“Rachel, wait for us!”
“Andrew, don’t throw sand.”
I looked up from my novel, which I began on our arrival to the cottage three days earlier. I had just nicely settled into my chair on the beach when I heard the young couple approaching, two kids and a ton of stuff in tow.
I guessed they were in their early thirties, their children probably two and four, the same age difference as my own son and daughter now nineteen and twenty-one.
They settled on a blanket a few yards from us, and began the ritual. She tried to hold on to the children and apply sunscreen as he arranged chairs and umbrellas and unpacked baskets. Out came a wide array of brightly coloured towels, pails and shovels, the once quiet air suddenly filled with squeals of delight as the kids ran to the waters edge and back again.
It seemed like yesterday I was there with my own children, chasing seagulls, building castles and wiping sand from their eyes. I loved every minute of it.
Everyone has a favourite time in their life, and mine were those first incredible years of my childrens’ lives. I watched in amazement as they smiled their first smiles, spoke their first words and took their first steps. Each day felt like a gift as I watched their unique personalities unfold.
Being a mother came naturally to me. I felt in my heart it was what I was meant to be, what I was good at. But even though motherhood is supposed to be a never-ending job, these days with a couple of young adults home from university, I’m increasingly aware of how little they rely on me.
I glanced over at the young mother who was scolding her daughter for splashing. Our eyes met and I gave her a knowing smile, as if to say, ‘Been there, done that.’ She looked tired and a little frazzled. I wanted to tell her to enjoy every minute because it was a phase in her life that would pass all too quickly but like every parent, I realized, she’d find out on her own.
I turned back to my novel then glanced at my husband dozing on the blanket next to me. I smiled. Several careers, a mortgage and two children later, we’d certainly come through many ‘phases’ of our own.
Newly married over twenty years ago, with nothing but time for our selves and each other, things changed quickly with the arrival of our children. Then, just when I thought the dirty diapers and spit- up milk would never end, I was holding back tears as I dropped them off at nursery school. Years of slumber parties, piano recitals and sporting events came and went, traded for girlfriends and boyfriends, part-time jobs, and arguments over who got the car. There were great achievements and heartbreaks, laughter and tears . . . then suddenly, my kids were gone, university bound with their lives ahead of them.
I set my novel aside and joined my husband who was nodding off on the blanket. Here we were empty nesters together on the beach. The young couple looked our way and I wondered what, if anything, they thought of us. Did our life look easy to them?
I remember being their age, looking at couples our age now, wondering if we’d make it that far, everything seemingly under control. It was the way I looked at a couple on the beach the day before, twenty years older than us, gray and wrinkled, but seemingly content and so much wiser. They’d done it, I thought; survived the ever-changing phases of their lives: careers, raising a family, retirement, grandchildren and more, and landed here, walking hand in-hand-on the beach.
Would we make it that far? Would we ever feel like we were in control? What were all those years of swim meets, birthday parties and parent-teacher meetings all about? And what would the future hold for us?
I quickly shook it off and walked to the water. As much as I loved the years I spent raising a family, I’ve never been one to dwell on the past (I don’t even like looking at old photos). And as much as I wonder what the future holds, I don’t like planning too far ahead. I’ve learned that things can change in a heartbeat, so I prefer to live in the moment.
“Mommy, watch me!” I heard. “Daddy, come in the water!”