Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay

I lived in a lot of houses growing up (with the same family though). Big ones, little ones, old ones, a few rented ones. But the one I lived in the longest and bonded with the most was a red brick house on a lake.

It had a large, quirky dock with grass in the middle that served as the main summer hang-out for me and my eight brothers and sisters.

Young girl dipping feet in the lake from the edge of a wooden boat dock

Not only was that dock a landing pad for a friend’s helicopter once (and apparently the perfect spot for a random horse to munch from as you’ll see in a photo below), but also a place where I could be part of the swimming action, without actually having to jump in.

Some kids fear heights or the boogie man. I feared my head going under water.

Sure, I’d tip toe in from the shore up to my belly button or practice the doggy paddle. But for the most part, I stayed in my little comfort zone on the dock.

Sometimes, I’d sit at the edge with my scabbed, mosquito-bitten legs splashing away the fish. Other times, I’d stand with my hand as a visor blocking the sun, watching my fearless siblings swim out to and jump off the infamous big rock, located several yards past the end of the dock.

dockOne day, though, when I was standing there, a big neighborhood dog, I think she was a German Shepherd, darted down the dock barking at a boat speeding by.

She ran right between my tall, stick legs and plunged into the water. And like a rodeo girl on a bareback bronco, she bucked me right off the dock along with her. Down under the murky depths my head went.

It felt like I was in a washing machine. I couldn’t figure out which end was up. Fortunately, the water in that spot wasn’t over my head, my feet quickly found ground, and I resurfaced, stunned, but in tact.

My siblings cheered from the big rock, as though I’d survived a tumble over Niagara Falls. Encouraged, I spent the rest of the afternoon, and every afternoon I could after that, practicing holding my breath and learning to swim by watching and imitating those around me. Soon, I front-crawled my way to the big rock and jumped off with the others. I even learned how to water ski.

I never did become a super strong swimmer, but I get by. And on the few occasions now that I get the chance to plunge into one of the 10,000 Lakes that surround me, those few brief, crisp seconds of solitude below surface are nearly sacred. Almost nothing triggers more childhood memories for me than the feel of fresh lake water and the smell of boat gasoline.

I was a hesitant, sitting-on-the-edge-of-a-dock kind of kid in many ways. But by the time I reached my late teens and twenties, I was all about adventure. I rode upside down on rollercoasters, kissed a couple of boys, skied down mountains in New Zealand, dyed my hair blond, backpacked around Europe, parasailed through the sky during my honeymoon, and faxed “breaking news” to the press as a PR girl.

But then I gave birth a few times, fell head-over-heels in love with my three little tadpoles, two brunettes and a blond, and anchored myself close to the dock once again. This time, as lifeguard—without the red suit and tan legs.

Motherhood, of course, has some jumping-off-the-deep-end moments, a surreal adventure in its own right, in which I often don’t know which way is up. But the fear of losing sight of my children and the enormous responsibility of protecting them from anything that might pull them below the surface has, at times, okay a lot of times, swallowed me whole. Jonah and the Whale.

Right now, I’m in the sweet spot. My kids are old enough to hang up their own darn beach towels, but still close enough to the dock where they can hear me bellowing “that’s too far” through my air horn. But, in spite of my sometimes zealous efforts to keep them close, they venture out a little more each day.

Flip flops on a Dock in front of a Turquoise Water Lake in the Wild Nature

Too soon, I know, as it should be, they’ll be swimming beyond the buoys and into other bays, leaving me and hubby sittin’ on the dock by ourselves listening to crickets.

No offense to the late soul music legend Otis Redding, but hopefully, we won’t just be “restin’ our bones”  and “watching the ships roll in.”

“Sittin’ in the morning sun
I’ll be sittin’ when the evening comes
Watching the ships roll in
Then I watch them roll away again, yeah . . .”

Lettin’ go of the rope and setting them free is going to be excruciating for me, I’m pretty sure. So I’m trying to let go gradually, inch-by-inch. Part of that process means kicking off my own flip-flops from time to time and venturing out past the buoys, too, towards a few neglected interests and dreams.

