Sweet Sand

Sweet Sand

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.”

“Oh yeah…”

“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

I Hate Summer Reading

I Hate Summer Reading

By Anne Sawan

Cooling spray

I am a reader. Walking into any bookstore or the local library physically changes me. I am instantly intoxicated, overcome by the smell…the feel… the sight of all those gorgeous books just waiting to be swallowed up. My idea of a perfect vacation day is curling up on the sofa or sitting on the beach with a good book and reading, uninterrupted, for several hours, transported to far away lands and into the challenges of other people’s lives. I am also a writer and a psychologist, so I suppose it seems as I should be a champion of summer reading for children; but I’m not. I’m not because the biggest, the most important part of me, the part I am trying desperately to hold on to, the fun loving mother part, hates it.

I quit. I don’t want to do it anymore. For ten long months I have been the homework police, demanding my children sit at the table and finish their schoolwork when they would rather be outside with their friends. I worked hard to get them through the mountainous amounts of school projects and studying and I am tired of it. I need a break; they need a break. I don’t want to be the whip cracker anymore. I want to throw my hands up in the air and dash out the door yelling, “Last one in the pool is a rotten egg!”

This year my children finished school on June 25th and they will return to school on August 27th. That gives us only eight short weeks to shake it all off and have some fun.

Eight short weeks to let loose and swing from trees into the deep waters of the lake, run through cold sprinklers and hunt for skittery crabs at the beach.

Eight weeks to learn how to use a jackknife, put a worm on a hook, and build a fort out of broken branches.

Eight weeks to take meandering bike rides, have lemonade stands and chase the ice cream man.

Eight weeks to have a neighborhood game of flashlight tag, go night swimming among the fireflies, toast marshmallows and finally fall down on the bed, or the couch, or the floor nestled next to siblings, cousins and friends, happy and exhausted.

Eight short weeks to allow minds to open up and let imaginations soar as beaches are combed and woods are explored.

And eight short weeks to finish summer reading. Blah.

This short summer our school district has dictated that my middle school children are to read three books. Three books in eight weeks! I know adults—successful, happy, seemingly normal adults—who don’t read that many books in a year. I just spent the weekend with a tween girl who lives near us, in a town with a very well-respected school system and she is required to read one book this summer. One book. When my children told her they were reading three books she frowned. “Too much pressure,” she said. Smart girl.

Now, I know there are many children who, like me, love to read and these children will complete this three-book assignment quickly. To them, time spent with a book is relaxing and even fun. These children will choose to use their downtime sitting on the porch swing, book in hand, reading away. But, there are also many children who do not embrace reading, or who struggle with it, and for them, summer reading is a chore, or worse, a punishment.

I have five children, some are readers and some are not. I didn’t raise them any differently, reading more to one than the other, it’s just how they are wired; one of my children will choose to read as often as he can, while another would rather not read anything beyond the back of a cereal box or a sports magazine. Asking this child to sit and read a novel on a sunny summer when he could be out playing Wiffle ball with his buddies is akin to torture.

I am not even certain of the point behind summer reading. Are these mandated books incorporated into the school curriculum come September? Rarely. Does the school believe that my preteen children will forget how to read in only eight weeks? Seems unlikely. Does the school think that mandatory reading will make readers out of nonreaders? Highly unlikely. I would love if all my children were avid readers, if on a summer day they sat quietly in the shade of our leafy maple tree and read. But this is not who they are. Forced summer reading does not make readers out of non-readers; all it does is build resentment and create creative avoidance techniques.

I resent having to cut into my children’s well-earned, unstructured, shortened-already vacation just so someone, somewhere, can check off a box that states the school has met its summer reading requirement. Downtime for families is scarce these days; childhood is short and our precious time spent hanging out together; laughing, playing and enjoying one another is unfortunately becoming lost as jobs and schools place increasingly high and often extraneous demands on us. I say it’s time we rethink summer and give our families a real break. Let those who want to read, read away, and those who don’t, well let them spend their time, their eight short weeks, as they please chasing clouds and having fun.

