As a firstborn child, I was always the cautious one. The rule-follower. Growing up, I’d been a good student, a pleaser, and a hard worker.
From a young age, control was something I sought at all times, from the way my clothes fit, to my perfectly and symmetrically feathered hair in the 1980s, to memorizing every line of my favorite songs just in case someone “caught” me mouthing the words (some favorites were I Can’t Go For That, Hold Me Now, Relax (ironic, no?), Safety Dance, and (of course) Control. When I wasn’t rehearsing in the mirror, I noted every fault in my profile: the too-turned-up nose, the dark mole on my cheek, the iced-tea-colored speck in only one of my green eyes and the dishwater-blonde hair that looked filthy compared with Christie Brinkley’s sun-kissed, golden tones. I wanted to be anyone except me. I worried about everything, especially what others thought.
Then, during my sophomore year in college, I was introduced to a sailor.
He told me he thought I was prettier without makeup (I didn’t believe him). He said he liked me just the way I was (I didn’t believe him). His disposition was so friendly and relaxed that he seemed too good to be true. College classes didn’t stress him out. The social scene didn’t stress him out. Not even dating a nervous Nellie like me stressed him out. Somehow, he put me at such ease and made me so relaxed with myself that it actually made me feel uncomfortable.
So I broke up with him.
Shockingly, he didn’t hold a grudge, and somehow we found our way back to one another. As a matter of fact, we married the year after college graduation. He is now my husband the sailor (or MHTS).
When we married, we hardly knew ourselves, let alone how much goes into a marriage, or raising a family, or finding our way in the world…but throughout our twenty years of married life so far, we’ve managed to figure these things out together. One of the many lessons I’ve learned from MHTS is that sailboats are generally not equipped with seatbelts. And, for someone like me who’s always tried to lead a controlled life, it’s been a very, very good thing.
On a boat, you’re at the whim of everything around you, most notably the weather, the water and all those other boaters. Even if just one of those elements creates an unfortunate situation, you have no brakes, no airbags, and no seatbelt on a boat. When all else fails, you’re forced to rely on your wits and your nerve and the single most important requirement of all sailors: to ride the waves, no matter what.
I’ll never be as confident as MHTS on the tiller, so I’ve had to accept the humble realities of being a First Mate (rather than Captain). It hasn’t been easy for a control freak like me, but it’s given me a new perspective on life. As First Mate, I might have an opinion (for instance, “We’re heeled over too far! We’re going to tip!”) but I must keep it in check so as not to scare the other passengers (I’m still working on that…though according to MHTS, not hard enough). As First Mate, I might suggest (sometimes too loudly/panicky/hysterically) that the approaching vessel doesn’t see us, though I’ve learned from experience that it doesn’t help anyone if I scream and cover my eyes while making my announcement (again, it might upset the other passengers, not to mention the Captain).
It’s not all terrifying, though. As First Mate, I’ve learned the benefits of taking risks…of getting knocked down then fighting to right myself again…and of finding creative ways to get through the doldrums. I’m convinced those experiences have helped me through some of my life’s lowest moments: losing a job, having a miscarriage, and even changing careers.
Had I not married MHTS, I know I’d view life with an entirely different perspective. For instance, I have many friends whose lives are brilliantly ordered. Their homes are perfectly Swiffered clean of every trace of dog hair. Their kids always put down the toilet seats. Their refrigerators are filled with only the most healthy, enticing, and unexpired foods. Their hyper-scheduled calendars are color-coded down to the minute. I love those friends and admire them (truth be told, I often envy them)…but I am nothing like them. My life is imperfect and improbable for so many reasons. For example, I’m not a morning person. I struggle every day to wake up and engage with morning people. I’m horrible with numbers and dates and must refer to my calendar hundreds of times a day to stay on task. I eat when I’m stressed, I eat when I’m happy, and I find countless ways to avoid exercising. Worse yet, as a recovering perfectionist, I hate cleaning the kitchen because it’s just never clean enough. The guilt I used to carry for years about not being good enough, early enough, smart enough, fit enough, organized enough — feels lighter now that I’ve eased off my inner “control panel”. Don’t get me wrong — I still feel the urge to take the reigns — but I try to remind myself of what I can control and what I cannot.
What I’ve also learned by being around boats is that things don’t just break…they break regularly. Problems don’t just happen…they’re guaranteed. Unforeseen circumstances are the norm rather than the exception, and therein lies the secret of life: when you stop trying to control everything and just ride the waves, you’re stronger for it. I used to consider that approach as being lazy or forfeiting control, but now I see its pure brilliance. As the saying goes, pick your fights. And remember: fighting against circumstances beyond your control is just a waste of your energy; how you try to deal with them is what’s most important.
MHTS encourages me to enjoy the sun on my face while it’s shining (and God forbid, if I’ve forgotten the sunscreen, it’s not the end of the world). He’s a wise man of the sea, and he also understands me. He sees my creative tendencies trapped inside a Type-A personna. He gets that I’m happiest when I’m following my passion…which is writing. So, what better way to introduce my blog than to credit the sailor who encouraged me to follow my dream of becoming a professional writer at 40 years old?
If you have a seatbelt, fasten it, because I plan to write about many of life’s ridiculous, imperfect scenarios. Why? Because I relate so much more to people when I admit I’m just trying to ride the waves of life. You’ll relate to this blog if any of the following experiences have happened to you or someone you know:
Realized you’re imperfect
Tried to like yourself more
Wondered how others do it
Gotten fired/counseled out/downsided/let go from a job
Looked for the silver lining
Carried a secret
Dreamed of a perfect life for your children
Wanted to trade your children (relax…just for a weekend or a temporary period of time…or until you stop screaming)
Looked for a laugh
Needed a good cry
Reached the end of your rope
Made a mistake
Harbored an evil thought about the perfect people in the world
Tried to figure out how to apologize without giving up your side of the argument
Recovered from a broken heart
Consoled someone whose heart was broken
Focused on others’ strengths more than your own
Cleaned up vomit
Searched for inspiration
Howled with laughter
Making no sense to others
Stuck to your guns
Fell through the cracks
or Sought balance
Welcome to Riding The Waves. I hope you’ll enjoy reading about life’s ebbs & flows, highs & lows, and ups & downs. I hope you’ll catch a glimpse of yourself within this blog, and that you’ll let me know about things that resonate.
As a dear friend of mine always signs off —