It was a beautiful, not-yet-too-humid summer morning in south Florida. My father had offered to take us all out on his boat, so right after breakfast I did the thirty-minute circus called “getting four children ready to go somewhere.” The girls were all super excited about this adventure, especially our eldest. Like many Floridian kids, she is just crazy about swimming. And, of course, she couldn’t wait to wear her new bathing suit.
We packed up an ungodly amount of towels, drinks, food, etc., and packed into the minivan. On the way to the dock, the girls were excitedly chattering about what they might see or do in the water. “Maybe we’ll see a dolphin again! Or a manatee!” “I’m going to show Nana how can jump into the water now!” I smiled to see them so happy. As a mother, I’ve found I most enjoy times with my girls out in the wide outdoors.
Once the girls were all in their Coast Guard Approved Personal Flotation Devices, we boarded the Carolina skiff and set out. The sun was glinting off of the water and the salty air was refreshing. My dad found a safe place for swimming and my sister jumped in to help her four nieces get out. Surprisingly, our 4 year old and 6 year old splashed in quickly, but I looked up to see our 8 year old frozen on the forward part of the boat.
“Honey, what’s wrong? I thought you wanted to swim.” I couldn’t believe my eyes. This was our confident, sanguine daughter who usually wanted to be first at trying everything. Her face told it all. She was longing to be in the water, but for some reason, she was frozen in fear. I went up, sat behind her and said “You know you don’t have to, but you’ll be really sad if you miss out.” She nodded sadly.
Suddenly, something inside roared inside of me: PUSH HER OUT!
I was shocked and tried to stuff it down. “I can’t do that! She’ll never trust me again!” I thought. In a matter of seconds, I was having a violent argument with myself. Should I help her out? Or let her make her own decision? I don’t think I’ll soon forget that feeling, the rush of adrenaline as I was furiously considering my options as a parent. “Will the last 8 years of nurturing and bonding suddenly go out the window? Will she think I don’t care about her?” It sounds ridiculous now but, in that moment, I myself was frozen in fear.
Without warning, I gently yet abruptly, pushed her bottom off the side of the boat. It happened so fast yet seemed forever as I was watching. She turned around and beamed at me, “Thanks Mom!” My heart leapt with joy to see her pretending to be a mermaid with her aunt and sisters. It would have been horrible for both us to sit and watch on the sidelines. She watching her sisters having the times of their lives, and me watching her.
Later that day, I sat down on the floor where she was playing and looked straight into her eyes. “Sweetie, do you know why I pushed you off the boat today?”
“Why?” she asked.
“Because I love you and I knew that you would be safe and have so much fun in the water. I didn’t want you to miss out. Sometimes we need people who love us to push us a little bit. Even grown-ups. As long as the pushing is coming from love and wisdom, then it’s a good thing.”
She smiled then hugged me and said “I love you too Mom” and happily went back to her Shopkins. I think it’s safe to say she still trusts me and knows that I want the best for her. That day will forever be ingrained on my mind, reminding me that sometimes some gentle parental “pushing” is not only beneficial but necessary.