She is one. Even the low tide reaches her belly button. She’s as timid as she is tiny. These days, you might say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Tiny. Timid. I hung up my adventure seeking flag right about the time I found out about her. Rewards of adventure stopped outweighing the risks, and all that. But, also, just watching her toddle across the floor overloads the adventure capacity of my soul, never mind all of the other wild, new, ever changing things she does. Tiny and timid as she is, she is an adventure-a-minute.
So I don’t mind that she doesn’t barrel into the ocean, throwing herself at the waves before she’s figured out if they’ll throw her back. She won’t know the feeling of wet sand between her toes until the last day of this trip. And then, of course, she won’t want to come back to dry sand. But for now, this morning when the sun is not yet too high in the sky and the breeze is just right, she’ll take in the ocean drip-by-drip from the safety of our arms as we barely wade in deep enough for the waves to splash her.
She is two. I’m balancing her carefully on my swollen belly while the water laps at my equally swollen ankles. The bravery she earned during last summer’s trip washed away in winter snow and spring rain. In between packing beach towels and swim suits and preparing to leave our nest at the height of my pre-baby nesting frenzy, we read Ladybug Girl at the Beach. Because although our whole world is about to change, I still have the luxury of time to spend preparing the world for her, and her for it. It may be the last time that I can meticulously plan and think and orchestrate so that things will go just right.
So we observe Lulu’s fear of the water and her ultimate, if accidental, bravery at the end of the story. We talk about the beach and the waves and how much fun Lulu has in the hopes that all this talk will prime my girl to jump right in when we reach the coast. But, once again, her feet stay dry until the last day when we drag her from the sea, brush her off, watch her sleep in the car all the way home.
She is three. A big sister with a year of preschool behind her, almost propelling her forwards. So forwards she goes, to the point where the waves kiss the shore. Still timid, still holding back, but tiptoeing into this new stretch of land. This confidence in herself and her process looks strange on a three-year-old, but she wears it well. By day two, three at the latest, she’s in up to her ankles. We brought Ladybug Girl with us this year and we let her inspire us. We rush towards the water, hand-in-hand, daring the waves to chase us. And when they do, as they always will, we run beyond their reach. Her desire to play is insatiable. The adults take turns walking her down to the edge, bringing her back when their arms or legs or, quite frankly, hearts are exhausted from keeping her safe. I miss the days of wrapping her arms around my neck to gaze out at the horizon and I also revel in the joy of her now. I ache to stand beside her in the ocean and I also want nothing more than to sit with the baby, who still can’t move, back on the blanket where it’s safe.
She is four. We squeeze in a trip to the beach long after summer’s end. We’re here for a wedding and the water is freezing and we’re dressed up with fancy shoes. But the seasons didn’t wash away last year’s bravery this time and she wades right in, hiking the tulle of her skirt up above her knees. When I think of the joy that I know lives inside her, when I worry that this mood or that disappointment will take her over, when I worry that I’m not making this childhood all that it could be for her, I think of her right now. Her and the ocean and the big blue sky. And I remember that we’re alright.
She is five. Fearless. Fierce. A force. Still tiny and maybe just the slightest bit timid. But most of that has all but faded away, replaced with an eagerness that she has just started to figure out how to use. It’s as though she’s already read Thoreau and totally bought into his desire to “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” Her feet are wet before we even lay out the blanket. She wants to go in farther, farther, farther still. She refuses to hold anyone’s hand until a wave knocks her straight down. And then she gets up and goes right back again. Her confidence is a rock and it won’t be knocked loose that easily.
I think back to beach trips past, how hard it was to encourage her towards the water, and I’m amazed. What has happened in the past year or two? Where did she find this confidence, this fearlessness, this excitement? I hope that it is a little bit from me and a little bit from her and that it is a gift she’ll carry with her.
She is six. Eager and excited from the moment she opens her eyes until the second she gives in to sleep, every day. She wants to experience it all. She is no longer cautious but, instead, seems almost wise. As though the sensor inside her that determines whether or not she is ready for something is already so finely tuned that she doesn’t need to think twice. And most of the time she is ready. She rushes for the waves, begs to go farther, but settles in water up around her waist when we pull her back. She balances building sandcastles and looking for shells with jumping waves with a natural ease that suits us all.
We still clasp hands and run towards the ocean, daring it to chase us. And it does. It always will. Just as I’ll always check in with the ocean, to take stock each year and admire my girl at the beach.
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