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To the Little Girl Who is Afraid of the Ocean

Cee in HI

A relatively relaxed moment in a calm, protected bay. She didn’t get much closer than this to the water’s edge.

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.)

12 Comments
  1. Julie #

    You inspire and remind me to dig deep and bring out my best mama self. Thank you for sharing yourself with us all.

    Like

    March 5, 2013
  2. Reblogged this on Fearless Learning and commented:
    A loving look at a little girl’s fear.

    Like

    March 5, 2013
  3. Dawna Wall #

    Such a lovely, thoughtful reflection – – A loves the ocean and she’s usually very cautious, S gets freaked out and doesn’t want her sister to go in the big waves, but is growing more confident. I love that Cee can articulate so well and you can hear her, honour her and encourage her all at the same time.

    Like

    March 5, 2013
  4. I love this post. Sweet girl, sweet mama.

    Like

    March 5, 2013
  5. Just lovely. My daughter at 6 months loved the idea of sand between her toes but not loud roaring waves. Though a water baby, perhaps she was too young. I can’t wait until this summer! Thank you for sharing.

    Like

    March 5, 2013
  6. edgepixel #

    Lovely story.

    Like

    March 5, 2013
  7. Your post reminded me of bringing Lovebug to the bay the first few times. I adore how you respect Cee and her feelings so much. She is a very lucky girl. For me personally, I truly enjoy the ocean and sitting on the beach, it has always calmed me and cleared my mind. Actually being on the water though is quite different. It’s definitely a huge matter of enjoying all that it has to offer, while respecting it at the same time.

    Like

    March 5, 2013
  8. mt #

    “It was yet another lesson in setting aside expectations and meeting my child where she was.”

    While the cases Andrew Solomon discusses in “Far from the Tree” are extreme, every parent knows what it’s like when our children defy our expectations in ways big and small. Bravo to Cee for being unafraid to articulate her feelings unencumbered by the desire to please others. It’s so important to nurture that instinct, especially in girls.

    And to Cee, I’m not a beach girl either (mainly because the warm sand and waves lull me to sleep and I wake up burnt to a crisp. Time and again.) and that’s ok! Maybe like your mama says, you are a mountain girl. Luckily, Hawaii has both!

    Like

    March 6, 2013
  9. Such a beautiful post, Alice! I too have introduced my son to things that I thought that he would love, only to discover that he was afraid of them. (Such as the incident that in my family we refer to as “the birthday disaster.” For his first birthday, we got him lots of balloons, and I thought he’d love them. At his birthday party, we discovered that he had a wild, uncontrollable fear of balloons. He was a screaming mess for the whole day.) But things change fast. She may end up thinking the ocean is the greatest place in the world. (My son has recently stopped fearing balloons.)

    Like

    March 6, 2013
  10. They are so intuitive and instinctual aren’t they? Amazing that Cee wanted to change her night time noise too….she made the association :-). Hopefully her fear will develop into awe and healthy caution :-). Lovely blog thank you. X

    Like

    March 6, 2013
  11. Keep going, Mom! You’ll raise a confident, thoughtful child — just like you.

    Like

    March 12, 2013
  12. I have nominated your blog for a Versatile Blogger Award! Details here: http://howtocrossanocean.wordpress.com/2013/03/22/day-80-versatile-blogger-award-recognition-from-other-bloggers/

    Like

    March 22, 2013

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