Summer is in full swing around here. We had an exceptionally snowy winter and a very wet spring, so to say I was looking forward to some dry warm weather would be an understatement. Summer in British Columbia is a beautiful thing – there are lakes, trails, beaches, long days and beautiful sunsets. It truly takes just one sunny day in BC to make up for the days upon days of rain we endure. Last summer my injury was still very new and most of our summer was spent simply trying to figure out this new life and how to be back at home. We didn’t venture out much or attempt many of our usual summer activities. We didn’t so much enjoy last summer as we did survive it. I wanted to enjoy this summer. I wanted to live in the moment.
As I was looking ahead to this summer I was filled with excitement, trepidation and sadness. I knew we would be more adventurous this summer as we are all more confident at the wheelchair game, but I also knew there would be limitations to our adventures and, like with so many things, a sense of loss where the experiences are changed. Yes, I knew I would swim more with my children this year, take picnics to the park near our house and wander through the most accessible trails we could find. However I also knew the waterslides were no longer an option for me and that a trip to the beach would look vastly different than before. But if you’ve been following me for a while now you would probably guess that I’m going to try and participate in whatever I can, however I can. So off to the beach we went.
The closest beach to us that we take our family most often is partially accessible. There is a long concrete promenade that I can easily wheel down and it is lined by grassy areas I can access. However actually getting down to the sand and water is not as easy. There are ramps that go from the promenade down to the beach but between the bottom of the ramps and the miles of hard-packed sand lay a lot of large rocks. It would take more than just my husband to get me safely over the rocks so up on the grass is where we set up. I usually take every opportunity I can to get out of my chair and I love being on the ground with everyone else – once I’m down though, I don’t get up again until it’s time to go (it takes a fair bit of effort). However it doesn’t take long for my children to want to venture down to the sand and surf – they want to look for crabs and explore the beach. And before I know it I’m left alone to wait and watch.
While I sat up on the grass by myself my mind began to wander. I see my boys in their easy-to-spot bright green bathing suits in the distance and my husband following behind holding our daughter’s hand. It amazes me how far away they have gotten in just a few short minutes. I scan the rest of the beach and it is dotted with couples, teenagers and families all the way along. My gaze rests on a family not too far away from me and I’m inspired to write.
I see you down on the sand. Your unopened book is beside you and I know you are wondering why you brought it in the first place. I’ve seen you sit down 8, 9, 10 times just to get back up when your little people call for mommy or the baby crawls a little bit too far away. I can imagine you asking your husband if he remembers what it was like to come to the beach before having children. I see you have a cute bathing suit on but have covered it up with shorts and a tank top because chasing a toddler through a tide pool and digging in the sand are both really great ways to end up in a flashing-the-entire-beach type of scenario.
I see you attempting to relax for just a few minutes before someone wants another snack or needs a bathroom run. I understand the longing you have for your children to simply build a sandcastle without needing your help so that you can simply watch them and actually enjoy the warmth of the sun on your skin instead of just sweating because it is too hot. I get it. I promise. But I also envy you and wish you understood how lucky you are.
I wish I could show you how sitting and reading at the beach while watching your children play sounds like a wonderful break until it is the only option you have. That in a strange turn of events you would actually long to never get the chance to read a book again and you would happily chase your kids and build sandcastles until everyone was so covered in sand and cranky from exhaustion that you had to drag everyone and everything home. I promise you that everything you are doing is actually making you feel validated as a mother and if it was taken from you, you would struggle to see your purpose.
I would love to remind you that there was probably a time you sat at a beach, without children, and longed to be the family a few beach umbrellas away from you. You yearned for the unconditional love of a child and someone to call you ‘mommy’ and take your hand because they wanted you, their mom, to be a part of whatever adventure they had in mind. There was a time where what you wanted is now what you have but now that you have it you want it to be different.
Of course I cannot say this to someone. One reason being it would sound ridiculously judgmental which is not how I mean it at all. I actually think that in a lot of ways I was imagining the woman on the beach to be a former version of myself who, in the past, would be grateful for a chance to sit with our blanket and all of our stuff while my husband took the kids to venture a little further away. I would be relieved to have a few moments of peace during a beach trip that, with kids, is all sand toys, beach balls and snacks. Don’t get me wrong, I loved splashing around in the tide pools and digging in the sand with my children. However, I was also guilty of wanting them to play on their own, of wanting to just watch for a while. And when I think of those moments now I feel sick to my stomach that I was living a life I had so desperately wanted yet I was already longing for it to change. I was wishing time away – time I thought I understood was precious but didn’t truly know how precious it was.
