Breathing is my thing. As a reiki practitioner and meditation leader, I don’t go a day without talking about the benefits of simple breath exercises. But getting a dive certification? Not on my bucket list by any measure.
I remember snorkeling 20 years ago for the first time in the Dominican Republic. I stayed shallow, feet planted while poking my head underwater just as I’d grown up doing in my favorite small-town Maine lake. Resurface. Reposition mask. Repeat.
Even living in Hawaii later on in life did not change my snorkel style. I still looked like a loon casually searching for lunch.
Kids, though. Kids have a way of pulling us from “I’d never” to “Well maybe.”
So when my tween saw the opportunity to get a dive certification on a recent trip to Turks and Caicos while scrolling through the Beaches Resort website, I started to wonder if I could untangle this fear.
“Will you dive with me?” Alex asked.
Since there isn’t much 12-year-olds love to do with their mom, I seized the moment.
All Beaches Resort locations provide two options to guests: a Discovery course (which is dubbed a “resort certification”) and a full on PADI Scuba certification. Because the PADI course would’ve taken two full days of our five-day vacation and we had our sights set on a “reading road trip” to a local elementary school and a surf simulator to tackle at the on-site waterpark, we opted to just get our feet wet with diving.
After a morning in the dive pool, it was time to test our skills in the open water.
With the dive tanks clanging against one another as the boat took on a choppier-than-I’d-like Caribbean sea, it wasn’t just literal rough waters that were looming.
“How far down is 40 feet?” Alex asked.
“About two 3-point lines,” I told her, hoping a familiar measurement would help calm the nerves.
“Oh, that’s not bad,” she said. I smiled at her attempt to convince us both.
I wondered if we should have opted for the glass bottom boat tour. Or maybe the submarine excursion.
My breathing techniques weren’t helping the nerves. I started worrying about Alex’s type 1 diabetes. Swimming tanks her glucose. Fear has a funny way of being a magnet to anything that tugs at your calm.
When the boat slowed, I did what parents do. I suited up. I didn’t have a full pep talk in me, but I shot off one-liners (to Alex and to me).
You have all the air you need.
Trust your body.
You can always resurface.
I’m proud of you no matter what.
One by one, our gear was checked and we dropped into the ocean like penguins.
Close to the shore, I’ve never seen water clearer than in Turks and Caicos. You get out there in those unknown depths, though, the color doesn’t seem that much different than the frigid Atlantic off Acadia National Park. I couldn’t see the red polish on my toes like I could floating near the beach.
I saw Alex struggling to adjust her mask. I knew what was next because repositioning the mask was always my way of buying time. It was like giving bravery one last chance to find me. Like I did in the Dominican Republic. Like I did in Hawaii. Like we were both doing now.
“I can’t do it,” she shouted to me. “I’m going back to the boat.”
What I’m about to tell you isn’t very parent-like of me. Not in a way that parents publicly present themselves anyway.
I was relieved. Relieved I didn’t have to submerge and relieved I didn’t have to be the one to throw in the towel first.
“I’m so mad at myself,” Alex told me as she sat down, tears flowing.
“Remember what I told you. ‘I’m proud of you no matter what.’” But was I proud of myself no matter what?
The instructor said we could finish the “resort certification” the next morning with a dive from the beach. We could suit up, walk into the water, swim out a bit for a shorter, 20-foot dive.
Alex and I exchanged a thanks-but-no-thanks look.
As the day went on, we rinsed away any feelings of what could have been by hopping between pools and the ocean. (The mac and cheese food truck also helped.)
It felt important Alex knew we were on the same page earlier. “I wanted to go back to the boat today, too. Sometimes the bravest thing we can do is say no. Thank you for reminding me.”
Later, when I thought everyone was sleeping, the bedroom door creaked open.
“I want to do it,” she said. “I don’t want to regret coming here and not diving.”
The next morning, we met the instructor for a redemption dive. There was a lightness about Alex that day, and it wasn’t just the comic relief we had from trying to walk on the beach in flippers.
Yesterday, Alex’s bravery was throwing in the towel when her body said not yet. As we started swimming toward the reef with the instructor, I realized the bravest thing I could do at that moment. I stood up. No repositioning the mask. Just planting my flippers on the ocean floor.
As I watched Alex from afar complete what she came here to do, my breathing found me again. In fact, my breathing only failed because I wasn’t staying true to myself. Diving, after all, was Alex’s thing.