How to Build a Boat


School is in full swing for Julia and each week brings new exciting adventures and lessons learned. Recently Julia had to build a boat for a Kindergarten sailboat regatta at school. No store bought watercraft that could merely be painted in hues of pink and purple but actually required the use of creativity and enguiniety to create a boat that can float and sail. As soon as I saw this project on the syllabus I felt a sad tug at my heart because this is exactly the type of school project that Wesley Cline would have absolutely reveled in. He would have studied canoe vs. sailboat designs, he would have tinkered and played with different materials showing up one night after work with different thicknesses of wood from Lowes loaded in the back of his white ford F-150 to just try to find the perfect way to craft their boat. I can see him with his jig saw cutting and imagining his maritime vision with Julia beside him in our garage. It feels like such a father and child activity that felt inadequate and clumsy as I fumbled with ideas of taped together water bottles and yellow sponges with a little cardboard sail. It felt lame  in comparison with what could have been if life was changed from what it is in reality. I often struggle with the duality of seeing life as it could have been in glorious Technicolor, bright and beautiful filled with sunny days of mirth juxtaposed with my day in and day out life and find our reality to be sepia toned and feel that I’m looking through the grimy window of life; an outsider in my own reality.

But that depressing outlook takes the joy away from the bright moments and dulls them, shrouding them in sadness and stealing the bloom from the rosy times I have with Julia and family and friends. The times that laughter tinkles merrily from my throat often surprising me with the high pitched and lilting sound. The levity in my chest feels strange and foreign and I quickly catch myself and moderate my mirth. I’m my own anchor and willingly cast that heavy weight into the water; its iron claws digging into the firmament.

The idea of building a boat made me think beyond the elementary school project to a larger meaning of building a vessel and forging a path where the water is often murky and the waves are choppy.  Julia wanted her boat to be her own creation and from concept to plastic bottle completion it was her initiative. Brightly colored and be-stickered paper sail attached to a Popsicle stick with a plastic Elsa doll inside–Julia took such pride in building her own vessel without my help. As much as I tried to suggest duct tape versus scotch tape and different building materials I was met with staunch opposition. Julia’s dark eyes looked at me and repeated patiently, “This is MY project…just let me do it MY way” She wanted to own it, to craft her vision into a plastic boat and I could not build her boat for her.

I want badly to send Julia off in a steel reinforced frigate on water still as glass but she must build her own craft to sail through the waters of her life. I watch carefully for signs that she is in waters that are turbulent and rough and I try to weather the storms with her and calm her when it feels like our emotions are going to capsize us. But ultimately I have to let her be free enough to design her own ship in which she feels buoyed and safe. I may provide her the tools and the warm space in which to create but much like her narrative after losing her father young in life she has to find her own words and I cannot write them for her. My verbs and adjectives do not fit her 5 year old experience and I cannot reflect my grief upon her in an effort to keep Wesley’s memory alive for her and for us.

When Wesley died I became unmoored, completely torn from the safety of the harbor that I knew and cast into rough waters. The safe and secure boat that I sailed through life upon turned upside down and splintered against the rocks of sadness and loss. I have tried to take the jagged wood and rough splinters and put them together with sealing wax but the water seeps in and the boat sinks lower and lower. The materials from which my old life was constructed are water logged and cannot be jig-sawed together so I stare at the broken bits of my old life as I am at a loss how to create a life that seems to feel not my own.

I’m marking time with little vision of the future and that creates a sense of helplessness. I do not trust in making plans; in looking through my spyglass to see the future because I know it is not the certainty I took faith in. But, I must craft a new ship built lovingly with parts of my life with Wesley and the blessings we felt welded with my new life as a single mother and grieving widow. I have to because I cannot tread water forever and my arms are getting tired. Julia needs a mother whose watercraft is impervious to the crashing waves and who can help her steer her own small ship.

I cannot calm the seas but do pray that Julia and my hearts are not battered and tossed in the storms of grief and that our small boats hold as we sail through our days and years guided by Wesley’s heavenly hands.


1 Comment

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One response to “How to Build a Boat

  1. Seminoel

    It both grieves me and lifts me to read your blogs. Katherine, you got this. You really do. To have created a child so fiercely independent and yet so gentle, creative but reliable, sensitive and still with her feet on the ground, and who continues to grow into a healthy girl in mind, body, and spirit–well, you must know that you are achieving more than many two parent households. Of course, of course you miss Wesley. How could you not? Still, I encourage you to give yourself the same grace, love, and patience you so generously give to Julia. When you weather the stormiest days, recognize and honor that, but also take pride in how well you revel in the sunshine, too. You got this. xo.

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