The other day, while waiting in front of our preschool to drop off my daughter, I heard a woman with a newborn say, “I knew I was really a parent when I didn’t have any time for myself.”
I know the feeling. Unfortunately, my kids are not infants. They are five and seven, so I’ve known the feeling for a long time. As a parent I have very little time for myself. I try to squeeze in a yoga class each week—two if I’m lucky—and have the occasional night out alone with my husband. Even when my children are asleep, it seems that most of my activities are centered around them—cleaning up the dinner dishes, packing lunches, folding laundry. For a few years there I didn’t even have time to floss. It has been an eternity since I had time to take up a new hobby, or try out a new sport. Perhaps this explains the bizarrely enormous sense of accomplishment that I had last month when I learned to surf.
We were vacationing at Hanalei Bay and put our children into a surfing lesson. They’ve had years of swimming instruction, and are accomplished on skis and scooters. We weren’t surprised that they were instantly good at it. It was amazing to see how quickly they were able to stand, with knees bent and arms held wide, and ride waves right onto the sand. Their father and I clapped each other on the back, congratulated ourselves on how wonderful our children are, and what good parents we must be, and ran around like lunatics as we tried to capture the perfect shot with the video camera.
I’m used to getting most of my validation through my kids. No one ever says, “Hey, you’re a great carpooler,” or “you do a helluva job making sure your family never runs out of toothpaste.” Unfortunately, these days I’m used to getting my sense of accomplishment through my children’s achievements. Mia counted by tens to a thousand! Miles read a book!
Back in Kauai, the kids floated over the waves again and again to shore, bright-eyed and laughing manically, thirst and hunger forgotten, experiencing a joy more intense than any other time except Christmas morning. They surfed side by side on parallel boards; they rode in tandem on a long board, even on the shoulders of the instructor.
As I stood in the warm Hawaiian water, watching them, I had a crazy, insane, wild idea. It occurred to me that I could try it too. Yes, I, too, could have fun. When they finally needed a break for Gatorade and pretzels, I took a turn.
I climbed onto the board, which was much tippier than it looked, wobbled like mad, and slid off into sea. I got on again, wobbled again, and this time got a face full of cold water. My children laughed, and I’m sure many of the locals fishing on the pier did too. After many more slides, and mouthfuls of salt water, I finally got onto my knees. From there it was only a few more tries before I was able to stand—stand!—on the longboard. And then I was floating in the water with the instructor, who shouted “now” and gave me a push each time a good wave came in. And I stood on the water, balanced like a warrior two, and floated into shore.
I was jubilant.
That night, over dinner, the kids and I eagerly talked about getting our own surfboards—maybe wet suits too!—and planning the next time we could come to Hanalei Bay.
I was so proud. The feeling was all out of proportion to the two hundred yards that I actually surfed. But who cares? Maybe it is finally time to make time for myself. Maybe it is time to take up some new sports. Maybe it is time to finally start my novel. The kids can make their own lunches. This old dog is going to learn some new tricks.