Falling in love by the sea

beachShe sits with her back against me, both of us watching the sea in silence. Our breath and hearts remembering the synchronization, falling into pace again.

The black rocks bob up and down in the murky grey waves, like seals playing, like we just were; hand in hand darting from the cold foam, testing our footing on crumbling rocks and watching the sand create light circles around our feet as we step together.

The deep, grey clouds mute the color of everything, making even the stark whitecaps of the waves seem wiped away of color.

I put my hand on top of hers, and breathe in the scent of salt caught in the gilded strands.

She’s talking about life, her philosophical nature equally captivated by the waves as my own; motivations, dreams, memories, fears and ambitions.

Our voices match in pace, harmonized.

The clouds gradually shift, the wind gently pushing away the platinum grey, allowing tiny patches of bright blue to appear. With the blue comes white, brown, green and gold. It’s as if nothing is truly a color without the sun’s rays to warm it to life.

Shapes appear far out in the sea, hidden before in the dreariness of grey; black triangular rocks topped with white splashes, golden strips of land carved smooth like rising waves, royal green hills and shiny black birds suspended like kites on a string.

Our tummies growl and I know the moment must end, but I stretch it, savoring the vast warmth as if I may never feel it again.

My baby will be 10 this summer and, as cliché as it is, all those moms who stopped me in Target when my kids were little are right, it does go by so fast.

Chubby pink babies with soft folds you must lift to wash are suddenly explaining why they feel empathy for the mean girl at school with shocking insight and depth.

I feel confused; like I’m Alice shaking my head as the Mad Hatter explains the nature of time, only I’m watching my little baby perform mock episodes of both “Elmo’s World” and “Dance Moms” and wondering where her wit and timing comes from.

She has a feisty resistance to people who don’t listen to her and a sweet devotion to those who do. I see so much of myself in her, but also recognize a strength and determination which is entirely hers alone.

I trace the freckles on her arms as we talk a few more minutes. The sound of the waves, crashing and retracting, the soundtrack to our love.

I know she can’t understand the intensity of my emotions, my devotion. She doesn’t understand why I get irate so quickly when she whines; undone thinking she will have the same negative soundtrack locked in a loop inside her head. I want to shake the pain away from her, make her see only light, only good.

I vow again, silently, like every mother does, to try and be more patient and to do my best to build her up so she can handle the weight of everything to come.

I whisper I love you into her head, and it doesn’t feel like enough. Adore, admire, cherish, treasure; each word like a piece of the puzzle. She can’t know the weight of it, I decide.

She eases off my lap, so I can cook us grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. She begins to sing and my heart is as full as the moon, pulling the waves back and forth, pulling us closer together again.

foam

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Turning bullshit into strength

My body won’t go fast enough and I’m angry at myself for being so weak. As I crest each dune, I have to stop and catch my breath.

“Please let him be OK. Please.”

Dark thoughts circle and I try to push them away, but they scream out at me.

“What kind of mother are you to let this happen? What is wrong with you?”

My eyes scan constantly looking for him. I call his name occasionally, but that causes the panic to rise too much.

“He is fine. He is fine. He is fine.”

When I finally climb over the last dune, the entire beach stretches out before me.

ocean

My eyes search for signs of him, but he isn’t there.

My heart drops.

I was sure he would be right here.

Certain of it.

The tears that I’ve been holding back begin to flow and I walk as quickly as I can to the first two people I see. It’s an older couple cuddling on a blanket.

“Have you seen a little boy? He has brown hair, orange and black glasses and was wearing his pajamas?”

The words rush out and I fight back a sob in my throat. I search their faces as they look back and forth between each other.

“No englash,” one finally says.

In frustration, I march away from them and pull myself together. There is no reason to panic. Nothing to be gained by that.

Stay calm.

As I walk down the beach, stopping to ask everyone I see, it becomes clear to me that he isn’t here and hasn’t been here.

Where could he be?

I spot two lifeguards at the top of the pier and start walking that direction. It is time for reinforcements and that realization frightens me. As I walk, I replay the entire morning in my head.

I spent about an hour after breakfast writing some poetry and a short story in the tent while the children explored. I did not know exactly where they were, but I knew they were fine. We have been to the Bodega Dunes campground about a dozen times now and I feel very comfortable there. Each time we go, I extend the boundaries a bit more.

Camping is one of the few times I feel my kids get to experience that true feeling of adventure and freedom. But it is a tricky balancing act between trusting they will be fine and knowing that it is my duty to protect them from harm. I might always seem very calm on the outside, but I’m often waging a war in my head.

“He is getting really high in that tree. A fall now might be fatal, but he is a good climber. I should trust that, but I’m scared. I can’t watch.”

“The kids have been gone too long. I know they are having fun and they are together. I’m certain they are fine, but what if they are not? How would I know when to look for them? Maybe I’m trusting them too much.”

“She is swimming pretty far out in the water, if she starts to drown now I won’t be able to make it in time. I should call her back…but I want her to be confident. She is doing really good.”

