Getting My Sea Legs

09/23/2016 04:44 pm ET

I caught the wind! Sailing at a clip from the Northwestern beach South, I jokingly called to my instructor, “I’m heading downtown!” It was exhilarating.

Each time I head out on the water to windsurf I am excited, yet a bit wondrous, eyeing the sails warily, as if to say, “Am I strong enough to lift that sail?” Then, as I pull my board into the water and check for waves (yes, there are waves in Lake Michigan), I remind myself that, worst case, I fall in the water – I am, after all, a water child.

I climb on the board, lift my sail slowly, with my ever-patient instructor reminding me where the wind is and where my sail should be. I grasp the mast, pull it to a good place and endeavor to catch the wind. There are false starts, but, right around then I realize, “Yes, I can do this. I am strong enough.”

As I begin to sail, I position my feet and legs to balance, an ever-shifting pursuit pending the wind and water, and me. When conditions are good and I am sailing well, the experience is glorious! If there is minimal wind or I am not doing well, it is frustrating. I fall into the water repeatedly, sail for but a few feet, or drop my sail again and again as I try to turn. It takes effort, focus and the energy to keep climbing back on the board and continue to pull the sail out of the water. Sometimes I think I am improving. At other times, I wonder, though, if I am honest, I will acknowledge that I have gotten better.

Catching a great wind doesn’t always happen. Some days there is no wind. And, when it is, I am still learning how to catch it. But, the other day I did. I experienced the soaring movement, cruising quickly across the water. As I shifted my legs and adjusted my balance as the wind changed, I realized that windsurfing was a metaphor for the past two years of my life.

Repeatedly I have approached new responsibilities of a new life status with anxiety, wondering “What am I doing?” and “Can I do this?” in the face of separation, divorce, joint custody, surprising news, solo home-owning – you name it. I have shifted my attitude thanks to caring instructors who reminded me again and again of my directions. They encouraged me how to place my sail and balance so that I could parent, run a household, travel, celebrate holidays and live alone. I have wondered if I could lift the sails of upset children, plumbing emergencies and celebrations myself – things I had always done just fine but with the support of a partner. I have questioned my strength to hold my own emotions at bay in order to give my children enough knowledge that they could both have understanding and feel secure. I have feared falling into waters of sadness and anger, and then realized that I could climb back on the board or regain my balance with the help of those who offered a hand.

There are obvious differences. Receiving a divorce decision is patently different than choosing to windsurf. I windsurf in hour-long increments. Parenting and living keep going. But, the constant balancing and rebalancing of expectations, emotions and actions impacted by winds of life events and the stresses of my life, my children’s and their father’s parallel balancing one’s legs and weight and adjusting sails to respond to unpredictable winds that change in strength and direction and waves that may catch me off guard. I need focus and energy to remain calm and remain on the board as it were – that is, to state what I need from a situation, to patiently hold my children, to avoid landing in dark waters of negative communication or overwhelmed feelings.

I do fall, often, and regularly have to pull my sail out of the water and start again. I wonder what and if I have learned from the situation, but then, as I shift to a new position of balance, I realize I have learned from the past. Indeed I have strength.

The goal of windsurfing is to remain upright, catch the wind and sail. It takes time and experience to get there. Life, too. At first it’s about simply standing through days and decisions. But then it’s more. When I have caught winds of confidence, claimed my decisions and reconnected with myself, I can sail with exhilaration.

Meantime, I will keep falling, in the water, and in life. But, I keep at it. I don’t always get it right, but now I know my strength. I know what I can do.

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