Category Archives: Stories

The lessons of Soul Surfer, as interpreted by my daughter

Tessa, Reed and I are watching Soul Surfer, a DVD that Tessa picked out from the local Redbox with Daddy while Mommy was out of town. They’ve already watched it but we see it again together.

It’s a feel-good movie with heartwarming moments of triumph over adversity and portrayal of family unity and support, and it tackles the question, why do bad things happen to good people?

Bethany Hamilton was a 13 year-old surfer in Hawaii when, in 2003, her left arm was taken by a shark. She not only surfed again, but she surfed competitively and won. She has since become an inspiration to anyone who has had to overcome an obstacle, especially children and teens.

The main character is played by AnnaSophia Robb whom, as I’ve said before, bears an uncanny resemblance to Tessa (or vice versa). So Tessa has always identified with this grounded and wholesome actress, who hails from the Denver area.

I keep pointing out, as we watch the film, values that Roger and I have been trying to instill in our children.

  • “I’m impressed by how the entire family is on the same team, supporting each other and not fighting!” I say with particular emphasis.
  • “Look at how Bethany lets nothing stop her! She is going to surf again no matter what. Such determination!” I belabor with many exclamation points.
  • “I notice how she feels sad but doesn’t let the sadness stop her,” I note.
  • “Wow. Bethany doesn’t waste any time feeling sorry for herself, does she? She doesn’t expect people to give her special treatment.”

Just in case Tessa and Reed missed any of that.

The angel choir chimes in my head when Tessa says to me: “Mom, I’m going to be just like Bethany for the next week!”

OMG, this is going to be so fantastic. No more pecking at her brother. No more excuses about schoolwork. Feeling emotions but not letting them rule her. Commitment to her goals.

It’s gonna be a great week.

At bedtime in her room, Tessa moves around oddly as she gets ready for bed, but I can’t quite pinpoint why. She argues with me over various issues: packing for school tomorrow, picking up dirty laundry from her bedroom floor, who gets the last toaster strudel in the morning, and how she really doesn’t want to go to an after-school activity this week.

“Tessa,” I say.

“Whatt!” she says with the sullenness of a full-teenager, which she is not yet.

“What about being like Bethany this week? I thought you were going to try to get along with Reed better and meet your commitments and keep going even if some things are difficult.”

She looks at me as if I’ve got surfboard styrofoam for brains.

“Mommm,” she begins to spell out to me as if I were the child, “What. are. you talking about? I MEANT that I was going to not use my left arm for a week.”

Oh.

My bad.

Sister throws brother under bus

One of Grandma Marshmallow‘s favorite places on the planet was her family cottage on the cape. She brought her children there as a young mom, and this is where my husband learned to swim from his grandfather, Grandma Lisa’s brilliant and reportedly eccentric father.

The cottage is teeny — barely 750 square feet split between two levels. And it’s, uh, “quaint,” if that word implies run down and without amenities. If one of us remembered to call the town early in the season to turn on the power, we had power. Usually we had plumbing. The cottage has a second floor that has been stuck at the tear-out stages of a remodel since I joined the family, and the whole place has an unlived-in, musty smell, it’s heyday, when a houseful of cousins would gather here for the entire summer, long gone.

Still, Lisa’s eyes lit up when she uttered the town’s name, which became shorthand for the house.

Practically, we used it as a place to change our suits and to shower after swimming in the ocean.

To get to the ocean, we’d have to walk through an old and small cemetery. The etchings on the thin, slate or granite headstones had eroded to almost nothing, but I’m told some go as far back as the 1600s. It was eery-spooky to walk through. I amused myself by imagining the ghosts and the stories they would tell.

A year ago, the last time Grandma Lisa visited her cottage on the cape, Tessa and Reed were done swimming, done changing, and were waiting for Daddy and Grandpa to load the lawn mower onto the truck for the ride home. They busied themselves by playing with two Scottish Terriers across the lane.

There was a path to that house that was framed by railroad ties. Reed began bouncing on the railroad ties, as boys will do, not realizing that there was a wasp nest underneath.

The wasps were not happy about being jostled by this boy, and their fury was unleashed. Before any of us knew what was happening, two children were shrieking at the top of their lungs, racing for the front door of Grandma Lisa’s cottage. We adults, at the time, knew nothing of the wasp nest — we simply thought the children were playing a very intense game of some sort.

But the gravity of the situation emerged as we saw the swarm of raging wasps swirling around Reed. Tessa screamed, “BEES! DADDY SAVE ME FROM THE BEES!” She made it, insect-free, into the cottage and slammed the door behind her, locking it as protection from the “bees,” which in her mind had opposable thumbs that could turn a doorknob.

Meanwhile, Reed was at the doorstep and we were plucking angry hornets from his scalp (newly shorn in a Kojak-cut), his hands, his shoulder, his chest, his legs. The majority of the swarm returned to its railroad tie, and we worked at stamping out the offending hornets and calming down an understandably shaken Reed.

As he realized his time on earth was not over, he remembered his sister. His first words, after “GET THEM OFF ME! I’M GETTING KILLED!” were, “Is Tessa all right? Make sure my sister is OK.”

Yeah, Buddy, she’s fine. She’s safe in the cottage. Which she locked you out of.

~~~~~

Soon the cottage will be for sale. It’s the end of a summer ritual that has played out each summer of my husband’s entire life. The wasp story is a fitting end to the sting of the loss of Lisa.