Back when I was a carefree non-mother, I used to have my own interests and hobbies —shocking, I know, but true. One of the things I loved most was scuba diving. So deep was my love that I even made my husband get certified so we could go diving together. You see, scuba diving is like floating through your own private museum with colors and creatures you’ve never seen before. Every dive you take is its own magical, unique experience.
The last time I went diving, it was on my honeymoon. I didn’t know it then, but many the lessons I learned as a diver were very applicable to life’s next big adventure — parenting. (And no, it’s not that you’ll have to suck in your gut to get into your outfit.)
1. You’ll look like crap … but so will everyone else.
The best I’ve ever looked in my adult life was at my wedding and on my honeymoon. Thin and tanned, I had undergone the regime of being scrubbed, plucked, waxed, painted and exfoliated normally reserved for royalty, celebrities, or a new bride. And guess what? I still looked like crap while scuba diving.
The full-body wetsuit made my Pilates-toned body look squat and squished instead of streamlined. The mask left deep grooves on my face, like a 6th grader after science class. And my freshly dyed hair was matted and trapped in the straps from the mask, floating around my face like clumps of seaweed. Fortunately, my husband and the rest of the divers all looked just as bad.
I’ve been a stay-at-home-mom for a few years now, and let me tell you — I look like crap. Vomit, pee, spit-up, poop, snot, blood, crumbs, ink – you name it, at some point it’s been on me.
Between playing with my toddler, making art with my 5-year-old, cleaning and oh yeah, being constantly exhausted, there’s no time to bother with luxuries like make-up. And jewelry? That just taunts the baby.
So I don’t wear the nicest clothes, I put my hair in a ponytail more often than not, and I only wear a bra if it’s for a special occasion. I have long since given up trying to impress people and my friends are all in the same boat.
2. Don’t panic.
Not panicking when you’re scared or overwhelmed is a really difficult, counterintuitive thing to learn. And yet, the ability to remain calm even when all your senses and thoughts and lizard-brain are telling you to freak out is essential to scuba diving.
When you panic, your breathing becomes shallow, using more of your oxygen. Also, you’re more likely to flail or kick, scaring animals or worse, damaging a fragile ecosystem. Slowing your breath instead of increasing it does more than just save oxygen; it triggers your body to understand that you need to relax.
It’s not easy, but the best thing I can do when my sons are upset is remain calm. If my 5-year-old falls off his scooter, I assume he’s fine unless he cries. And if he does cry, my measured response reassures him that there’s nothing to be upset about, helping him calm down faster. When it comes to my toddler’s tantrums, the worst thing I can do is get upset too. I just let him cry until he feels better.
3. If you’re always taking pictures, you can’t enjoy the sights.
There is nothing more amazing than what you will see when you’re underwater. The vibrant colors, undulating fish, and seemingly magical plant life are so beautiful they don’t even look real. But if you try to take pictures of everything you see, you’ll miss the rest of the amazing things happening all around you. While you’ll want to remember your dive, sometimes the best way to do it is to just keep your eyes open and relish the experience.
Admittedly, as a parent, I am a shutterbug. I don’t have apps on my phone but I do have thousands of pictures. Yet, even I recognize that sometimes the sweetest moments I have with my children can’t be memorialized with a snapshot. If my boys hug each other, grabbing my phone will often scare them out of their lovefest. So, I sit back and smile, watching them hug or dance or appreciate each other in the moment.
4. Check on your partner.
While scuba diving is a solo activity, it’s essential that you do it with a partner. Your partner is your extra lifeline — should your equipment malfunction in any way, your partner can help you get to the surface safely. They also watch out for you to make sure you don’t get trapped or lost.
Much like beneath the deep blue sea, checking in with my husband helps us both navigate the often-rocky waters of parenting. We share our struggles and ideas, what we want for our children — but also for our marriage. We try to maintain good communication because without it, it would be easy to get lost.
5. No matter how much you prepare, it won’t compare to the real thing.
To get your scuba diving certification, you need to complete several different kinds of training, including an instructional course with written tests, practice in a swimming pool, and a final test of all your skills in open water. But nothing you can read or try will be like descending into the ocean, trusting your oxygen tank, and opening your eyes to the spectacular sights around you.
That pretty much sums up parenting, too. You could read all the books in the world, but each baby is different and they don’t come with personalized manuals. You might think you know what being tired feels like, but there is nothing like the torture of sleep deprivation that comes with child-rearing. You’ve had fights with your partner before, sure, but I guarantee they’ll be nothing like the fights you’ll have once you’re parents.
There are overwhelming moments and moments when you won’t believe how lucky you are. And there is beauty and joy in parenthood that you could never anticipate or imagine.More On