Today I took my son to the beach.
To the outside observer, I’m sure that sentence seems as normal as anything. But I’m not sure I can tell you how happy it made me to type those words. For a number of reasons.
First, and most simply, the Oregon coast is awesome. Beautiful. Only a short hour’s drive away, through a lush, green coastal forest. I love heading to the coast anytime of year, but especially when it almost qualifies as a proper beach in the summers. It was 70 degrees and sunny; nice enough for the water to be refreshing instead of frigid, and the sand to be toasty warm. We’re in the thick of harvest season and I knew Taylor would be fully occupied all day, so it was the perfect time to get away.
Secondly, we needed a break. This harvest season is really going quite well so far; definitely our best yet. But no matter how smoothly a hard thing goes, it’s still a hard thing. Friday was the first day where I thought to myself, “Whew. I’m tired. And this is hard.” I needed a break from our daily routine; the meal preparation, dishes, laundry and tidying. I needed a break from reading the same two Thomas and Friends books 54 times a day. I needed a break from being home alone all the time. And so we packed our bags and fled to the ocean.
Finally, it made me so happy to type those words because writing them means that I was finally brave enough to do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.
It’s no secret that I struggle with anxiety. I’ve worked hard to get it to a pretty darn manageable place, a place where it doesn’t affect my quality of life. But regardless of all of my work, unfortunately, it’s still how my mind works. A lot of the time, I struggle with trying new things or taking a “risk” (not an actual risk, usually just something outside my comfort zone). I try to avoid anything and everything that could possibly go wrong, inconvenience anyone and especially, cause me extra anxiety. Being in the car for an extended period of time with a kiddo who doesn’t exactly love the car, for example. Or putting myself in a situation- like driving to the coast- where things outside my control could potentially go wrong; car trouble, getting stranded, injury, illness, insert worst case scenario here. You get the point.
And sometimes I’m just afraid to do things alone. Despite the fact that I’m 30 years old and a mom now, definitely qualifying me for grown up status, sometimes I feel like I still need permission to do things I want to do. Or a chaperone. Like someone needs to tell me it’s okay, or I’ll be safe or they’ll come along and make sure everything turns out alright. But I’m trying to work through this. Because it’s really silly, and what it’s really doing is letting my irrational fears win out over a lot of really great experiences. I’m a very cautious person by nature, so it’s not like the things I want to go do are dangerous in the first place. And I’m the type who over-prepares for most scenarios anyway, so really I should be feeling confident about my readiness, instead of fearful.
But today I didn’t feel afraid.
I didn’t feel afraid of being alone. I didn’t feel afraid of tears, or spilled smoothie, or skipped naps. I didn’t feel afraid of breaking down or breaking my ankle, and as I sat on the edge of our red wool blanket, already covered in sand from Emmett running back and forth, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. As I stared at the ocean with the sun on my face, I realized that I also didn’t feel afraid of being the mama of a toddler anymore.
Ever since Emmett turned one, I’ve really struggled with mourning his babyhood. I wondered why for a long time; he’s always been a pretty easy-going kid and has been just as delightful at 12-18 months as he was before then. But I realized eventually that it had nothing to do with him and everything to do with my fears and doubts about parenting. I was a pretty confident mama to a baby. I mean, there were nap struggles and nursing woes early on, but in general I felt pretty sure of myself. I savored his first year of life, even reveled in it; sniffing his baby head every chance I got, whispering prayers of thankfulness in his ear every time I laid him down, lovingly pinning tiny white onesies to the clothesline and proudly carrying him around on my hip day after day.
And I was afraid to move past that. To walking, and words, and tantrums, and teaching. Afraid that I’d feel overwhelmed and under qualified. Impatient and exasperated. And I’ve tiptoed through the last six months of Emmett’s life, afraid to make mistakes, beating myself up over everything, getting discouraged so easily and listening to the voices in my head telling me I’m not good enough.
But not today. Today I dug my toes in the warm, gritty sand, lifted my face to the sun and let it all go.
I mean, to be completely truthful, it’s been a bit more complicated than that. I’ve spent the last couple months reading some really good books that have reinforced my instincts and helped me flesh out my parenting philosophy. I’ve talked with friends about this stage, swapped strategies and things that worked best, as well as asked them what they’ve loved most about toddlerhood. I’ve put habits in place to live more in the moment- adjusting my expectations for my days, involving Emmett in almost everything I do, accepting the idea that it’s really okay for mothering to be my full-time job right now. I’ve spent the first few moments of every day thinking “gratitude,” and tried to be intentional about just savoring the sweet, simple moments that happen organically when you’re least expecting them.
So it’s been a lot of work, and a long time coming, but today felt like the final release. Today I dug my toes in the sand, lifted my face to the sun and let it all go.
Today I took my son to the beach.
And today I was not afraid.