It was not turning out to be a good day.
The day before, I had high hopes that I would Make The Most Of A Beautiful Summer Day and had even rearranged a piano lesson so that I would have the afternoon off. Seeing as it was August and the school year was looming ever larger on the horizon, I was feeling the pressure of the whole Make the Most thing. And I was determined to get the kids away from computer games for at least ONE afternoon this month. High hopes.
However, by the time the morning lessons were finished, I found myself in a funk, paralyzed by the very pressure that was telling me to perform. It was too late to call any of my friends to make plans, and besides, I was in too much of a funk to even make the call. Gritting my teeth, I looked up the start times of Recreational Swim at a nearby pool and told the kids we were going there.
I packed a bag full of textbooks, hoping to spend some quality time in the bleachers planning curriculum while they splashed around in the pool. We hopped in the van and started off in that direction, but as I began to describe the pool to the kids, the idea seemed less and less appealing. There was no deep end, so the whole thing was waist-high. It was sure to be crowded. By the time we got there, none of us wanted to go in.
“Let’s just go to the beach,” sighed the 10 year old, so we pulled out of the parking lot and headed to our usual spot. They were a little worried about going to the beach without friends, since we usually arrange to meet up with a crowd when we go there. Then we discovered that when we left the house, everyone had assumed everyone else picked up the towels off the couch. We had one towel between us. Then we discovered that the case of water in the trunk only had one bottle in it. I told them it would be fine, we could just have fun, just the three of us, and our one towel, and our one bottle of water. We could share. It wasn’t the end of the world — it could still be a good outing. I was determined to make this work.
When we started pulling things out of the back of the van, we discovered a second towel and a small blanket. Things were looking up. We had enough quarters for the meter, and we found a parking space right where we like to park.
The beach was packed, but we spied a spot right where we always sit and yelped our way across the hot sand to set up camp. The 10 year old headed straight for the water, while the 12 year old, who up to this point was known as the family dolphin, insisted that she no longer liked swimming in the ocean and would prefer to sit in a chair and watch us instead. Muttering something about puberty, I headed for the water. Without too much wincing I got my body acclimated to the cold Pacific and strode out to the wave breaks. The 10 year old and I had fun bouncing around, deciding whether to jump or duck with each wave that came, and I kept an eye on the people further out than us, in case any of them caught a wave and we needed to move out of their way.
At one point, there was a brown haired boy right in front of me, about 15 feet away, and as I watched to see what he was doing, he turned his head toward me. Yeah, that wasn’t a brown haired boy. That was a California Sea Lion.
I croaked and pointed, but the 10 year old didn’t understand me. I tried using words this time, and actually managed to say “Sea Lion!” But then the waves kept coming between the sea lion and us, so he never did see it. A young man a few feet to the right of me was having a similar hard time pointing it out to his friends, and we began to realize that we were the only ones who were even aware of the close encounter we had all just had with nature. We exchanged a knowing glance and went back to bouncing in the waves.
I was struck by the wonder of it. I wasn’t even supposed to be at the beach that day. I had made plans to meet my friends there the next day, but not THAT day. But here I found myself, desperately trying to capture a piece of summer for my children’s enjoyment, and there I had been, face to face with a sea lion. As I bobbed up and down in the waves, I felt something inside me grow. I needed to worry less. I needed to slow down and appreciate what was all around me. I needed to live with a sense of the wonder of the world instead of trying to conquer each day and squeeze the most out of it.
After a while, I left the water and sat on the sand with my daughter, smiling as I listened to the chatter of the large group of tourists next to us, choosing to marvel at the cadence of their language, which was foreign to me, instead of getting annoyed that they had parked themselves in front of us and blocked our view of the water. “The wonder,” I kept repeating to myself, smiling and enjoying the breeze that had picked up.
One of the many umbrellas that dotted the sand came loose and careened down the beach, chased by a couple of harried 30-something women, until it came to rest against a bald, muscular, shirtless man with a giant cross tattooed on his back. The women stopped short, horrified that their umbrella had just assaulted a possible gang member, but he smiled, grabbed it, and carried it back to their towels, planting it firmly in the sand for them. I grinned and repeated it again. “The wonder.”
A beautiful teenage girl exclaimed loudly as she and her sister played in the sand with a small boy, burying him as he lay there trying not to wiggle. I couldn’t understand her words but I could understand her tone. It was a lovely moment of family love and sharing. The wonder.
And then I turned to look at my children. The 12 year old was sitting in the chair next to me with a towel draped completely over her head. The 10 year old was scowling at the sand, pouting because he had not been allowed to buy a $5 plate of fries at the snack bar and because his usual beach buddy was not in attendance.
I sighed and realized that sometimes the wonder is more elusive than others.
But it’s still worth looking for.