Diving in and attempting something we’ve always wanted to do, if we had more time or were guaranteed not to fail, is easier said than done. At least it is for tentative types like me or any one of us simply trying to stay afloat while caring and worrying for loved ones and making ends meet.

But we’ve only got this one earthly life to live. It’s up to us to make the most of it by wading in past our comfort zone (or, in my case, my midlife skirted swimsuit line) a little. I’d rather my kids look back and remember a mother who failed and flopped trying than one simply sittin’ on the dock of the bay watching the tide roll away.

Julie Jo Severson is mom to a teen, tween, and pretween and emerging freelance writer with two desks.  

Click here to learn more about what’s inside this desk. 

Click here to view her other recent posts.


This post was inspired by a prompt from the Friday Reflections link-up, hosted by Janine Ripper at Reflections from a Redhead and Mackenzie Glanville from Reflections from Me.

About Julie Jo Severson

Julie Jo Severson, former PR girl, is now a freelance writer, journalist, editor, and lost-and-found attendant for two teens and a tween. This is where she doodles about past, present, future clinking glasses and making peace.

19 comments on “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay

    • Nina, thank you so much for stopping by. I know how busy you are. Yes, you really summarized in one gracious sentence the main points of the post, and that speaks volumes to me. Have a great week.

  1. My children are 11, 8 and 5, and I love how you said ‘I’d rather my kids look back and remember a mother who failed and flopped trying than one who simply watched the tide roll away’. I totally agree, I want to inspire them to try even if they fall down. I truly loved this post, it is one that will remain with me as it was so beautifully written. So glad to have you on board with Friday Reflections, hope you come back next week.

  2. This is a really inspiring post, I can totally relate to those feelings of hesitation to ‘take the plunge’ both literally & metaphorically! I’m determined to push myself that little bit further as my kids become even more adventurous in their teenage years, but there’s always that little doubting voice that asks me ‘can you really do that?’ So far, I’ve answered it with a resounding yes! Great yo see you at #Friday Reflections

  3. I could completely relate! We too are in that “sweet spot,” but shortly will be back into the deep again as kids get into jr. high, high school and beyond. Just want to keep them close and protected. Thanks for this great reflection!!

  4. As a mom of a lad who just drove himself off to the pool and work at 7:00 AM on a Sunday and a daughter who went from refusing to put her head under water to being a swim coach I loved this. We’ve pushed through the hugely busy teen years and are out on the other side. It is bittersweet. Hang in there, Momma. Thank you for including a photo of the dock btw. I couldn’t pucture it!

    • Gosh, I missed this comment from you Kelly. I’m so sorry. Yeah, I think some people think I’m bluffing when I tell them about our old family dock, so now they have proof:) That’s great your daughter became a swim coach after having a fear of the water, too, as a child. Love it! Thanks for the encouragement.

  5. I loved this beautiful read, Julie! I just adore your words, your stories, your message. I am thrilled I found you! It’s always such a treasure hunt out here in the online world, for those gifted writers who have perfected the art of the written word combined with the depth and soul to inspire.

    That is you, my new friend. I’m SO glad you are writing, and I’m even more glad to be reading what you share! Keep painting the scenes with your exquisite words and taking us along your journey with the perfect shades of humor and depth all at once. It’s brilliant. <3

    • Christine, this is by far the greatest compliment I have ever received about my writing. This particular story is getting published in Mamalode on July 31st, so I’m thrilled about that. First time I’ve tried to get published in more than a decade. I feel like I’m mostly writing to crickets at this point except for the wonderful writers I’m occasionally linking up with. I’m just no good at the whole social media thing, and you have to be, of course, to reach an audience. So thank you, thank you, thank you. I can’t tell you how much your kind words and encouragement means to me. It meant more than if I had suddenly received dozens of new subscribers. You are a treasure as well and one of the most generously-spirited bloggers I’ve come across.

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