Now here I sit with a much better understanding of how fleeting life really is and a newly found zest to really appreciate everything that I have. And as I watched my daughter walking 15 steps behind her brothers just enjoying the sand and the sun and taking in things that she thinks she hasn’t seen before, I longed for the moments that I won’t get with her but looked for the ones that I will. I long to hold her tiny hand while we walk through the sand carefully inspecting each shell she finds and inevitably putting every single one into the bucket because she sees something special in all of them. Instead I will settle for going through the bucket of shells she brings back to me as she tells me how beautiful they all are and how she got them all for me.
I want to stand holding her under her arms while I dip her toes in the water and swing her back and forth. Instead I will watch my husband do this and have to be content with seeing her smile and hearing her giggle from a distance as she yells “watch me Mommy”.
I wish I could flip rocks over with my boys so they can inspect the crabs underneath. Instead, I will share in their excitement when they bring me the millionth tiny crab of the day that they swear pinched them but they were still “really brave” and brought it over anyways. In all honesty I would never pick up even the tiniest crab – that is why flipping the rocks was my job.
I long to hop on the skim board and show the boys that they are so much better at it then I am. Instead, I will take photos and laugh as they attempt to make it across the tide pool and tease them that I could totally do better if I could only just stand. Neither of them believe me.
You see, I don’t want any of their experiences to be diminished and I don’t want their childhood to be anything less than what it would have been. And in making those experiences memorable for all of my children, I may lose a piece of myself and of the story that I had expected to have. But that just proves that we should stop getting ahead of ourselves and be present in our life as it is in this moment.
Since our beach day I have thought a lot about ‘the grass is greener’ mentality that, I think, plagues our world. And the more brain space I give to this topic and how we, as a society, always want something we don’t currently have, the more I am saddened and it makes me want to change.
I know the natural progression of my life’s journey was interrupted. Instead of my children growing up and into stages of life where they don’t necessarily want their parents around all the time, I was forced out of certain scenarios where my children would still want me to participate. Even so, I would love to feel content with and be able to find the joy in each moment, day and season of my life simply for what they are. I want to live and enjoy the present state of my life instead of continually yearning for a different reality. I want to think of my past and be thankful for what it was while being content with the fact it is over. I want to look to my future and be excited for what may come but also remind myself to let it come as it will and not to rush any moment, day or season because there is beauty in all of them – although in some it is, admittedly, a bit harder to see.
Before having children, most parents go through a season of desire; desire to have a child that finds us when we least expect it. We crave certain moments that, while childless, we can only imagine. Yet when we are in the trenches of parenthood that desire is sometimes lost or easily forgotten as we get bogged down with the day-to-day. However if we never moved into the next phase (in this case parenthood) we would forever hold on to that desire. The realization and acceptance that we cannot have everything simultaneously would go far in our quest for self-satisfaction. I have had friends joke with me about how they would love to sit in the car while their husband runs into the store (like I do many times now) or how it would be lovely to actually get through more than a page of their book at the beach or not have to put on that bathing suit and join in at the public pool. And I can laugh with them because I totally understand where they are coming from and I remember that feeling well. But again, they still have the chance. It seems that it is only when that opportunity disappears that we truly realize what we would miss. It’s a decidedly unfair little cycle.
Please don’t mistake any of what I’m saying to mean that I think parenting is easy. It isn’t easy. It can be frustrating, monotonous and exhausting. Even with this accident and the dose of perspective it has so graciously thrown my way, I still have plenty of days where I look back and know that I did it all wrong – I was wasteful, ungrateful, selfish or grouchy. I’m also not trying to say that we shouldn’t make time for ourselves as individuals. It’s important not to lose yourself in the one-size-fits-all title of ‘mom’. I’m just saying that I have this goal which is to take the time and remember that everything in our life is a season and we should enjoy each one for what it is because it will inevitably change and, in turn, we will miss it and wish for it yet again. To be able to instead look back without regret and say that we took full advantage of that moment in life while it was ours instead of letting it pass us by would be pretty wonderful don’t you think? Lofty goals for a Thursday.