Originally our family had plans to travel in Canada this year, but then, coronavirus. So here we are in Pennsylvania. The east coast has had a sufficiently hot July. Thankfully, many state parks and some pools have opened, and we could hardly be happier to swim in the water and frolic in the sand (Austin not so much).
I enjoy water, especially natural bodies of water. I’ve only figured out in adulthood that it’s probably a sensory seeking behavior of mine – I am constantly in pursuit of the sensation of floating. Although pools are less enticing to me, my favorite part of lap swimming is the flip-turn. I love that moment when your body is changing both vertical and horizontal directions at the same time; all within the gravity-less space under the water.
As it turns out, my obsession with water has aided me in filling up those endlessly long summer vacations (or pandemic breaks, depending which year you are in). We swim almost every day – several hours a day – if the weather cooperates. The kids seem to love that feeling of floating just as much as I do.
We recently took a day trip over to the coast. The Atlantic was quite docile that day, which afforded our elementary kids an excellent opportunity to try jumping waves on their own. They dove right in, literally. All of them, that is, except for our adopted daughter. Even her two younger brothers were out in the water on their own, but she waited on shore.
I knew right away that she wanted desperately to join them, but she kept hanging around the edges of the waves, now attaching her bodyboard, then taking it off her wrist, then attaching it again. This went on for nearly an hour, and despite a chorus of encouragement from all of us, she refused to get in. I knew that as soon as she got out far enough, she would absolutely love it, but getting past the crashing waves (though they were small) intimidated her too much. She kept asking me to help her, then running away when I offered my hand.
Eventually I tried dragging her in, laying her on the bodyboard and wrapping my arm around both her body and the board to make sure she stayed attached. I lunged into the water, but this method was too direct and she immediately went into panic mode and started screaming loudly. I returned her to land. Frustrated, I explained that the entire day would soon be gone and she would regret not getting in.
Finally, mid-afternoon, shortly before we started packing up our things, she summoned up enough courage to take the plunge. Pleading for my help, she ditched the bodyboard and grasped my outstretched hand. I instructed her to wait, and then, at the right moment run as fast as possible into the ocean with me so we could make it out before the next wave broke.
By the time she had made the decision to fully enter the water, the ocean was changing. The tide was no longer receding, but had begun to rise. With the change in direction, the waves had grown in size. Our daughter is very short for her age; without holding onto me, she had to spend most of her time treading water. So she held on tightly, and before long a few larger, unpredictable waves made their way our direction. I verbally directed her to jump without getting sucked under. A large wave crested further out and I quickly hollered for her to close her eyes and dive in. We both popped up on the other side, still holding a hand, checking on each other to see if we had made it. She squealed with delight. She loved it just as much as I anticipated. It was the perfect mix of water, movement, sensory input, and risk. We had more than one close encounter with an unpredictable wave, and for that reason, held our eye contact and continued to grasp each other’s hands.
By happenstance, we were participating in a therapeutic bonding activity. These unintentional therapy sessions are the best kind, I think, because you don’t have to plan them out. They just fall into your lap and all you have to do is embrace the opportunity when it comes. Eye contact, physical contact, and trust, all rolled into memorable moments that were fun. She was trusting me to guide her and teach her. She was trusting that I would look out for her welfare. She was building a positive memory. If you are at all familiar with trauma and neglect, you have a sense of just how valuable this experience was for our relationship. This physical experience was such an apt portrayal of what I have tried to do with her every single day since she joined our family: Build her trust in my ability and good intentions as a caregiver. Trust is the key missing piece in attachment disruptions. Trust me, I will take care of you.
And so we continue on our bonding journey. I am happy and blessed to put another positive memory down in the books for us. I hope this one sticks both in her conscious and subconscious mind for a lifetime.