That morning, they came back on their own to check in and I felt very good about the day. We decided to spend the afternoon at the beach, so I needed to pack up some food, sunscreen and towels. I tell my boy to stay nearby and to get dressed for the beach.

“I don’t want to go to the beach right now,” he says.

“Well, that’s not an option. We are all going together, so don’t go too far.”

I busy myself with packing and then realize he is gone. We wait about 30 minutes for him to return and he does not. That’s when I start circling the campground looking for him.

That was nearly three hours ago, and the calm is fading away. The darkness is taking over.

I reach the pier and walk up to the life guards.

“My son is missing,” I tell them without tears. All business.

One man asks me a series of questions and I answer them. He writes details about my boy on his hand.

9 years old

brown hair

glasses

pajamas

missing 3 hours

It’s all so casual, as if I’m ordering up tacos or making a grocery list.

It’s all so slow and calm.

I want to scream.

I want to cry.

I want my boy.

The other man is scanning the beach as we talk.

“Is that him?” he asks.

“Where?” I say.

“Over there, by the water. Looks to be a nine-year-old boy.”

“I can’t tell this far away, looks like an adult to me.”

“Nope. Definitely a kid.”

He jumps off the pier and runs in the direction of the shadowy figure walking with a stick. When he reaches him, he waves at me. It’s my boy.

Thank you God. Thank you.

We walk toward each other. When I reach him, he has been crying, he is covered in sweat and we both hug each other.

“Don’t you EVER do that again! What where you thinking?” I begin.

He stops crying and explains. While our friends planned to drive all the stuff to the beach, the kids and I were going to make the long hike there. He made the decision to just go on his own, so he could explore and continue the game he was playing. He made it there, but couldn’t find us and tried to hike back. That’s when he got lost. He wandered the dunes for a long time and had just made it back to the beach. His plan was now to get help.

“Did you learn a lesson?” I ask him.

“I’m sorry mommy. I love you.”

I want to be mad and scream, but I can’t. I’m so grateful he is safe that I just want to love on him. While we wait for friends to arrive with food and water for us both, I playfully bury him in the sand with only his head and feet sticking out.

“You’re never leaving my side again,” I tell him.

coopinthesandWe play at the beach for a short time, but we are getting sunburned. All our beach supplies are back at the campground. Our friends are driving back, but my boy wants to take the trail and see where he made the wrong turns. I think it could be good closure, so I agree.

I hold both my children’s hands as we head up the first dune. Right away I know this is a mistake. I almost cry when I get to the top as my lungs scream out in protest. My daughter decides to take this moment to fight with her brother about who is going to be second in line. My son then complains that he is hot. They both then start a barrage of whining that makes me vibrate with anger.

I grab the walking stick my boy has been using and bang it against a rock as hard as I can until it breaks into tiny pieces.

“This day is complete and utter bullshit.”

Silence.

“Mom you just said…” my boy begins.

“I know what I said. It’s true. Today has been a bullshit day. I hate today. This is not how I wanted things to go. It’s BULLSHIT!”

I scream it loud and the kids giggle and look nervously at each other.

“Say it,” I tell them. “Scream it!”

“Really?” they both ask.

“Yes, scream bullshit. I think you will feel better.”

We all yell together.

“BULLSHIT!”

We start hiking in silence and occasionally the kids mutter bullshit under their breath. I start to feel bad about this outburst and realize I need to change it. We have lived with that feeling enough.

I stop and turn to them both.

“You know what?” I say. “Today was bullshit, but let’s change it. We are strong. Do you know how much we hiked today? What we have overcome? We are strong. Let’s say that.”

They have skeptical looks, but we do it.

“I AM STRONG!”

It takes some time to hike back and we get turned around. It really is an impossibly complicated maze of trails. But we laugh, have fun and feel strong together.

We turn bullshit into strength.

It’s not perfect and it might seem insane to some, but I’m feeling proud of myself for how I handled things.

Life is filled with so many moments that will just bury you if you let them. You have to dig deep and find it within yourself to focus on the strength.

I could have chosen to spend that hike yelling at my boy and punishing him. I could have made him feel terrible or filled him with shame and fear. I could have allowed my pain to envelope all of us and cloud everything after that.

But I made another choice and for that I am truly proud.

photo

Warm waves, surprise thoughts and Cuban coffee

beach

Trudging across the sand alone, a strong breeze hit my face and my sunglasses pressed hard against my nose. The only other person on the beach was a worker setting out beach chairs for the day.

“A storm is coming in,” he says to me. “Probably will have to just drag these all back in a few hours.”

Setting my bag down on the shore, I took off my sundress and ran like a child into the waves. I let the water hit my face hard and push me over. Snapping on my goggles and fighting the current, I swam out until my feet barely touched the sandy bottom. Then I waited for a wave to crest, dived under and flipped around to watch the water crash above me. Surrounded by bubbles, I surfaced when I was out of breath.

When my body got tired I went limp and let the waves push me to shore. I lay gasping for breath on the hot sand. I stood and barely dragged myself to my bag. Eyes closed against the sun, I stretched out and let the warmth blanket me and the calming sounds of the waves lull me to sleep.

