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Between the waves - Kelly-Anne Maddox

I’m sitting at a picnic table in the early morning chill, listening to the waves lap the shores of Lake Superior. They slosh, gentle this morning, a kinder sister to the gusting wind and crashing surf when we arrived at our campsite yesterday evening. I took my kids to the beach to burn off their pent-up eleven and six year old energy while my husband set up the tent, thinking we could look for rocks to collect and sticks to play fetch with our dog. But when we got there the waves were coming fast, one after the other with barely a break in between.

The children decided that playing keep away with the waves was a fun game, as was throwing rocks at their frothy crests. Our six-month old puppy tried to chase the rock splashes and the kids got bold, standing, excited, too close to the waves, not knowing how unpredictable they can be. I felt it in my chest first, that familiar tightening and then the constricting in my throat, my jaw tensing up as I tried to watch two children and a dog and keep my eyes on the waves. I called to them – “Hey, that’s too close! Stay on the dry sand where it’s safe!” – but they couldn’t hear me over the roar of the wind and surf. As the waves sucked back after each foamy crash, I could see an abyss, just off shore, waiting to swallow children and dogs, adults even.

This pseudo-ocean, the largest lake in the world, played tricks on my brain. How could it look like the sea yet not have that familiar salty and pungent smell, how could its waves not follow the pattern I knew? Having grown up by the seashore, the familiarity of ocean waves comforts me – they crash, pull back with a rolling of the rocks, then there’s a second of silence before the next one. But these freshwater waves spoke a different language, one I couldn’t understand. I felt the panic that my children might get sucked in and there’d be no way that I – a non-swimmer – could save them.

This morning I sit here writing at a picnic table, trying to listen for the familiar pause between the waves that I know from the ocean. I think of my therapist, who tells me that’s what I need to do more of in life, wait for the pause in between moments, between action and reaction, between sentences spoken and immediately regretted. She tells me to feel what’s happening in my body, to name the sensation and buy myself some time between my kids fighting and me yelling at them to stop. To name the heat rising in my chest as my burgeoning tween snarks, refusing to bend to my will.

I sit here, listening for the pause and I find it, ever so slight, just a quick beat before the next wave rolls in, but it’s there, the space between the waves that I know. I have to pay attention to find it, be present and listen closely, otherwise it’s barely perceptible.

The campground comes to life and people start packing up tents and RVs, my children will wake up soon and demand cookies for breakfast, start bickering with each other and teasing the dog. But still the waves are there, still the pause is there, this rhythm reminding me to take a breath between the noises of motherhood.


Kelly-Anne Maddox lives and writes on unceded Algonquin territory (Ottawa, Canada). She has published her work in Blank Spaces, Cleaning up Glitter: A Literary Journal, Emerge 19, Local Tourist Ottawa, and previously wrote a monthly newspaper political satire column. She holds certificates in creative writing from Humber College and The Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University. She is currently working on a memoir. This submission is non-fiction

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