The water was freezing. One half-step in and I let out a squeal.
But my stepdaughter had already dunked her head completely under and was swimming in the ocean like a little fish. She’s 6 years old, and fearless.
I stood there in the ankle-deep water, squeaking every time an icy wave splashed up my legs a bit higher. This wasn’t my idea of a good time.
My stepdaughter, however, was right at home, ducking under those waves, climbing onto her boogie board, sliding off again.
As my feet became accustomed — or just numb — to the temperature, I took a few steps further in. Waited to get another level of numb, then a few more steps. Soon I was in up to my waist, and I stayed there for a while.
I watched my stepdaughter and her cousins figure out a way to connect their boogie boards and inner tubes via a combination of handles, straps, and somebody holding onto somebody else’s foot. Then I pulled them all along in a train of flotation devices, traipsing along the shoreline, but never going more than waist-deep.
Every few feet, she would wiggle around too much on her boogie board and fall off again. I’d pull us to a stop, and there would be a mini-collision as the momentum carried her cousins’ floaties into hers as she scrambled to get back on. But soon enough, we’d be on our way again.
Eventually, we got to where we were going: A little stream of sorts that flowed into the ocean. We all climbed out of the cold water and traded it for the stream — which, I found out, was much, much warmer. But when I stepped in, I realized it actually was … too warm. I stayed there for a while with my husband and my 10-year-old stepson and the rest of the family, but I kept thinking about that ocean water.
It had been cold. Frigid. But somehow, it seemed more enticing than the comfortable little stream we were in now.
Soon the kids wanted to go back out to it. And this time, I went with them. Not just halfway, either. This time, I went completely under.
The water stung, it was so cold. I couldn’t catch my breath. I splashed back up to the surface, gasping.
But I had done it. My husband came in, too, and we all got a good laugh at how miserably cold but perfectly happy we all were together in that ocean. It was terrifying and not exactly the most comfortable thing in the world, but I’m glad I dove in.
It’s exactly the same with stepparenting, actually.
It wasn’t my plan at first, falling in love with (and then marrying!) a divorced dad of two. And diving into the role of stepmom two years ago was, like that ocean water, terrifying and not exactly the most comfortable thing in the world.
In the beginning, I kind of tiptoed in. Waited for the initial shock to wear off, then waded in a bit further. I watched my stepkids splash around in their world that they were already accustomed to, but each step was completely new territory for me. And as casual as the kids made everything look, that water was probably a little uncomfortable for them at points, too, as it was for my now-husband.
It still is sometimes, for all of us. Every day is more new territory, and I still squeal when a new challenge splashes just a bit higher than I’m expecting.
And I know there will be accidents, mistakes along the way. Like how Jan fell off her boogie board, there will probably be times when she and her brother will hit a wave at not quite the right angle, and get tossed off their trajectory in life. And I hope I can be there to pull everything to a stop and help them back on.
This ocean I’m in might not have been my original plan. But now, anything other than this life would be … lacking. As I write this, rumbling along the highway as my husband drives us home from that beach, I look back at the two little sleepyheads in the backseat, and I wonder how I got this lucky.
Sure, that warm stream was easier, less stressful to be in. But it isn’t where I want to be anymore.