. Could I call him for help? Absolutely. But having been kicked to the curb as his wife in favor of his mistress, which is exactly how it felt when he made the choice to have an affair and lie to me for years, the last thing I wanted to do was call him for help.
There are a handful of times when I’ve felt this (self-imposed, unavoidable byproduct?) intensified level of responsibility: when I flew the airplane down the coast with The Dudes in the back, upon arrival at our campsite in the middle of Sierras knowing I would be building a fire for the first time and possibly battling back bears, when The Dudes ventured out in the ocean with their boards and the waves picked them up and tossed them onshore, and the night we crossed Tomales Bay.
For the next several years I will be doing many adventurous things with The Dudes as the only adult on duty. They will benefit from their Mom getting more comfortable each time. While I assume I will never fully throw caution to the windy seas or off the edge of a mountain, I can celebrate one big benefit of divorce:
As a result of it, I’ve matured as a parent. I’ve matured emotionally.
I can see the longer view. Which helps put into perspective the little things that I could latch onto like annoying sibling bickering.
Is not! Is too! Is not! Is too!
Instead of, Oh, it’s not anymore. Because I just ripped it to pieces and threw it in the trash! I smile and let them exhaust each other while placing over-under bets in my head as to the duration of the argument. The war over a glow-in-the-dark rubber band or half-deflated balloon becomes entertainment. Eventually, without me to intervene, they will tire of the repetition.
Because I don’t intervene and attempt to halt every battle, they will learn how to communicate with each other. That’s my hope.
This long-range view also helps me to remain at peace with the affects of divorce on their childhood.
Mr. Simplicity suggested I subscribe to a daily email – The Listserve. So grateful. I look forward to spending time with some person from someplace on the planet with something to say. An email address is selected at random and that person writes to over 24,000 people. Recently a woman who experienced the divorce of her parents at the age of 5 wrote a letter to parents who are divorced begging them to, in short, grow up. Here is an excerpt:
“Between my childhood with divorced parents, my adulthood as a stepmom, and my career as a teacher, I have seen it all, and I think most divorcing parents would do a better job if they spent less time thinking about how much they hate their ex and more time thinking about how much it would suck to be the kid in the middle of the whole thing—the kid who is told they can’t go to the family holiday party with dad because it’s not his weekend; the kid who can’t keep a picture of Mom’s new baby in his room because Dad doesn’t want to hear about it; the kid who can’t go to the baseball game with Grandpa and the cousins because his other parent won’t drive a little out of their way to drop him off; the kid who misses an appointment because one parent won’t let the other one pick him up a few minutes before the official access time; the kid who is housebound for a weekend because Dad’s carseat broke suddenly and Mom won’t loan him hers for the weekend; the kid who spent 20 minutes crying on the front step of her school because yesterday’s parent didn’t tell today’s parent that the usual pickup route had some road construction going on which would make them be late…”
…yesterday’s parent didn’t tell today’s parent…
There have been times when I’ve been given a choice to do something that would simplify or complicate my co-parenting arrangement with my former spouse. In the early days I was tempted to complicate things. But then I would hear my Mom’s voice and see her head floating above me like Jambi from The PeeWee Herman Show. Instead of Mecca lecca hi, mecca hiney ho! (which would totally rock if she said that), she says, Life isn’t complicated until you yourself complicate it.
I abhor two things: complications and manufactured drama. It used to be three, but I like spiders now.
Doesn’t mean I haven’t gone silent when my former spouse’s lover is mentioned by The Dudes. Or roll my eyes out of sight when they say something like, Daddy says these clothes can’t come to your house because it’s like a black hole.
What this woman is asking of us is to be emotionally mature. Because the children deserve it.
I’m gonna make her proud.
We reached the other side of the bay. I was certain the Little Dude and I would slam directly into the cliffs, or, worse, into the other boat sending the Tall Dude and our guide overboard. Then I got all mature and remembered I had paddles for a reason.
Two, actually. Not paddles, reasons.
Our guide splashed water from his paddle into the air. It turned a bluish white as it spread out before going black after hitting the water, which lit up the surface and sent the fish off like shooting stars into the depths of the bay.
The Little Dude nearly took a header overboard into frigid bay water trying to scoop up the liquid and watch it shimmer in his palm.
We all started splashing the water with our paddles as microorganisms flipped the switch on their defense mechanisms creating a light show for us on a dark night. We entered a cove to find more. I glanced over at the Tall Dude’s kayak. It left a magic wake of blue water as if Pixar was animating the scene before my eyes.
For twenty minutes we milled about hugging the shore, venturing into coves and then turned to begin our trip back across the bay. An unexpected sense of relief rippled through me. Then I felt the wind pick up. The relief made a U-turn and morphed into nervous energy.
I put up the hand.
You have this. Sure, being in the dark is a little unsettling, but it’s also insanely cool!
The guide and I paralleled each other as we reached the middle of the bay where the depth is about 35 feet deep. You feel the depth of the water there; everything is thicker. We were heading into the wind. But it didn’t feel like it had much punch. The Little Dude wanted to help on the return trip, a request I had resisted until this moment.
He gazed back at me to see my paddles and mimicked my speed as he dipped first his left, then his right into the water. We got into a rhythm quickly.
Great job, buddy!
I could tell he turned his head back to look at me. I kept paddling, heading for the amber lights across the bay. Then I heard little sounds.
Are you blowing me kisses?
Uh-huh, Mama. He paused, then added, I feel comfortable now, before turning back to assist in the paddling.
The Guide and I smiled at each other in the dark. I knew exactly how the Little Dude felt…
Comfortable being playful.
Wisdom gained from experience…Rarely do things go terribly wrong so why worry?
And, when they do, being emotionally mature helps significantly when given the opportunity to make good choices.
Divorce has made me more emotionally mature. It’s made me grow up. There’s more balance to my life. I’m okay with not having all my desires met (yes, even those) right now. Turning 48 in a few months means nothing but a chance to celebrate the day I was born. And celebrate the woman who birthed me. Being alone for Christmas means a good hike to celebrate the day.
Being emotionally mature (please don’t interpret that as being ‘as emotionally mature as I possibly can be’) frees me up to live life without lamenting what isn’t, so I can fully celebrate what is.
Being emotionally mature means that I didn’t freak out the past ten days as I shelved every workout due to my lovely sinuses. My experience on Mt. Rainier will not suffer as a result of the mature decision to not be reckless with my body.
Speaking of my body. Get this. Being emotionally mature helps me to be realistic about my 47-year-old body. This morning I looked in the mirror after 10 days of no physical activity beyond decorating a Christmas tree and blowing my nose 10,000 times and thought,
You look sexy.
And nobody needs to validate that for it to be real.
Is there anything emotional maturity can’t make happen? Apparently…
So, why won’t I take this emotionally mature and sexy woman out on the town to make merry and up the odds of meeting a man with whom I can share some holiday cheer?
I’m still not ready.
And it’s probably because I’m emotionally mature.