The first time I took Annabell to the beach, she was a toddler. We stood in the foamy shallows of the surf, my hands swallowing her chubby wrists. As waves tumbled toward us, her body was a coiled spring, taut with mingled terror and delight.
I hoisted her airborne, her little feet swinging high over the water. She squealed and giggled, all fear forgotten.
Within the safety of my grip, she could fly.
Almost a decade later, we returned, just Annabell and I. Now she was ten, on the cusp of the mysterious tween years, and eager for the waves.
Grasping my hand, she led me waist-deep, into the thick of the breakers. We clung to one another, screaming with laughter each time the water knocked us down.
Soon she wanted to go deeper. As the ocean floor receded, so did my sense of control. I gripped her hand tighter, wary of losing her. She’s a strong swimmer, but I wasn’t ready to test her skills against the power of the tide.
We reached the sweet spot of fun and fear, too deep to jump over the waves, but not deep enough to float over them before they broke. With each approaching wall of water, I pulled Annabell close, clutching her with both hands.
Finally, one massive wave put us both under, hard, and Annabell came up in tears. She needed a breather.
For that matter, so did I. My wrists were swollen and my back cramping from trying to support her while fighting the waves.
We strolled the beach, snacking on grapes and collecting seashells, but my girl couldn’t resist the draw of the water. All trauma forgotten, she was soon begging to return.
I was wary, feeling my limitations. I held her even tighter this time.
It didn’t help. If anything, the waves put us under more often, and with worse results. Annabell, anticipating my support, wasn’t prepared to support herself when my strength failed, and I couldn’t stabilize myself with only one arm free.
Finally, I led her back to shallower water. When we both had sure footing, I let her go.
“Don’t fight the wave this time,” I told her. “Swim with it. I’ll swim right beside you.”
I was scared as the first wave came. Instinct told me to grab onto my daughter, as if I could prevent the unstoppable pull of the sea. But logic told me this new plan would work. She was a good swimmer, but she couldn’t use her skills while I was doing the swimming for her.
The wave grew, rising well over our heads and refusing to break as the sea floor rushed up beneath it. The water around my hips pulled outward, drawn into the approaching wave. Should we follow, and dive through the wave before it came down, or should we move back toward shore?
Neither. We were out of time. The wave was cresting right on top of us, and there was nothing I could do but suck in a breath and pray.
We dove together, but the churning water dragged me under and spun me mercilessly. I pushed off the ocean floor as soon as I could find it, calling for Annabell as my head broke the surface.
Another swimmer popped up yards away, but it wasn’t my daughter. Where was she?
The water was a vise, crushing my chest. I called for her again, but panic had me by the throat.
And then, near shore, I recognized a drenched head rising from the water.
She’d ridden the wave all the way in. And she was laughing.
She raced back out as I swam to meet her, relief turning my arms to jello. “Let’s go again!” she yelled, rushing right past me.
I followed, reluctantly, only to endure the same breath-stealing tension with the next wave. And the next.
But each time, my girl came up smiling.
And after a while, so did I.
The next hour was the most fun I’d ever had in the ocean, swimming and tumbling and laughing in the sea with my daughter. All because I let her go.
I let the waves carry her, and when I did, both of us found the strength to swim.