Like Mother, Like Son

“Come on, Nana, let’s go out deeper!”

Okay, Henry, wait for me.

“Hey, Nana, am I swimming?”

Yes, Henry, you’re swimming. You’re doing great!

“Nana, here comes a really, really big wave. You better get ready! Oh,
muthhhh-eeeer!”

Phew, we made it!

“Yeah we did, Nana, but we really got clobbered!”

It took me awhile to realize that when Henry said “sobbered” he meant “clobbered.” And I still don’t know why he screamed “mother” in the face of every monster wave. I’m wondering if he once heard somebody (Papa? Dada?) describe a massive roller as “the mother of all waves.” Wherever he heard it, it appears to have become embedded permanently in his lexicon of favorite words.

The first chapter in my daughter Shauna’s just-released book, Bittersweet, is called “Learning to Swim.” (you can find a pdf of this chapter under Articles in the "Rediscovering God" section of my web site if you would like a little taste of Bittersweet!) Thirty years ago she learned to swim on the same stretch of Lake Michigan shore where her son Henry and I have been playing this week: building sand castles, making sand angels, and inadvertently filling our swimsuits with sand each time we tumbled along the waterline in the wake of a towering wave. I have also been sweeping buckets of sand out of the beachside cottage we’re staying in, but strangely, Henry has let me do that alone.

Shauna’s chapter is a profound treatise on the bittersweet process of dealing with change and understanding “the story of who God is what he is doing in this world.” Facing waves is the metaphor that rolls through the chapter. Shauna writes that “if you try to stand and face the wave, it will smash you to bits, but if you trust the water and let it carry you, there’s nothing sweeter.”

Henry loves Shauna’s book. One day this week he sat at the grass-topped table in the cottage, intently drawing lines and circles on the title page of Bittersweet. “This is my mama’s book,” he announced, when I asked what he was doing. I’m quite sure he was autographing it, as he’s seen his mama do many times.

So, anyway, while were descending (very slowly) the 75 stairs (count them, 75!) to the beach to play in the waves, I quoted Shauna’s line about “letting the water carry you.” Henry nodded in agreement, but as soon as we were neck deep in the water (his neck) he would have none of that “let it carry you” business. Clearly, he wanted to be smashed to bits. He wanted to be tumbled end over end, left on the shore “exhausted and battered, out of breath and shaken up,” as his mother so cleverly wrote.

Each time I sputtered and struggled to regain my footing, I tried to remember Shauna’s profound and beautiful message in “Learning to Swim.” But I need to be honest. Here’s what I was really thinking:

How blessed I am. Thirty years ago I got to tumble playfully through the waves with my daughter Shauna, and now I get to do it with my grandson Henry. I don’t think life gets better than this!

Someday, Henry will learn what his mother has learned: that there are times when the waves really are more than you can face, and you need to turn around, bow your head, and let the water carry you. I’m confident that when it comes his turn to learn that, he’ll be surrounded by family, friends and a church community that affirm the bittersweet journey of faith.

But in the meantime, I’m grateful for these summer days when the waves we’re facing are nothing more than miniature mountains of shimmering blue, and the sand we carry up the stairs on our feet and in our hair and spilling out of our swimsuits is fine and white…and pretty easy to sweep up.

Hey Henry, look at that one! Oh my gosh! Here is comes! Muthhhh-eeeer!