by Jan Myers
"You go ahead in and I'll stay on the boat and watch," I found myself telling my son, Maxx, as he jumped into the water with his snorkel gear. I had been feeling a bit anxious about my first snorkeling attempt, and as I looked at the others from our shore excursion group already looking confident in the water, I decided maybe this just wasn't for me.
Maxx and I were on a Carnival Cruise together. It was my idea to take him on a cruise for his sixteenth birthday—just the two of us on a mother-son bonding trip. He loves to travel and since he had never been on a cruise before, he was excited. So was I. I was hoping this trip would help clear some of the awkwardness that often sets in between moms and their teenage sons.
It's funny, but not so long ago, I was one of Maxx's favorite people. We would spend hours building with Lincoln Logs and Lego's. He couldn't wait to tell me all about his day at school. He used to share his thoughts and dreams with me. At one time, he even asked my advice regularly. However, as parents know, life with kids is definitely a journey with many stages. With Maxx, we are currently in the "I don't need mom for anything anymore" stage (except maybe help with homework).
In my mind, the cruise was sure to change all that.
But there I was, sitting on the side of the snorkeling excursion boat by myself while Maxx flippered away. What a metaphor for our relationship. I had to do something to add a little glue to our bond.
"Ok, I'm coming in!" I said. Thankfully, one of the snorkel guides was nearby as I jumped in and immediately lost my snorkel. I watched it sink toward the bottom of the sea and of course, I couldn't plunge in after it with my life vest on. Quick as a fish, the guide dove down and retrieved it. Whew! How embarrassing! I was glad Maxx didn't see me do that.
I caught up with Maxx and the rest of the group gathered around a second guide who was explaining what we would see in the sea. If you have snorkeled before, you know how incredible it is when you first put your masked face into the water. It's just like looking through the glass of an aquarium filled with vibrant tropical fish. Once I overcame my fear and awkwardness, snorkeling turned out to be our favorite part of the entire trip.
A cruise was a good choice for this bonding adventure, because I didn't have to do too much thinking. Our meals and entertainment were taken care of, so I could relax and just 'be' with my son.
One huge plus, (and all of you with teens will understand) was that we didn't have cell phone service on the ship. That meant—no texting—a teen's primary method of communication. So, for four whole days, I had Maxx's (nearly) undivided attention. We actually talked—out loud—in person—about all kinds of things. At one point he even said, "It's kind of nice not having to worry about my cell phone and replying to text messages." Was I dreaming?
We did things that Maxx would never have done with me at home, like attending shows. He said he really enjoyed the Vegas-style evening entertainment. No doubt, the scantily clad female dancers helped hold his attention.
During the shore excursions, we strolled the streets in Key West on the Taste of Key West tour. And, in Cozumel, we ventured beyond the touristy dock area to explore a truer side of the Mexican city. We wanted to get beyond the falseness and see what the facade was hiding.
Amazingly, less than half a block from the glitzy dock, we found a more realistic picture. We met an old woman on the street selling chicken tortillas for 50 cents, so we each bought one. We asked her if she had been busy that day. She hadn't, even though thousands of people had disembarked from the docked ships just a block away.
A few paces farther down the street, we stopped into a market for a Pepsi. I asked the clerk if they saw many of the cruise ship guests. She said that hardly anyone ever walked over to her street. Maxx and I found it hard to believe because it was just a five-minute walk from the docks. We both felt good about that half hour spent interacting with the locals in Cozumel.
Just like our little foray in the Cozumel port to find some deeper truth, sometimes you have to move beyond your own comfort zone with your kids to find that deeper connection with them.
Did the cruise change the fact that I feel Maxx doesn’t need me anymore? Not exactly. But I think we both found a new appreciation of and respect for each other. As parents, we can enjoy these evolving relationships with our kids as long as we are willing to move beyond the past and go with the flow. And sometimes you actually have to jump in the water.
-Jan Myers is a writer in Ohio. She is the mother of Maxx, age 16 and Maggie, age 11. She writes about parenting, travel, spirituality and life's journeys. Her articles have appeared in Columbus Parent magazine, Over the Back Fence magazine, Country Living magazine, Ohio's Amish Country and numerous newspapers. Visit Jan on the web at www.MyLifeTransformations.com.