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. 

Wedding China

Wedding China

By Anne Sawan

wedding chinaI took down my wedding china this morning. I pulled a stool over to the cabinet where it is hidden safely away on the top shelf, climbed up and carefully took it all down: the smooth, ivory plates with the ruby borders, the dusty, cut-crystal wine glasses and the tarnished silver forks, spoons and knives.  I took them down and stacked them all by the kitchen sink and after I finish writing this I am going to wash them off, polish them up and get them ready to be used tonight. Why tonight? Because it’s Monday.  Because it’s Monday and we are having lasagna and salad for dinner. Because it’s Monday and my kids will get a kick out of having their milk poured into fancy wine glasses. Because it’s Monday and after dinner my kids will pull out their notebooks and calculators and start their homework. Because it’s Monday and for the twenty-three years I have been married I have only ever used my wedding china twice. Twice.

I remember the first time I ever used it. It was our first wedding anniversary and I made my new husband a “Chinese” dinner using some sort of pre-bottled sauce that I poured over a few pieces of pieces of chicken and a frozen vegetable mixture. As the gummy concoction sat and simmered on the stove, I proudly set our tiny, second hand kitchen table, taking out two settings of the china, filling the sparkling glasses with red wine and neatly placing the silverware by each plate; and then we celebrated.  We celebrated with cheap wine and gluey chicken over sticky Minute rice in a tight, four room, drafty apartment we had rented above a noisy dance studio, across the street from a busy twenty-four hour gas station, and it was grand.

We’ll do this every year I thought.  But we didn’t, we forgot. We forgot how wonderful it was and went out to eat on following anniversaries because for some reason we thought we should. Because eating in a fancy restaurant seemed better, more grown up, and so our wedding china sat, unused, packed away, waiting for a more deserving occasion.

The second time I used my china was years later, when I hosted Thanksgiving in my now bigger, not so drafty home. I was nervous that day, nervous about the turkey being too dry, the stuffing being too bland and my precious china being chipped or broken.  So, when the kids all gathered around for the feast with their wide eyes and sticky fingers, I smiled politely and quickly handed each one a paper plate, hoping to avoid dropped dishes and shattered glasses; and after dinner, when everyone had finally left, I washed, dried and carefully inspected each piece of fine china before placing it all back up on the shelf; relieved my precious dishes had somehow made it through the celebration unscathed.

Then, this past week my parents who have been married for fifty-four years finally decided it was time to move out of their home. The home they have lived in for forty-five years.  The home where they raised their large brood of children, keeping them safe and warm and sending them off one by one to find their way in the world.  It is a house that is now too big for only two people, it needs a lot of work, upkeep… it is just time.  So, as we sat around the other day, drinking coffee and discussing the impending move, what they will take with them, and what they will have to leave behind, my mother mentioned her wedding china. “I need to take my wedding china. You know… we never even used it.”

“Never?” I said in disbelief (as if using mine two times in twenty three year was so much better than never.) “Why you should be eating off fine china every night! You’ve earned it! Forget getting new plates, use your china!”

My brother chuckled. “I’ve never used mine either,” he said, the pain of his still recent divorce barely hidden beneath his deep laugh.  We paused momentarily and then laughed together as he described the therapeutic relief he might feel if he were to perhaps make a nice, gourmet meal, use his wedding china and then throw it piece by piece onto the floor, smashing those plates into tiny shards, then sweeping them all up and up and throwing them all away.

And so, as we sat there as a family, reflecting on the things that have been, and the things that are still to come, I thought, about my wedding china, tucked away, and I thought, what am I waiting for? Some ultra special occasion? Some momentous event deemed finally special enough for a certain plate or a particular glass? How silly.  The special moments are right in front of me everyday; eating cereal in front of the television on a lazy Saturday morning, sharing a bowl of mac and cheese in the afternoon after school, sitting on the front porch together and savoring a cold glass of beer after the lawn has been mowed.   Aren’t all of life moments special enough to be served on china?  Perhaps, I thought I had misunderstood the function of these dishes.  Fine china shouldn’t be locked away, protected from the bumps and bruises of life, it should be used everyday, to celebrate the life that has been made together, for better or for worse, and if it gets broken or chipped, then so be it.   So be it.

