Thursday, August 13, 2009

Overheard on Gambier – The Jump (or Lack Thereof)


Gambier Island is not known for its sandy beaches. It does have a ‘beach’ but it is a titch on the rocky side and also a titch on the barnacles/sharp broken shells/seaweed side as well. It does have warm water for swimming but this requires a walk across the aforementioned sharpness to reach the beach and usually seems like too much of a bother. On the odd occasion when I do decide to stumble across the rocks to the water, I am always too aware of how much I must look like some sort of rag doll hopped up amphetamines jerking my arms every which way in some sort of mad windmill fashion to compensate for the fact that I can only seem to put pressure on each foot for about half a second before it must be retracted quickly to avoid severing an artery. This of course puts pressure on the other foot to step up, as it were, and take the weight of both feet. This action then causes some sort of balancing nightmare for my arms which must then flail uncontrollably, scissoring madly as I try not to fall and crack my head on a rock, or, worse, send a barnacle straight into a main blood vessel in my foot, causing sepsis, and more or less instant death.

All this crossed my mind as I walked down the hill towards the beach. And so it was that I skipped the beach and kept going toward the dock. The dock is more my style: smooth wood, gentle rocking motion, slightly intoxicating smell of creosote on pilings, and an assortment of interesting people/kids involved in whatever they feel like doing: fishing, chatting, swimming etc. On the day in question, all the kids were at the dock (Jacob (13) and Zoe (7), and their two cousins Aleisha (9) and Claire (5) for a spot of swimming and fishing. To get to the dock, you  must first walk down a long pier. You can branch off to get to the lower dock, as I’ll refer to it here, or keep going down the pier to the end where you will find a smelly metal shed that has been there for as long as I can remember, a small crane with a hook on the end of it used for swinging stuff out over the water and presumably, into a waiting boat. (I have never actually seen it be used for this but that’s the rumour - we use it to gain distance when jumping off the pier).

One of the rights of passage of any self-respecting visitor or resident of Gambier is to leap off this pier, preferably at the lowest tide possible when the drop is probably close to 3 metres – maybe more. It requires some nerve and some people have more nerve than others. Some like to wait until the tide has come in and reduced the drop to 2 metres or less. And some people like to climb on top of the shed and jump from there, adding another few feet to the whole ordeal and sending their mother into a bit of a state. (Not me. Nope. I’m nothing but encouragement as you shall soon come to understand.) And some people just watch.

On this trip to Gambier, Zoe declared that this was the year of the Jump. She hadn’t quite managed it last year (she was only 6 at that point) and so this year, as she was 7 almost 8, she was definitely going to jump. It would be no big deal really, said the tone in her voice. She was ready. So on the day that I managed to make it off the deck and down the hill, she was really psyched to make it happen. She had tried briefly the day before without much success. Well, without any success really who am I kidding. But she was back on her horse and ready to go. We started  down on the lower dock with an easy jump in and swim around. Then the girls headed up to the pier and that’s when the action really started. Aleisha had no problem jumping at all. I wish I could say the same for Zoe. The tide was at the mid-way mark so the jump was probably 2.5 metres or so. I actually could probably have counted up the exact number of millimetres of the height with the time I had waiting for Zoe to jump.  I could also have memorised the Vancouver phone book, learned an obscure Brazilian Indian dialect, classified the entire barnacle population on the beach, lost 10 pounds, rebuilt the Eiffel tower, and climbed Mount Fuji (including flight time) in the time it took for Zoe to not jump off the pier.  We all tried various psychological tactics: reverse psychology: “I bet you can’t do it” (I was right); encouragement: “You can do it!” (OK maybe not); nonchalance:  “I don’t really mind one way or the other, Honey, it’s entirely up to you” (whatever just JUMP already); Authority: “Now, Honey, we’ve all been waiting for 62 hours for you to jump and we’re all getting a bit frustrated/hot/hungry/tired/old, including you, so lets get on with it” (where was I going with that one – FAIL).

In the end, nothing worked. And many was the time I regretted my promise not to push her in. Why, Jacob wanted to know repeatedly, had I said I wouldn’t?? (I couldn’t remember as I had developed Alzheimer's in the intervening years between promising not to and her not jumping) Could he? he asked hopefully.  Finally, out of pure exhaustion, I suggested that she climb part-way down the ladder that hangs off the edge of the pier into the water, and jump from there. And while I’m not that proud of it, I’ll admit here that I did also mention at this point that the promise of not pushing her off the pier did not apply to the ladder and that if she decided to go down the ladder, she was jumping off or I was going to come down there and push her off. Anxiety was all over her face but cold heartless mother did not seem to notice this fact. In fact, it was not until I reviewed my photos later that night that I saw exactly how anxious she was. See exhibit A. I’m not sure that I would have actually had the heart to wrench her poor little hands off the cold iron bars of the ladder and fling her unceremoniously into the depths, but it sure seemed like a good idea at the time.

I’m happy to report that she did jump from the ladder. We all cheered as well as we could in our old age with our gnarled fingers, but Zoe was not buying it. She was still pissed off and upset with herself and it was then that I finally turned back into loving nurturing mother. She looked at me with her little face, and burst into tears. I did too, and we held each other for a few minutes. I told her it was all Ok and always her own choice and that I was sorry if we had pressured her. We walked back up the hill to the house where, trying desperately to salvage something from the situation, I talked about how, in her life, there would be many times when she would get that same feeling in her stomach that she had standing on the pier, and that life is all about deciding whether or not to take a risk. And that she should trust her own feelings. She looked at me, looked past me, and asked if she could have a cookie. Then she got up and bolted out of the room after her cousin before I could even answer. Apparently she was over it. Well I wasn’t. I walked, sighing, into the dining room muttering something about parenting. My Uncle just looked at me and said “Just you wait until she’s teenager. You haven't seen anything yet!”

Perhaps he’s right and when she’s 16 and swearing at me, I’ll long for a problem as simple as whether or not to push her off the pier.



Exhibit ‘A’


climbing back up the ladder


Whatever, mum, can I have a cookie?


  1. I was going to re-name it JUMP-FAIL (have you SEEN the fail blogs on YouTube - type Proposal Fail, then Wedding Fail, then Gymnastics get the picture, but I digress.

    Instead it is JUMP - SUCCESS!

  2. It's sad how funny we find the whole FAIL thing...Having said that, my favourite is the models who fall over on the catwalk.