To the Little Girl Who is Afraid of the Ocean
We just got back from a week in Hawaii. It was a great trip and may become a February tradition now that we’re residents of the great and rainy state of Oregon. It was brilliant to escape the lingering wet winter, soak up a little sunshine, and relax together with some of our best friends.
We stayed just a couple of blocks from the beach and went there daily. I had pictured Cee playing in the sand and splashing in the waves. But the minute we stepped foot on the beach, Cee clung to my neck and did not want to be set down. It was yet another lesson in setting aside expectations and meeting my child where she was. And at this point in her life, she isn’t a fan of the beach.
Cee hasn’t spent much time at the beach in her short life, but this wasn’t her first time either. We visited Hawaii when she was 6 months old, and we’ve taken day trips to the Oregon coast a couple of times per year. But all of her previous experiences have been to rather wild coastlines, so she’s only dipped her toes in from the safety of our arms. I admit that we probably didn’t give her much choice about those early encounters. This was really the first time that she’s been able to verbally describe to us how the ocean makes her feel.
“I no like ocean.”
“Feel scared beach.”
“Go home, Mama?”
She’s terrified of the ocean.
And I can’t blame her. The ocean is huge. It’s unpredictable, powerful, and loud. It’s incomprehensible. To a two-year-old who wants to control her environment as much as possible, the ocean is frightening.
I tell her: It’s OK. I’m scared of the ocean, too. It’s OK to feel scared.
But let’s just put our toes in, I tell her. Let’s see how the water and the sand feel on our feet. She nods, though skeptically. I pick her up and we walk towards the surf. A wave approaches and breaks several feet out, and an inch or two of water and foam gently wash over my feet. She grabs me tighter and says directly into my ear, “All done, Mama! All done, Mama! All done, Mama!”
I respect that. I respect a little girl who can look me in the eye, head held high, and tell me she’s afraid. She says this even as children play around us, racing the waves breaking on the shore. I know that I can’t explain away Cee’s fear of something this big.
But I do want to tell her this:
The ocean terrifies me too.
But isn’t it beautiful? I think you’ll see this someday. And when you accept that the ocean is wild and huge, and there’s nothing you can do about that, you might find that it’s calming to watch the waves crash onto the shore from a safe spot further up the beach.
And maybe not today or this week or next year, but someday, you may want to step into this water despite your healthy fear of it. Someday you might want to know just how refreshing it feels to dive into the ocean. You might want to see the wonders of a coral reef through a snorkel mask. You might let go of your current need to control your surroundings and let this wild water push you around a little bit. You might even learn to harness it on a surfboard.
I know that you are a brave girl, whatever you think of the ocean. I’ve watched you climb to precarious perches on our furniture, in trees, and on the playground, but you are careful and calculating as you climb. You are in control of every single move. The ocean is too unpredictable. It doesn’t give you that control, and you can’t calculate the risks.
You may be more of a mountain girl than an ocean girl.
I know, because I am just like you, little girl. I’m afraid of the ocean, too. But I don’t want to let that stop me from experiencing the world.
(Also, there’s this: We have one of those Sleep Sheep that we turn on for white noise at bedtime. It has 4 options for sounds: ocean, rain, babbling brook, and creepy whale/alien songs. We’ve used the ocean option since Cee was a newborn, because I think it is the most calming of the 4. We brought sheepie with us to Hawaii, and on our trip and ever since, Cee has specifically requested the “up-high button” – the top one – at bedtime. That’s the babbling brook. No more ocean.)