What Shark Diving Taught Me about Motherhood

Motherhood is full of adventure.

I have always been a rather timid person; always careful and really, I do everything rather scared. I have never been an adventurous, thrill seeking kind of girl. But as a mom, I have had to embrace adventure. I have ridden more rollercoasters than I like, I have bounced on waves riding a banana boat, I have driven jet skis with wild dolphins at our side and steered snowmobiles down a steep hill screaming until we arrived to the flat surface.

I brought in 3 babies into this world, beaten down and redeemed from postpartum depression and anxiety, recovered from 3 C-sections and preeclampsia, breastfed till my nipples bled and my sweet little babies bit me (full body shiver) with their newly chiseled teeth. I’ve planned all the fun and all the summers, packed all the bags, and embraced all the memories.

I have learned to breathe in every breathless situation.

And all of these adventures, no matter the thrill, the fumble, or the victory, have 2 things in common for me:

  1. I was terrified and did everything scared.
  2. I did it all for my children and in return learned more about myself, my faith, and all of life than I could have imagined.

Whether I was bouncing on waves or bouncing babies on my knees wondering if they would ever stop crying, I swallowed my fears and embraced whatever adventure came our way each day. I was determined that my kids would see a mama who was loving and confident, kind and peaceful despite the fear-filled tears that I would wipe away when no one was looking.

Motherhood is full of adventure and this summer’s adventure topped it all.

Sharks. 

I am not sure how I got sucked into this one or what captivated me to go along, but before I knew it, we were on a boat near the coast of Jupiter, Florida in the middle of the ocean with snorkels in hand.

My husband assured me there was a cage. There was not. 

A darling 20-something-year-old girl was our overly excited and very sweet and reassuring dive instructor.

“I am going to jump in and call the sharks with the bait box. As soon as we get a few, I’ll call you in, simply go to the back of the boat and jump in, keeping hold of the black rope. Stay calm, take deep breaths, and enjoy. If the sharks get too close I’ll be there to move them aside. Keep watching them and have fun!”

My daughters are looking at me to see my reaction. I smiled at them. They seem calm and…fearless.

My husband and son are looking at me from across the boat waiting for the panic to set it. Again, I smile and nod and mouth, ‘I’m ok.’

I take deep breaths. My glasses hide the tears that are forming. “You can do this,” I say to myself. I start to pray, begging God to give me peace and courage because motherhood is full of adventure.

I am reminded of the first time I took all three kids on our first outing after having baby#3. We headed to Walmart for some essentials. The baby was wrapped around me, the five and two year olds were sitting in the cart. All was calm and fun until the baby started screaming. I couldn’t figure out why, she was clean and wasn’t needing to feed until a little later. The sensitive toddler covered her ears and started crying as well, the always certain 5 year old proceeded to tell me the baby needed a pacifier. I searched everywhere. How in all my planning and packing did I forget the pacifier? The screaming continued as I quickly headed to the baby aisle, overwhelmed and with tears pooling in my eyes as others looked on. I found a paci pack and tore it open. The baby soothed and stopped crying, the toddler was relieved and asked for a snack, and the oldest made sure to let me know I was stealing and needed to pay for the paci!

10 years later these once babies, now half-grown people, are jumping into shark-infested waters, fearlessly.

First, the 16 year old man-boy: The strong-willed, justice-minded, determined, and still very certain one. The one who loved dinosaurs and watched every episode of Wild Kratts was more than ready for this adventure.

My husband followed, ready to put himself between shark and his kids if needed, but just as excited as the man-boy.

Then, my still tender hearted 13 year old: She glides in easily, not a bit of fear. The one I was most nervous for was the calmest and most confident. When we are all back in the boat seasick and adrenaline sick, she sits at the front with the captain, cool and collected with the wind in her hair, as if it was just another normal day.

My baby, the spicy 10-year-old: The dive instructor helps her and she is confident because those who have gone in before her did it effortlessly and she won’t be left behind.

I jump in. I grab onto the rope attached to the boat for dear life. A 6 ft shark is before my eyes. Panic sets in. I lift my head out of the water and breathe. I regulate my breathing and float on the surface of the water. Deep breaths, stay calm, enjoy.

Sharks are swimming all around. One swims beside me. I hold my breath. I want to cry.

I stay afloat keeping my eyes on 5 sharks swimming before and beside and under us with my precious family beside me. I pray and a calm settles over me.

Motherhood makes you do crazy things. 

I revel in the calm of the ocean, the magnanimity of the fearsome creatures before us, and I look down into the depths of the sea.

I think of all the adventures life has taken us on. I think of all the adventures that are coming too fast and too soon.

I’m not ready. I don’t want to dive into those yet. Deep breaths, stay calm, enjoy.

College visits and applications, choices and callings and careers. My oldest, the one who paves the way, the one first to dive into new waters, deep oceans, new fish and maybe even some sharks…That adventure will be here before I know it and well, I’ll mostly be sitting out for most of his new adventures. I’ll be the one watching from the side of the boat.

Then my next sweet girl, with all her dreams and tender desires and ambitions will jump in and swim away and if she follows her dreams, be sure you will find me on the boat praying against every ill-intending shark.  And finally, my last will soon follow her own adventure into unknown depths. I will wonder how we got here and if only I could cage them in. Deep breaths, stay calm, enjoy.

Yet, when those new adventures come, I will send them off scared, but confident in who they are becoming and in what they believe and they’ll be ready to dive in; brave and fearless.

Whenever they call me to dive in with them, I will jump in and hold on for dear life. 

No matter the depths, I know I will be able to do whatever motherhood asks of me because after all, I have swum with sharks. 

Deep breaths, stay calm, enjoy.


 

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Andrea is a true Houston native! Other than her college years at Baylor and a few summers with family in Guatemala, she has lived around the Houston area forever and cannot imagine living anywhere else. Especially because of family nearby as built in babysitters, so many friendships built throughout the years, and the great people of this city, Houston is so dear to her heart. In junior high her family moved to the Sugar Land area, but she attended a high school in town and spent as much time as possible at the Galleria in the 90s! After graduating from Baylor University with a degree in Secondary Education, she married her high school sweetheart, Orlando, and they moved to the Richmond area where they have been ever since and where she homeschools their son and 2 daughters, ages 15, 12 & 9. Andrea is very active in Women’s ministry at her church and in her community. She began writing for more therapeutic reasons when the kids were small and soon began writing publicly, remembering her love for writing and realizing the gift and calling that it was in her life. She published her first book, Breathless: Prayers from a Mother Learning to Exhale in 2018, a devotional last year and is currently working on a few new projects. In her down time, Andrea loves alone time, especially because she’s an enneagram 4! She also loves coffee, hanging out with her family and friends, traveling, New York City, musicals, especially Hamilton, fair trade jewelry, and charcuterie boards! You can find her writing at www.andreaportilla.com or follow her on Instagram @dreaportilla and on Facebook.

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