So, that’s why I am using my wedding china tonight. Because it’s Monday, because we are having lasagna, because my sticky fingered kids are special enough, and because the truth is, no one gets through this life without a few cracks.

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. 

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With A Little Luck

With A Little Luck

By Anne Sawan

IMG_0326I have just finished reading a very beautiful commentary about an adoptive parent responding to the comment, “Your daughter (son) is so lucky that you adopted her/him!”  The piece highlighted the response all adoptive parents give when faced with this comment, “Oh no, it is we that are lucky” and went on to give examples of all the ways in which this child has blessed this family with his special love.  It was a good article, very tender and touching. It’s not that I disagree with the premise, but every time I read about anything about the “lucky” comment, I am left with a niggling voice in my head that says, “Hey, wait a minute, this family is lucky, but isn’t it also true that yes, in fact this child of adoption is lucky?”

Now it’s not that I am full of myself and think that my daughter is lucky because I am some sort of super fabulous mom. Seriously, I know those “fab” moms and believe me, that is not me; I can’t DIY to save my soul (I have never held a glue gun in my hand), I have very little patience (trust me, you don’t want to be sitting next to me in a traffic jam, it’s not pretty), I have been known to let a dip in the pool suffice for a shower (actually this is pretty much my children’s daily hygiene routine all summer long) and I occasionally allow my children to eat Frosted Flakes (What? C’mon, admit it, they are tasty! It’s just once in awhile…), but if not me, in all my imperfections, then who? Then what? Then where?

Sometimes, in the evenings when my daughter is nestled beside me, I stare at her dreamy, drooly face and watch her sleep; I count her shallow breaths, I touch her soft cheek, I close my eyes and try to envision where she would be if she weren’t here.  Perhaps, I think with a shudder, she would be in a family with a super fab-glue gun, and a toting-patience-of-a-saint, health-food-eating, daily-bath kind of mom or maybe it would be much worse; perhaps hers would be a life lost to child trafficking or spent toiling in a dusty, crowded sweatshop, or maybe she would be living in an ill funded orphanage in a war torn country where orphans are sadly low down on the list of social priorities.  Who’s to say really what her fate and the fate of many others would be if they were not adopted into the families they were.  So, are they lucky?

My sister has also adopted two children; unlike me her children are from the foster care system here in the U.S. and I often think how fortunate they are to have my sister as their mother. She is kind, patient and very invested in making sure these kids get the love and support they need to succeed.  I sometimes wonder, what would have happened to her children if she hadn’t opened her heart and her life? Would they have lived out their too short childhoods in the foster care system, moving from house to house, only to age out and be on their own at the tender age of eighteen?  Are they lucky to have her?  Yes, you bet they are, and she is equally as lucky to have them. They have brought tiny, constantly-under-your-feet Lego pieces and Friday-on-the-crowded-couch family movie nights into what was once a routine and quiet life.

And isn’t much of any life based on luck anyway?  I often think it was by some lucky, wondrous roll of the biological cosmic dice that I ended up in the large, loving family that I did with two wonderful, strong parents. But, what if the dice had landed differently, would I have had a less pleasant existence?  And I often think how very lucky for me that I agreed to go with my friend to church that one Sunday back in high school, where I was suppose to be finding God but instead found a handsome young man in the back pew, who would later became my husband.  And how lucky I am to have all my children, regardless of how they came into my life. How fortunate they are to have siblings to tease, and Frosted Flakes to eat. And they are in a family where they are loved to the ends of the earth and back.

And you know what else I think; I think there is nothing wrong with a little luck, because really, where we would any of us be without it?

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. 

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Teen Boys, and Their Mothers

Teen Boys, and Their Mothers

By Anne Sawan
Photo on 2010-12-18 at 17.24 #5When he was small, he would ask me to sleep with him every night.

