The only thing I knew that summer day was that I was right and Mom was wrong. We sat stalled in my Pram sailboat, and felt the waves and chop slap against the flat front of the boat and push us backwards. And when the wind picked up, we watched in helpless frustration as the mothers in charge of the other boats sailed past us, as if they knew exactly what they were doing and we did not. It was the day of the Mother’s Day Race and Mom and I had been winning. Our lead had been huge, almost an entire leg of the race course. But something had happened.
It was one of those awkward times when, with no graceful transition, the child, with puffed up confidence, seems to know more than the parent. I was eleven and I was sure I knew everything about how to win that race, with Mom as skipper. And we had done everything right. We had a good start and pulled ahead, extending our lead during each of the legs. We rounded the third mark easily, pulled in our sail and started tacking upwind towards the finish line.
The breeze had been light. It was the perfect wind for Mom, who worried about windy sailing days. She didn’t like when the boat tilted. She didn’t want to sit on the gunwale and lean out. She worried about “tipping over,” about going into the bay. I did not understand this fear. I didn’t know that a sail blown full and tight and full of power could feel like anything but fun. Sitting on the side and “hiking out” – that was the great part! Nothing felt better to me than the feel of the waves splashing over my arms and legs and up on my face. And if the wind got too strong and flipped the boat, well that was just as fun.
I had flipped my boat enough times to know. I knew more than Mom. I knew the slow sensation of the water filling the inside of the boat and how it felt later to hold the side and bob in the water, how it felt when my life jacket lifted me up. I knew how sometimes my feet could touch the bottom and how funny that always was when they did. How my crew and I would laugh about how silly we were! Thinking we were brave salts out in the great ocean with white caps and waves, when we were really just kids in a kiddie pool. I knew.
And I knew that a flipped boat was a guarantee of a tow-ride into the club. What kid didn’t want to hang onto the back of the boat being pulled back to shore by a patrol boat? How fun that was! Such a feeling of freedom when we held on, sometimes just by our fingertips, and let our legs extend as the motor boat towing us pulled us along. I knew that too.
I knew better than Mom about these things. I thought she was silly to worry about wind. But I was glad in a way when the breeze was light for the Mother’s Day Race. I thought, well, that would be good for Mom. And everything was going well. We were going to win. There was no question.
We were sitting on the close side of Mosquito Island when the wind died. I should have known better. I should have told Mom to tack the other way. We were in the wrong spot and we sat bobbing in the flat water, losing our lead. After a time we could see that the other mothers in their boats had gone the right way. We could see the breeze picking up on their part of the bay, filling their sails while our sail was still slack. It was too late when the breeze finally met us. And when we started to move, Mom wanted to do everything she could to catch up, to save time and steer the boat right to the mark, but again, I knew more. I knew we could not sail straight into the wind and we argued. I did not understand Mom’s frustration and she did not understand me. We finally zig-zagged upwind and crossed the finish line last.
We lost that Mother’s Day Race because we were on the wrong side of the bay when the wind died. It might have been luck that the other mothers beat us. What did their sons and daughters know that we did not? No one would admit such luck. But somehow the story changed by the end of the day and I let that happen. The new story was that we lost because Mom wanted to sail us straight into the wind and we couldn’t do that. Anyone knew that. I let our friends and family believe that she didn’t want to listen to her young daughter who knew better and that’s when the other boats passed us. I didn’t say the rest, that I was the one who directed us to the wrong side of the bay before the wind died. And Mom, the wiser of the two of us, didn’t change my words. In her good, true way, she let the story run as it did, making me the smart one.
I wonder how Mom felt about that race. Was she just glad it was over, that we hadn’t flipped the boat? That it hadn’t been windy? That it would be another year before she had to get into a boat again? I never thought about her worries, about how she didn’t know how to swim, or skipper a boat. I was very confident, and my thoughts did not extend beyond myself.
But now, as a mother myself, my children tell me they know more than I do. They are not afraid of things. They know what to do and how to do it. And when they laugh at me for not wanting to ride a roller coaster, or correct me when they see my mistakes, or can’t understand why I would be worried about doing something, that’s when I think of the Mother’s Day Race, and countless other times when I thought knew better than Mom, and she was the wiser and let me believe.