For Schuyler, on his 16th Birthday


Only a few years ago
when you were a skinny little kid
just learning to surf

your dad would give your board a shove
at precisely the right moment
so you could jump to your feet
and ride the wave toward the beach
in a wide, wobbly stance.
I would point my board at the shore
and watch you fall and disappear in the foam,
counting one-one thousand, two-one thousand,
until I saw your head pop back up.
One day, in bigger surf
when you were trying to make your way
through the breaking waves
only to be tumbled again and again
in the whitewater
I realized that I was holding my breath—
as if somehow I could will you the oxygen in my lungs.
He’ll be alright, your dad said
and of course you were.
Before our eyes
you grew tall and strong and broad-shouldered;
your sweet, apple-cheeked face
became angular and handsome.
You began to ride bigger and bigger waves,
to surf before school, after school, all summer long,
paddling confidently into surf that I couldn’t negotiate.
Not long ago
I paddled out a little behind you.
You stroked smoothly through the water
duck-diving easily through the incoming waves.
This time I was the one struggling
and as you called back
Mom, are you ok?
I knew that you could breathe on your own.