“Please sleep with me Mom.”

And most nights I would. I would snuggle in next to him, feeling his small body pressed against mine, an arm thrown across my neck as he burrowed in so close our noses would touch, his breath minty and sweet against my cheek, his hair still damp and fresh from the bath. He would whisper his dreams and silly rhymes in my ear as the room slowly darkened, a gently stillness seeping in, his chest rising and falling in time with the soft whir of the overhead fan. All thoughts of the piles of laundry that needed to be washed, the already late bills to pay, the sticky dinner dishes that should be rinsed, floating away as I lay with my arms around my child, both of us drifting into sweet, sweet slumber.

And some nights I wouldn’t. On those long, hard days when I just needed some space to think, wanting some peace and solitude to collect my thoughts and mull over the day. Those nights when all I could dream about was an empty chair, a cup of hot tea and a good book, or a piece of the couch, a mindless television show and a glass of wine.

“No, not tonight. I am busy. I don’t have the time,” I would say impatiently.

On those nights there would be tears and pleading; “Can I just have a glass of water … maybe one more … can you turn on the light in the hall … open the door just a little … now it’s too bright … please can’t you lie down here … just a few minutes” and then, finally, thankfully, he would fall to sleep, alone.

Those days of asking are gone now.


Funny, I remember the last time he asked.

The asking had slowed down, becoming more sporadic over the years as he grew, separating from me, as he needed to, but still, occasionally … after a scary movie, a hard day at school, a lost baseball game, he would ask … and I might.

Then came the dark, dismal, cloudy days of preteen rolled eyes, low mutterings, and out right defiance. Days of arguing, yelling and talking back. He came to me after one of those long days; one of those days that left me still seething hours later from his insolence, the bitter taste of disrespect rolling around my mouth, the heavy buzz of surliness ringing in my ears.

“Can you lie down with me for a few minutes?” He mumbled, his eyes shifting first to the window, then to the ceiling and down to the floor.

“What!” Anger boiled, bubbling and popping inside my chest. I was too annoyed to care that this humble asking was his best apology. Too angry to see that this might be the time he needed me the most. I snapped and snarled, “No! I’m busy! I don’t have the time for that! Go to bed!” dismissing him with a dark glare and a wave of my arm.

He shuffled out, shoulders slumped and I sat, by myself, pretending to look at my book.

Minutes went by. The clock on the wall steadily ticking out the beat of time … passing. I heard him turning in his bed, but he never called out. Never asked for water or a nightlight. Never pleaded for me to open the door just a crack … and the dull space that had started in my head slowly wormed its way down to my heart and landed with a heavy thud in my stomach. The silence of the night surrounded me, and in the quiet, sliding through the anger, I heard the whir of a soft whisper. Not much more time.

I put down my book and shut my eyes and listened to the gentle hum, the quiet warning.

Not much more time.

And alone, in the darkness, I remembered. I remembered the little boy that dragged his yellow dump truck all over the house carefully putting it next to him on his pillow at night as he pulled up the covers. The boy who had me read the same dinosaur book over and over until we both could name and identify the eating habits of each creature. The boy who held tightly to my hand as we crossed the street, readily sharing his vanilla ice cream and always saving the very tip of the sugar cone for me. The boy who showed me the joy of finding worms in the rain, how to collect baseball cards and tried to teach me to like roller coasters. The boy who snuggled next to me, his chubby hands on either side of my face as he whispered about what he wanted to be when he grew up—a baseball player, a rock star, a paleontologist, a dad.

Not much more time.

I walked across the hallway, over the dimly lit space that separated us, and stood near him.

“Hey,” I whispered. “Move over.”

I climbed in next to his awkward almost adolescent body, the sour smell of sweat surrounding him but this time there was no hand thrown across my neck, no noses pushed together or silly whispers in my ear, instead he moved away, turning to the wall, and we slept in uneasy silence, our backs pressed together.

And that was the last time.

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 book published by MeeGenuis. 

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