It can be difficult to walk on sand. The ground seems to be constantly shifting, sinking, challenging my ankles.
A week at the beach, my “happy place,” has always been the highlight of our family’s year. The naturally healing, exfoliating saltwater not only soothes our bodies; it recharges our batteries and offers a prime venue for introspection—for taking stock of the tides of change that have washed over our family within the past year. Typically during a nighttime walk on the beach, my husband and I play the “where will we be next year” game. Next year everyone will be potty trained; next year we can afford to replace the minivan; next year our oldest daughter will be in middle school; next year the braces will be paid off; next year we’ll have a college graduate; next year we’ll have a son-in-law along for the ride. A cascade of future predictions and musings bathe us as we stand together, hands clasped against the inky night.
This week, at our annual family beach vacation, I took special note of the young families around us. Watching the happily frazzled parents brushing off sand, producing emergency juice boxes, and hoisting their toddlers high above the crashing waves was like visiting the me of 20 years ago.
It seems that when you’re a young parent, you are constantly adjusting, adapting to the new heights in your family’s economic and emotional tides. Sometimes these changes can feel like a tsunami. But at our age, the transitions are nuanced—often perceived only at the guttural, emotional level.
It suddenly occurred to me how the sand has shifted within our family in ways big and small. For instance, Gabe and I used to have a babysitter (often a grandparent along for the vacation) to watch the girls while we went out on “date night.” This year one of our daughters—all now in their 20s with men in tow—suggested date night. In a humorous turn of events, it seems they now want to get away from us.
When our daughters were young, we endured the morning ritual of lining them up, and slathering little girl backs, brows and butts with sunscreen while they squirmed, fidgeted and complained. Now each of those grown girls brings a bevy of sunscreens as well as expertise on the varying properties of each. They are appalled that plain old Coppertone was once used on their delicate faces. Their criticism makes me smile.
And then there’s the photographic phenomenon. Each year, I cajoled three impatient little bodies into coordinating outfits and begged them for Just. One. More. Picture. Now, the girls ask me to snap photo after photo. The torch passed, it’s them seeking the perfect priceless pose.
Possibly the biggest change is that our load is lighter, literally and figuratively. No longer do we have to make breakfast, apply sunscreen, pack snacks, nag about summer reading, find lost goggles, and tote tents, chairs, umbrellas, toys and humans 300 yards to the sand. One day this week Gabe and I headed down before everyone else, with only a small cooler in tow. There we sat together, each of us preoccupied with concern over elderly relatives, angst over work. No need for talk, as we knew each other’s thoughts. In the space between us, in a world of pounding waves, the sand is firmly packed, and walking together is effortless.
This year, after 12 months of dramatic wins and losses, I find myself as always casting my thoughts into the sea. The ocean’s roar drowns out the noise in my head, and I am once again awed by the sea’s redemptive properties, peaking, dipping, ever rolling on.
Years ago, upon learning that the waves ebb and flow all day, every day, one of my little girls asked me, “Don’t they get tired?”
They do not.
The ocean’s magic rests in its mysterious ability to absorb my worries, my dreams, my hopes—to bear silent witness to my life’s tides. To knock me to my knees while also providing a cooling mattress for mid-afternoon naps. To remind me that ebb and flow is not only something to accept; it is worth embracing. If I’ve learned one thing in my life, it’s that the unpredictable nature of waves often effects sandbars—where we can stand still and admire the view. Accept the blessings.
Yesterday I was alone in our condominium pool. A young mother was hurrying from the building, a towel, novel and cup in hand. As she crossed to the boardwalk, I saw several tiny bodies, stairsteps, emerge, calling from their balcony above.
“Mommy! Hey Mommy! Bye Mommy!”
Every few feet, the mother turned and waved—three separate times, with each call from her children. I know that woman: She is a younger me. I remember those precious moments of time alone, to savor a good book, to walk on the sand and not be needed for a few minutes.
As she waved to the balcony a final time, the mother caught my eye. What I wanted to say to her is that the most powerful thunderstorms on the beach are often short lived, that from strong evening tides come the most magnificent mornings. That stretched calf muscles and ankle tendons are worth the long walks in the sand.
That, before long, those three kids will no longer be part of her daily routine. Instead, they will be rare, spectacular seashells she discovers over and over and over again.
I say none of this. I just smile and shout, “Enjoy your beach time!”