There are those parenting moments, even on vacation, maybe especially on vacation, when you look down at your children and you seem to be without hope for their character, their well-being, even their souls. They will never stop bickering or being selfish or entitled. They will always think life exists for their personal convenience. This decade of mothering–of doing nothing very substantial other than shepherding these hooligans–seems to have done nothing at all. Perhaps they could have fared the same living barefoot and feral in the UP. My partner and I should maybe have picked a different way to spend all of that time. Imagine how many trees we could have planted, me and that Jonny-Appleseed of a husband of mine.
And then you wander at the shore decidedly away from your offspring–following the ribbon of high-tide debris across the beach–searching, searching, for some unknown treasure in what the ocean coughed up in the night. You see baby driftwood, limp seaweed, indigo and pearlescent mussle shells, remnants of a sea bird’s crab feast, salt-softened stones, chunks of cedar bark rendered circular. You are lost in this for a time.
And then you look up and your children are squabbling but somewhat working together to drag and carry driftwood through the sand. They haven’t thought of rolling them. You try to leave them to their own devices and wander just a little farther away so the waves drown out their voices just a bit more and continue your beach-combing pursuit.
Then out of the blue–or the marine-layer gray, as it were–they are running at you with good news. “Mom! Mom!” shouts the elder one, “We built a lean-to!” And sure enough they have. And you’re not even sure how they know what a lean-to is, or even if you’re absolutely sure you know what a lean-to is. Pa Ingalls is all that comes to mind. But what they made seems legit. People even ask if you’re sleeping on the beach tonight. They’ve leaned smaller (but still large enough to need help moving) driftwood perpendicularly against a massive, half-buried, but still-waist-high log. This horizontal piece is bleached white as snow, smooth, dusted with gray lava-rich sand. They keep adding logs, tiny ones to decorate the top, the biggest ones to widen the shelter, until the cavern underneath is big enough to cover them if they lay very close and rest their backs on the big bleached log.
And then your heart is awash with grace and tenderness and affection for these two little people. You think just maybe if they can dream and build shelter with another that all has not been lost. You think that once in a while, even under heavy cloud cover, a true treasure washes up onto the dark pacific sands of their fierce little hearts. And it is enough to at least keep you on the beach.