How Do You Tell Someone

Lulu said to me last night, ‘Do you remember when you were a bad mum?’

I was lying on the bed. My back to her. I didn’t turn around.

‘When was I a “bad mum”?’ I ask.

‘You know, when we first came on Quest and Dad said I was bad and you agreed with him.’

I stop breathing for a second. She was right – I did do that. I told my 11-year old girl she was bad. I watched her eyes contort with terrible tears and her little face crumple into the same hole which women’s souls fall into.

Hold on a sec. This was Lulu.

I say, ‘You were bad. The only difference is that when you get told, you become worse. If I’ve learned one thing from us being on this boat together, it’s that there’s no use telling you. When I was told I was naughty by my parents. I’d be so mortified, I instantly behaved. But not you. You were still bad. Even worse.’

Lulu sighs a little. ‘Dad still tells me.’

I sigh too. ‘Well, the funny thing is that when you tell him – he also gets worse. So maybe for him telling you is like telling himself. It’s too hard.’

‘I can’t wait to leave this stupid boat. And this stupid place.’

I turn around to face her. Stretch my back out. It’s a bit tired. After school this week, we’ve been taking Lu to the shallows to practice her static apnea. This means timing her breath-holds. She has to hold her breath for 2 minutes and 45 seconds in order to pass her advanced free-diving course. Turns out it’s much easier to dive down to 30 metres deep on a single breath than it is to hold one’s breath in a metre of water. Well, for Lu it is. I guess it shows. It isn’t all about depth.

Lu’s free-diving instructors have given her a recovery table to build up her CO2 tolerance. Holds her breath for 1min 20secs and then waits for decreasing amounts of time in between. From 2 minutes down to 40 seconds. A clever way of getting her body used to tolerating CO2.

I hold her steady while she does it, face in the water, body floating, corpse-like. I have to talk to her too. She gives me instructions. ‘Say things like, “Relax, relax your shoulders, you’re doing great.” That kind of thing.’

So I do. Her dad was taking her too. And Delph comes along and floats around in the shallows.

I look at her. ‘Lu, life goes so fast. When you’re 20, you’ll remember this all like it was a distant dream. So don’t worry, your wish will come true – sooner than you think. In the meantime, try to behave.’

She hugs me. I feel her arms as warm bands of spaghetti. ‘Thanks for being a good mum now. I’ll try. It isn’t always easy to.’

I shake my head. This journey. ‘Oh, I know.’

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