It was 9:05am and we’d just set up our morning camp on the beach. “Can we go in the ocean?” My eldest asks, tucking her sandals into the pocketed back of a beach chair. My husband looks left then right. “Not yet,” he says, “the lifeguards aren’t on duty yet.” She’s mildly disappointed but understands the rule. Caution.
My littlest begins to melt. He needs a nap. He needs me. I strap on my baby carrier, which I’d only removed moments earlier. I tuck my fussing 1-year-old into the pouch, tighten the straps, and signal to my husband that he’s in charge of the older two. Do I head towards town or walk towards the outskirts? The outskirts. Adventure.
I stroll along the shoreline, feeling the weight of my baby-turned-toddler grow heavier as sleep settles in. I breathe in the salty sea air and revel in the quiet. The morning sun sparkles on the rip tide waves. Sea birds dip and glide off shore, catching breakfast from the surf. It is beautiful. Awareness.
Children scuttle along the sand under the close watch of family. Couples smooth and spray sunscreen on one another’s skin. New parents adjust sunhats and erect tents, shielding their young from the sun. Protection.
I see three young adults in the water as two early lifeguards drag their chair across the sand and fling their day’s essentials onto their newly positioned perch. They stop. Whistles shriek. The two guards grab their orange floats and race into the water. I look to the swimmers; two are smacking at the waves as the other desperately flails toward them. A third guard shreds through the sand from down the beach. I leap out of his way. Tears well in my eyes. I hold my sleeping child close. Within seconds, each of the endangered swimmers is clinging to a lifeguard buoy. Safety.
I continue my walk, leaving the emotional scene behind me. The people here know nothing of the rescue just yards down the beach. Children play chase with the tide, dig trenches to capture the waves, and hobble with the support of parents to dip their toddler toes in the surf. It is as if that danger never occured. Peace.
I reach the end of my course and turnaround. The salty, cool breath of the ocean breeze envelopes me. The sun cloaks me in warmth. The waves bathe my tiring feet. The wet sand gives just enough without relenting. My child sighs in slumber. Mothers smile at me as I pass, glance at my sleeping baby, and tilt their heads as the corners of their mouth sink into a smiling frown. Nostalgia.
Next year will be different, I tell myself. Next year, he will be two. There will be no silent seaside sleeping strolls. This is my last year. This summer is the closing chapter of my continuous years-long brush with babyhood. I am simultaneously relieved and saddened. My eldest two children come running down the beach to me, arms open, smiles wide. Home.