On a recent vacation with my newly rounded out family of 5, I found myself unable to relax and shake away the stress of a hectic few months. The beach sweltered in the August sun, absent the ocean breeze I’d been yearning for, daydreaming about, for weeks sitting in a midrise office building. Finally here, on a beach it had taken me the equivalent of my weekly commute time to reach, I could feel my fair skin burning, exposed in patches by my haphazard application of what sunblock was left between my fingers after coating the children. I was exhausted, but my crew demanded their God-given right to my dwindling energy reserves. A desperate question hung on my sun-scorched lips along with a dusting of the infuriatingly fine sand that had lured me to this so-called untouched beach location in the first place: ‘How much longer?’
How much longer before their excitement turns to exhaustion and the midday meltdown ensues?
How much longer before the next application of sunscreen is due, again?
How much longer before I can get back and wash off all of this sand and sticky salt water?
How much longer before I can get the kids to bed and blend up something frosty?
How much longer before we can get back to our own beds and all the millions of things we have to do to get ready to get back to school and work?
How much longer before this vacation ends and I can finally relax?
Finally a breeze arrived, blowing a long lock of salty, sticky hair across my nose. As I brushed it back and pinned it with my sunglasses on top of my head, I caught a glimpse of a cigarette butt in the sand. “What sort of jerk would litter on a beautiful state-park beach?” I growled. Annoyed, I whisked it away, along with my tendency to let something comparatively insignificant dampen my ability to enjoy the bigger picture. Relieved that the kids hadn’t seen it or, worse, adorned their sandcastle or shell collection with it, I turned my eyes back toward the breeze. I glanced briefly over my peacefully snoozing 7 month old to my 3 year old intently building a sand castle, and finally to my 5 year old dashing in and out of the surf with his dad. In that moment, the question I’d sent out under my breath and over the ocean, found its way back to me on a prevailing wind, across my distracted mind, perhaps even from another dimension: ‘How much longer?’ this time with more urgency.
How much longer before they notice the cigarette butts in the sand instead of how the sand feels between their toes?
How much longer before they feel the heat of the sun rather than the warmth of it?
How much longer before they’re no longer waking me up in the morning with their sand shovels on the bed, bursting with energy and laughter and wanting animal-shaped pancakes for breakfast?
How much longer before they no longer need my architectural genius to build the preeminent sand castle, or be the sea monster in the surf, or sway them to sleep in the respite of our beach tent?
How much longer before an incoming text is more interesting than the glittering pastel treasures left behind by the outgoing tide?
How much longer before they squander less time on play, joy, and togetherness than work, chores, and lists?
How much longer before they no longer see the world as a giant playground, and see it the way I do?