I went to the beach last week with my kids. After forcefully applying sunscreen to my two older boys they finally broke away and ran off, quickly gathering a group of kids for a wiffle ball game, while my five year old, Eliza, plopped herself down on the sand by the edge of the water and began digging.
Soon a stout little girl in a flowered bathing suit sidled up.
“Whatcha ya doing?” She asked.
“Building a mermaid castle,” my daughter replied. “Wanna help?”
“Sure.” The girl said, picking up a shovel, “I’m Ava.”
(Amazing: a bat and ball… a bucket of wet sand, apparently that’s all you need to spark a few friendships. We adults certainly have a lot to learn, or unlearn perhaps.)
The two little girls planted themselves not far from my chair and began to dig, chatting as they worked side by side: How old are you? Do you have a cat? How many teeth have you lost? Important stuff like that.
“My mom had a baby.” I heard Ava say as she flung a shovel full of sand into the air.
“Oh,” said my daughter, pouring a bucket of seawater into a hole.
“She’s my sister. Her name is Sophie. See?”
Ava pointed a few seats down to a woman sitting under a large umbrella with a baby sling wrapped protectively around her body.
“Do you remember being a baby?” Ava asked.
Eliza shook her head.
“Me neither,” said Ava, diligently digging. “But my mom said I was sweet.” She laughed, “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 you mom eat when you were in her tummy?”
I glanced up from my book, curious to hear my daughter’s reply.
Eliza shrugged, “I don’t know…Maybe mac and cheese?”
Both girls giggled.
The girls worked on, decorating their structure with broken shells and gathering some unsuspecting hermit crabs (excuse me, I mean mermaids) to occupy their castle but soon the tide began to creep in, the water splashing at the walls of sand until at last the mermaid castle crumbled. The girls shrieked as the shells swirled about on the beach and the freed crabs all quickly scurried away.
After a brief lemonade and snack break the girls recovered from their loss and happily skipped off to swim together in the ocean.
It was a good day.
Later that night back at the beach house after a dinner of charred hamburgers, a trip to the local ice cream shop, and an evening full of silly cartoons I laid down, exhausted, in bed next to Eliza, bits of sand scratching away at my legs and back. Blasted sand, I thought, always sneaking into the house no matter how much I insisted everyone rinse their feet with the hose, use the outdoor shower and leave their flip flops at the door. I tossed and turned trying to get comfortable.
Eliza rolled over, flinging her tanned arm across my chest and pushing her nose against mine.
“Mom,” she breathed. “What did you eat when I was in your tummy?
My heart dropped.
“On the beach,” she continued. “Ava said her mom ate a lot of sweet stuff when she was in her tummy and that’s why she’s so sweet. So… what did you eat?”
“Well…” I took a deep breath, giving a futile swipe at the sheets, trying to brush the irritating sand away, down, onto the floor. “You were never in my tummy remember? You grew in someone else’s tummy.”
There was a long silence then as we lay there together in the bed listening to the soft whir of the overhead fan, little pieces of sand poking insistently at our legs, our backs. Invisible bits that never seemed to leave no matter how hard I tried to sweep them up and toss them away.
“I think you ate a lot of sweets too.”
I held her close.
“Me too sweetie. Me too.”