By Anne Sawan
I went to the beach last week with my kids for a final run before fall rolled in. My older boys dropped their towels onto the sand and ran off to find a group of kids to play Wiffle Ball with. I set up the umbrella, unfolded the chairs and took out my book, while my five-year-old, Eliza, wandered down to the edge of the water and plopped herself down, her shovel and pail by her side. Soon a stout little girl, about the same age, sidled up next to her.
“Whatcha ya doing?” She asked.
“Building a mermaid castle.” My daughter said matter-of-factly. “Wanna help?”
“Sure. I’m Ava.”
(Amazing: a bat and ball, or a bucket of wet sand, apparently that’s all you need to spark a friendship. We adults have a lot to learn.)
The two little girls planted themselves not far from my chair and began to dig, chatting as they worked side by side asking each other important relationship building questions such as: How old are you? Do you have a cat? How many teeth have you lost?
“My mom had a baby,” I heard Ava say as she flung a shovel full of sand high in the air.
“Oh,” said my daughter, pouring a bucket of seawater into a deep hole.
“She’s my sister, her name is Sophie. See her?”
Ava pointed a few seats down to a woman sitting under an umbrella with a baby sling wrapped protectively around her body, the top of a fuzzy head just barely poking out. The woman smiled gratefully at me and I nodded in return. Silent mommy talk for “They’re okay. Don’t worry.”
“Do you remember being a baby?” Ava asked Eliza, as she placed a crab into the moat surrounding the castle.
Eliza shook her head.
“Me neither,” said Ava, diligently digging on. “But my mom said I was a sweetie.” Then she giggled. “She said that she ate a lot of sweets when I was growing in her tummy that’s why I came out so sweet. She’s so silly! What did your mom eat when you were in her tummy?”
I glanced up.
Eliza shrugged, “I don’t know…Maybe mac and cheese.”
Both girls began to laugh.
They worked on, gathering up some more unsuspecting hermit crabs (excuse me, I mean “mermaids”) but soon the tide began to creep in and the water began to splash away little by little at the tiny bits of sand until at last, unable to defy the mighty sea, the mermaid castle finally crumbled. The girls shrieked and the relieved crabs all scurried quickly away. After a quick break of lemonade and pretzels, the girls recovered from their loss and skipped off to splash together in the ocean.
After a while the boys returned. We folded up the chairs, gathered the shovels and took down the umbrella.
“Make sure you shake out those towels,” I said. “I don’t want any sand in the house.”
It was a good day.
Later that night, back at the cottage, after a dinner of charred hamburgers, and ice cream from the local dairy, I laid down in bed next to Eliza. I was exhausted but small bits of sand on the sheets scratched at my legs and my back making it impossible to sleep.
I sighed; I loved the beach but the sand was my nemesis. Always sneaking in no matter how much I tried to keep it out. I tried to make sure the kids rinsed their feet with the hose and left their flip-flops at the door, but still tiny pieces of the beach always found a way to sneak into the house.
Eliza rolled over, flung her arm across my neck and pushed her nose against mine.
“Mom,” she breathed. “What did you eat when I was in your tummy?
My heart dropped.
“Remember on the beach,” Eliza forged on. “Ava said her mom ate a lot sweets when she was her tummy that’s why she’s so sweet. What did you eat when I was in your tummy?”
“Well…” I took a deep breath, and gave a few futile swipes, at the grainy sheets trying to brush away the relentless sand that poked at me. “You were never in my tummy remember? You grew in someone else’s tummy.”
“But I bet,” I took a deep breath and continued. “I bet, she ate a lot of sweets.”
There was a long silence, the invisible specks of sand scratching persistently at our skin as we lay there together in the dark listening to the soft whir of the overhead fan.
“I think you ate a lot of sweets too.”
I held her close, no longer minding the sand. “Me too sweetie. Me too.”
Anne Sawan is a mother to five wonderful and aggravating children. She also is a psychologist and an author, having articles published in Adoptive Families Magazine, Adoption Today and several children’s books published by MeeGenuis.
Photo by Scott Boruchov