“That is a stupid thing to do.”

A strong male voice that was surprising close hit me like a jolt. Startled and disoriented I felt the heat of my body and the scratchy sand under my face.

“I don’t care if it’s stupid, just do it.”

A female voice, high and filled with annoyance, answered even closer and I felt around for my sunglasses.

Drool was along the side of my face and my entire body was sticky with sweat and sand. Rolling on my side I saw them. A couple, maybe in their 50s, tan and in matching swimsuits was standing a few feet from me.

“Just hold the damn coconut and let me get the picture,” the woman said pushing the round, brown fruit into his hands.

Could it be they don’t see me? I thought.

“Want me to get a picture of you both?” I said. My voice sounded so raspy and odd that I wasn’t even sure I said it.

“That would be perfect!” the woman said in a very different voice. Her hair was flowing around her face and I noticed she wore a lot of makeup for a beach day.

I dragged my body up and could feel how exhausted I was. Several late nights, travel, wine and vacation had set on me like a drug. My body was more relaxed then I could remember it ever being before.

This couple snapped into picture mode before I was even up. There they stood in a pose that I imagined came from years of comfort and familiarity. His hand around her waist, she holding the coconut like a sweet newborn baby and both with matching smiles that accentuated the laugh lines around their eyes and mouths.

“Thanks,” he said and offered to take my picture holding the coconut.

Shaking my head, I gathered my things as they started to banter about placement of towels and what they would eat for lunch.

The walk back was hard. I could feel the extra weight on my body like I was carrying one my children piggyback style across the hot sand. I silently chided myself for how bad I have mistreated and neglected my body.

When I arrived back at the resort I found a bathroom. I looked in the mirror and laughed. A long, crazy almost hysterical laugh.

Here I am, I thought.

Sand was stuck on me from a combination of salt water, sweat and drool. It was all over the left side of my face, my neck, arm and leg. A crusted layer of sand accentuated the laugh lines around my eyes and mouth. My skin was slightly red and shiny. My hair was a tangled impossible mess.

Here I am, I thought again.

Everything I have done in my life has resulted in the person I was seeing in the mirror.

Laughing at myself some more, I made a half-hearted attempt to clean up and then headed out.

I had no idea what I wanted to do.

Wandering around the gorgeous resort, I found myself sidling up to the Tiki bar that had just opened for the day.

Signs all over proclaimed things like “If You’re Drinking To Forget, Please Pay in Advance” and “Dear Lord…Let this Be a Flip Flop Day.” The bartender was about my age. Her name was Michelle. She recommended the Key Lime Colada.

An older couple from Phoenix shared the bar with me and we talked for over an hour about life, marriage, kids, travel and retirement. I kept drinking until my lovely friend came to retrieve me.

This was four days into my trip. Days that had been unlike anything I had imagined they would be. My friends embraced me with more love than I can explain and I felt full in a way I didn’t know I needed to be.

Amazing conversations driving in the car at 1 a.m. Cuban coffee. Some of the most delicious food I have ever eaten. Creativity. Cuban coffee. Unbelievable sunsets. Spirituality. Did I mention Cuban coffee?

I felt nourished in every way possible. My soul had been feasting and was just so full.

Sitting at that bar a realization flooded my body and I felt a surge of something new.

I did not miss my kids.

For some reason I had imagined I would spend the entire trip pinning away for them like missing limbs that had been cut from my body. Somehow I had told myself that a “good mother” could not possibly enjoy vacation without her children. That my very essence would be crushed and I would weep at the sound of their voice on the phone and be worried anxiously the entire time.

None of that happened.

I did not miss my kids.

I knew they were fine and I allowed myself to be fully present in the experiences that were planned for me. Soaking in it and revealing in this feeling of freedom and comfort, I let it wash over me.

A phrase kept surfacing in my mind.

I feel so adult.

It’s a ridiculous thought for someone who will be 40 in a few short years, yet it was there. It kept coming back and I realized what it was. I do everything with my kids. I have become so into their world that I forget sometimes that I do have choices and life OUTSIDE them.

It’s not that I don’t do anything adult. However, most of my “adult” things involve eating sweets and watching movies my kids are not allowed to. It’s almost like I’m a teenager and I “sneak” these little things as a way of rebelling against my parents.

I am an adult.

I am in charge of my life.

***

On the long plane ride home I sat in the middle seat. The man on my left was flying into S.F. for a job opportunity. He was young, maybe late 20s, he was full of optimism and hope for his future. The woman to my right was in her 50s and was visiting her only child away at college. She was so excited to see her and you could see the pride and love she had for her daughter radiating off her.

When we landed we all said our customary good-byes and headed our three separate routes.

As I walked off the plane I was filled with excitement to see my children. My heart started to pound and I could not wait to see them.

My daughter ran and leaped into my arms and peppered my face with kisses. My boy said “hey” and I got a glimpse at the teenager he will be soon. I gathered them both into my arms and kissed them.

I love my children more than anything in the world.

But I did not miss them.

And that’s OK.

me