Rough Waters: The Jet Ski Experience

August 23, 2017

It sounded like a good idea.

The boys have gotten older, we had just raced go-carts, and it would be fun!

Well…

We were in Panama City Beach, Florida on our family vacation, and Stefan had been looking forward to riding jet skis together. This was the first time we thought the big boys were old enough to go, and would enjoy it. They are little boys, after all. Fast, exciting, adventure… that’s the stuff little boys are made of!

Stefan signed us up for a Shell Island tour. We would ride, following a guide, out to Shell Island and back, and hopefully see some dolphins along the way. He and I had done a tour in a different location about 8 years ago (pre-kiddos) and we both enjoyed it. I figured the boys would love the adventure and seeing dolphins up close would be an awesome experience for them.

What I didn’t count on, was the choppy waters, the blood-curdling screams combined with wailing, and our inability to stop if things weren’t going well.

Gavin rode with me, and was perfectly fine as we idled out past the wake zone. Honestly, I wasn’t that worried myself. I was nervous, having my five year old out on the ocean, but I had talked myself down, saying that the boys shouldn’t miss out on things because their mom was too overprotective, or scared to try things herself.

Zachary was with Stefan, and tears were already rolling as we eased away from the dock. He is my more cautious son, (typical first born) so I was not surprised, but hoped he would relax and be having fun soon.

Once we came to the open water, we were to count to six after the person in front of us went, then take off. One, two, three, four, five, six…. GO! I pulled the handle for the gas and off we went. I was awful. I mean it. You’d think I was riding a bull the way I had that thing thrashing around. With the rough waters, trying to control and balance the jet ski, and keep Gavin on (not to mention counteract his movements), I was mess. Start, stop, go, slow, gas, lean, WHOA!

After a few minutes of this, the beach-boy-of-a-guide came back and told me… just go. “You have to go fast to get on top of the waves, it’s a lot smoother.”

Sure, Mr. 19 year old. I will ignore every mothering instinct and risk assessing thought that enters this 35 year old mom-brain of mine, and put the hammer down.

I don’t know how long it took us to get to Shell Island. Maybe 15 or 20 minutes, or eternity? Either way, Gavin howled the WHOLE WAY. I went as fast as I could muster, squeezing lanky little legs with my own, ignoring the tears and the sobbing, and praying out loud to Jesus to keep us safe. I made sure Gavin could hear my call on the Lord to protect us, guide us, and let us have fun.

We got a little reprieve from the trauma once we arrived at the island. I looked over to Stefan and Zachary pulling up beside us, hopeful to see smiles, but to no avail. I saw the same terror-stricken expression there as the one riding with me.

“Did he cry the whole time, too?”

“Oh yeah, screamed almost the whole way.”

Great.

We spent the next thirty minutes walking around the island, searching for shells, and enjoying the beach. It was a beautiful place with blue-green waters and white sand, and the boys were able to gather shells for their collection. They had both calmed down and were enjoying themselves… until it was time to leave.

For Gavin, the bawling started as we began walking across the island to our jet skis. I admit, that is what I was doing on the inside. No part of me wanted to get back on that thing. I glanced around for a boat, a rescue team… whatever I could find. Nothing.

“Gavin, babe, the only way back is to get back on and just go.”

And that we did. It was a little better on the way back, or at least I had better control. There was a time when the water was fairly smooth and we zoomed across the ocean, and I was able to take a breath a enjoy it. A moment. Maybe sixty seconds. We hit some pretty rough waves, our rear-ends were airborne, and we came down pretty hard. The jet ski stopped. And wouldn’t start.

Stefan and Zachary caught up with us, and after a few minutes we realized the key had come loose. At this point our time was pretty much up, so when the guide reached us, he informed us we would just be going back instead of finding the dolphins.

“I can tell these guys aren’t diggin’ this.”

So, after some more praying, and slightly calmer waters, we made it back to the no wake zone. As we slowly floated along, I tried to use those few minutes as a teaching opportunity.

“Gavin, do you remember the story of Jesus being in the boat with his friends and a storm hitting them on the sea?”

“Yes.”

“Do you remember what Jesus did?”

“He told it to stop.”

“Right! Jesus had power over the wind, and the storm, and the waves. Waves just like we were on. And Jesus loves us, and wants to care for us, and protect us. Did we fall off? Jesus protected us this whole time!”

As much as I was reminding my five year old of this Bible story, I was reminding myself.

Every prayer I said in that two hours to comfort him, I was also praying to comfort myself.

My mouth was saying, “We’re fine!” and “This is fun!” but my insides were screaming just like he was. I had to hold it together for him, otherwise we would have been stuck in the middle of the turbulent ocean. If I had freaked out and given up, we both could have been lost.

When we were at the island, I gently pointed out that sometimes, we have to go through rough waters to get to something beautiful. It wasn’t really fun, and was definitely scary, but we would have never found the shells we did if we hadn’t taken that voyage through the choppy waters.

I don’t know how much he understood the metaphor or the spiritual lesson, but maybe one day he can recall this memory and it will help him through a difficult time. He will remember going through something scary and unknown only to remember that the Lord kept him safe. Maybe he will think of how his Mama clung to him in those merciless waves, and know that he can come to me when he is scared or in trouble.

If you ask him now how he liked it, he’ll tell you it was fun! You know, except for the waves and the going fast, and the scary part.

For me, it made me realize that there are going to be times as a parent that I am petrified. But I need to move forward, cling to the truths that I know, and teach my sons to above all else, call out to Jesus.

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