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How to Build a Breakwater

Porthcawl Pier being hit by a huge wave

A very long time ago, I visited my grandparents in England and spent weeks in Porthcawl, a town on the south coast of Wales, about an hour outside of Cardiff.

It was the summer. Annie Burke, my paternal grandmother, would go every day to the seaside and sit with her friend Dyllis, warm in the sun, laughing and talking. I was left a bit on my own during my stay but would poke about mysterious tidal pools finding wonders all day. I remember the visit fondly.

In this seaside resort town, I saw only sunshine. My Nana would tell me stories about how waves would stream up and onto city streets in bad weather. And Porthcawl saw some nasty weather. In the 1800’s they built a breakwater to allow ships in and out safely.

Today, I was pondering that breakwater. It’s Mother’s Day. I am also thinking about my mother and my adult child. 

Watching my child come of age in the last few years, knowing that all I want for them is the best in whatever they choose to do, I was reminded that my mother would have wanted the same. Even though we saw each other infrequently in the last few months of her life, I missed her dearly.

I was already a bit adrift at that time – still struggling with the effects of the family break up about seven years before. Yeah, I know. I process stuff slowly.

And then, of course, Mum died, and the rest of my safety lines to dry land were cut. After her death, not knowing where to call my home port, I became comfortable with riding out storms on the open sea alone, facing down the wind and the rain. Or I thought I did.

Really, I was having trouble understanding what it was all about. Hence, my less than stellar first outing at university. It’s a bit tough to focus on your future when you don’t get the point of it all in the first place. And Burkes are nothing if we aren’t prone to a little existential angst. We don’t half like to stare out at the abyss and say, ‘what the fuck’ a lot.

So, I stared at the abyss throughout my university years, and, of course, I walked away without finishing the degree. If I was in that state today, I expect my friends and family would hip bump me into counselling, but, at that time, we didn’t really think about getting our heads shrunk. We kinda threw people into deep water, and they swam, or they did not.

I swam. And I did not.

Leaving university left me with the nagging doubt about whether I was good enough to finish anything. Getting a degree was a point of character back in the day. Dropping out was a failure only absolved by massive success.

So, to be honest, I walked through life pretty much operating under the quiet assumption that I wasn’t as good as the guy sitting beside me. It’s kinda funny that I achieved as much as I did. I must be an excellent swimmer.

But now, I want a safe harbour. My husband needs a lot of carrying, and, yeah, I can swim, but it’s getting harder. My child sometimes takes the load but is still a bit in tow. I need to bring us home.

So, I went back to school to get the degree I started 40 years ago, hoping that I would get a real job out of it. Much to my surprise, my first marks have come in, and they are ridonculously high. I am gobsmacked, really. I had a profound reaction to the news and sat quietly for most of the afternoon. It didn’t feel like a vindication. It didn’t make me want to crow. In fact, I didn’t tell the rest of the world for a day or so.

It felt like sandbags. It felt like the start of a breakwater. It felt like maybe I am done with storms on the high seas. Maybe I’m building a safe harbour.

So, this Mother’s Day, I am content and hopeful as I sift through my fond memories of my Nana. I am sure my Mum would be proud of me. I hope I am showing my child that you don’t have to, nor should you have to, stay out in a storm.

Happy Mother’s Day, to those who celebrate.

Thanks for reading! If you want to help me out, go ahead and click on an ad on this page. It makes me an incremental amount of money which will encourage me to continue. 

Jacqui Burke is a storyteller who writes and who also directs theatre. Jacqui has been telling stories for almost all her life (if you count the bedtime stories when her child was wee).

Jacqui is also very geeky and loves the puzzle of SEO. She offers SEO optimization and blogging services.

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Examples of Work

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