Choices. On a balmy day in Acapulco, I faced a tough choice that has haunted me ever since.
My mother, my daughter and I were swimming in the ocean. At first, we were in up to our ankles, then our knees, then mid-thigh, or higher when the waves came crashing to shore. We were having a great time, the water was about 85 degrees, and we were talking and laughing.
The salty, warm waves splashed in our faces and were pushing higher up to our shoulders. My mom, who is about six inches shorter than me, was in front of me and my daughter was at my side. My mom began to scream. She was in trouble. It happened so fast. All I could see of her was her head bobbing further and further away.
In order to rescue my mother, who was out about ten or so feet beyond where my daughter and I were, I had to leave my daughter. In a split second, I decided I had to go get my mother or she was going to drown. "Kick hard and go towards the shore," I said to my daughter. I knew there was a chance that my daughter could get into trouble, but I knew she was much younger than my mom, and with legs so strong from her training as a skater. And I knew I didn't have much time to get to my mother or she'd be gone.
I pushed against the waves toward my mother. "Hold onto me," I said and I immediately began to swim her back towards the shore. I am an extremely strong swimmer because of having to go off the high dive and not go under (I had frequent ear infections as a child so getting my head wet was not allowed per doctor's orders, and yet, I had to take swimming lessons.). Fortunately, I didn't think of the possibility that even strong swimmers can get into trouble trying to rescue someone. I just said to myself that I had to get back to my daughter in a hurry, without letting go of my mom.
Each yard I swam seemed like a mile and I kept going in slow motion. The beach was so far away. In the meanwhile, my daughter was struggling and I knew I could not get to her fast enough. I screamed at the top of my lungs. "Help, help, help, help!" I yelled.
A Mexican teenage boy came out of nowhere. Normally, a mother is not happy to see a strange, foreign teen grabbing her pre-adolescent daughter, but that day was an exception. We all swam together as he held my daughter and I pulled my mother to the point where we could walk onto the beach.
When we got to the shore, the boy informed us that we were in a rip tide area. At least there was an explanation for our body surfing transformed to a living nightmare. We breathed hard as we walked back to where the rest of our family was situated amongst the many bodies on the beach that day.
"You left me," my daughter scolded.
"I had to," I said. "Grandma was in trouble."
"I was, too," she said. "I couldn't touch."
I was deluged with guilt. What should I have done instead of what I did? I scarcely knew what a rip tide was, let alone the how-to's of navigating its terrorizing power.
Only my daughter, my mother, and I realized the grave situation and the miracle we had just experienced. I laid in bed that night and reviewed in my mind what was probably fifteen minutes of intense drama. Over and over, again and again, I could not sleep all night for the thinking of what if. I knew my mother was in danger, yet my daughter was in more danger than I'd realized. How did I ever come back to the shore that day with both of them? The situation seemed so impossible when I recounted it in my mind as I tossed and turned all night long. It easily could have ended badly. The forces of heaven and a stranger intervened that day. No other explanation would suffice.
The beach was off limits for me the remainder of our week-long trip. And I must confess, I have been a much more cautious body surfer since then. Yes, life is a great teacher.
Today I wish a Happy Mother's Day to my mother and thank my daughter and son for giving me such a Happy Mother's Day. The best gift of all is that I have each of you in my life. When, in thinking how I might have lost you, I realize how fragile and precious life is, and I appreciate what you have given me that much more.