The Rogue Wave

July 13, 2008

(This happened a few weeks ago.  I’m posting it here now because it was a fairly dramatic and profound parenting experience for me.)

Our six-year old needed a break.

Phoebe is an intense, passionate child who throws herself whole-heartedly into life. The school years ends Tuesday, and she must bid farewell to her beloved teacher, Ms. Meeker. This realization has caused tears and grief nightly for the last few weeks. “Please pray that the days will go by really slowly,” she pleads at night during tuck-in. To make matters worse, her cat has been missing for 8 days now. There are lots of coyotes in this area, and Scrubb probably met his match. Phoebe is distraught. “Can we have a mommy-daughter date?” she begs, and I agree.

She wants to go to the beach. I can tell she’s feeling stressed out and anxious. “Mommy, explain what this war is all about.” “I sure hope our beach never has an oil spill.” “I’m scared this staircase (over the cliffs leading to the beach) is going to collapse.” Lord, have mercy on this sweet child of mine, I whisper.

And the beach seems to hold a lot of promise for imparting mercy to her. We examine tide pools, watch crabs scuttling, dig holes in the sand, collect rocks and shells. She strips down to her swim suit and braves the waves while I watch, delighting at her exuberance and pleasure in skipping through the water, turning cartwheels in the shallows. When she returns, I wrap her in a towel and hold her close on a sunny rock, snuggling and praising God inwardly for this respite from life’s troubles.

Then it happens. I notice that the tide is slowing creeping in, but is still far from the rocks on the base of the cliff where we’d stowed our things. Phoebe is digging in the sand again when suddenly, out of the blue, a HUGE rogue wave comes crashing over us. Phoebe (a good swimmer) starts screaming and dog-paddling as I reach frantically for our stuff on the rocks to keeep it from being swept away. All is chaos, in this swirling, roaring, eternal moment. Our bag of sand toys is quickly swept into the sea and Phoebe, sobbing, desperately swims to rescue it. “Let it go, honey!” I call but she cannot hear me. I quickly grab our sodden towel, my bag full of gallons of sea water. Only one of my flip-flops is visible but I quickly decide to cut my losses and get the heck out of there, even though these are expensive Chaco flip-flops, my favorite shoes.

Phoebe is slightly hysterical as we hurry back to the staircase. I do my best to comfort and acknowledge the fearfulness of this experience, while trying to be light and in control. I am trembling. I realize how frail life is, how unpredictable. My inability to protect my child from unpleasant things in life weighs heavily on my heart. “I hate the beach,” Phoebe sobs. Silently I agree, feeling betrayed by the sea, which promised such respite and healing for the woes of my daughter.

The drive home is full of recounting our experience and me trying to explain how I want to keep Phoebe safe from all harm and fear in life, but am limited in my ability to do that. Our talk turns to the sad truth that though I can’t keep bad things from happening, we can be together and love each other throughout the storm. And we can survive together. Even a rogue wave (or a “tsunami” as Phoebe starts to call it) cannot overcome our love and tenderness for each other. Sounds a little cheesy, but the reality of this feels comforting, somehow.

By the time we pull into our driveway, Phoebe can’t wait to tell Daddy and her sisters about our “tsunami” adventure, which, as she says, “kind of seems funny now.” Thanks be to God.

Thu Jun 5

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