Know when to hold 'em

At the beginning of yesterday's surf lesson, Carlos told Amy she was ready to start using a leash—that urethane cord that tethers you and your surfboard, so the two of you can stay close to each other at all times. Amy was a little wary, a little scared of getting hurt. Carlos said that while getting hurt was certainly a possibility, it was also equally possible to get hurt without the leash. Plus, the leash at least reduced the risk of someone else in the water getting hurt.

I was thinking about that leash this morning as I drove down the highway at 6:30 a.m., shuttling my daughter to the parking lot where she would soon board a bus with her 8th Grade classmates for three days of Outdoor Ed in the Sierras. The website for the rustic lodge where they'll be staying opens with the following description: "Nestled in the woods on historic Donner Pass..." (Donner Pass, I should remind you, is named after the Donner Party, a group of ill-fated 19th century pioneers who resorted to cannibalism in order to survive a brutal winter.) 

I tried not to think about the Donner Party as I unloaded her duffel bag and imagined her up in the Sierras climbing up the rocks, sleeping under the trees—physically and electronically untethered from Amy and me.

As the group gathered in a circle in the parking lot, her science teacher began his pep talk. He read Shel Silverstein's "What If" and said, "It's OK to have butterflies in your stomach. The key is to get them flying in formation." He talked about how this was a great opportunity to learn independence and adaptability—to push outside your comfort zone and do what you didn't think you had the strength to do. Then I realized he was addressing the kids and not the parents. 

This is her fourth year of Outdoor Ed, and you'd think I'd be used to the routine by now. But every time she hugs me goodbye before boarding the bus, I always want the hug to last a few beats longer than it does.

I remember when my daughter was just a few weeks old and I told my friend Gayle that being a parent felt like walking around with my chest cut open and my heart exposed to the world—all the time. Several years later, I was talking with one of my daughter's teachers about her own daughter heading off to college, and I shared the same observation. This teacher, who had taught and tutored in Silicon Valley for many years, said, "You know, Steve Jobs once said almost the exact same thing to me about being a parent." (I was momentarily puffed up at the idea of having shared the same thought as Steve Jobs, though I became a little deflated when I realized he, of course, had thought of it first.)

Yesterday, as Amy cautiously strapped on the leash, Carlos pointed to some of the expert surfers further out in the water. They don't need a leash anymore, he told us. "They know the waves well, and they know when and how to hug the board if they need to, so it doesn't get lost or go flying too far."

With every day I get closer to being that kind of surfer as a parent. But I'm not there yet. And today, I just wanted to hug the board for as long as I could and not let go.