Sunday, July 13, 2008

An ocean of time in a drop of water

The girls are sitting on the seawall, brown skinned and shiny. I can almost smell the imitation coconut of their suntan lotion. They have bottles of water and brightly colored towels artfully placed near the car they came in: a new Cabriolet. I presumptively imagine the compact white convertible is the most impressive gift one of them got for graduation, and the girls are showing it off along with their long limbs and summer sleeked outfits. Their clothes, although decidedly beach attire, were never meant to touch sand or surf.

They are here to be seen.

As are the boys, roughly the same age, who parked their Vanagon five spaces away.

The male delegation, however, has made no pretense of being at the beach. They have neither towels nor swimsuits. They take off their shirts and talk to each other in loud voices; the kind that want to be overheard. They walk on the sea wall in the girls’ direction but never get close enough to share any conversation. They punch at each other’s chests, trying to knock one another off balance. They are trying to establish who will be king of the seaside.

I remember this awkward dance of adolescence wherein being noticed is important. Each gesture is carefully choreographed for optimum effect.

I focus on their bodies, their beauty and youth; for a moment I am wistful.

I suppose none of the adults who walk by headed to the beach a few yards away — as I was doing just then, carrying a baby in a pouch and dragging umbrellas and bags of sand toys — give the teenagers much thought other than to briefly brood for their own youthful bodies, now weighed down by time and responsibility.

We are too busy keeping our little ones from eating fistfuls of sand or mouthfuls of seawater. We are trying to do whatever it is adults with families do when they’re on vacation: Mom reads a book under the shade of an umbrella as Dad builds an elaborate sandcastle that resembles the car in the James Bond movie viewed last night by the light of the computer after the kids were tucked into bed. Our children run off to collect mussel shells and sand dollars, pasting each one carefully onto the dashboard with water and sand.

I’m sure the teens aren’t thinking much about us either. The idea that they will look like us one day has no place in their minds. How can it? They haven’t been to college, or seen the world, or met their special someone. They are still looking. Their job, right now, is to stand beside that seawall and be discovered just as my job is to make sure the sun isn’t discovering my children’s tender skin.

We are where we are supposed to be; to each their own frivolity. And yet I can’t help but look over at them as I pretend to read my book. Wasn’t it only yesterday …

When we’ve finished our sandcastle and our beach-gritty peanut butter sandwiches, we pack up our things and head to the car. Sand is everywhere, which is why I didn’t bring my camera. There will be no pictures of the Aston Martin we carved into the ocean’s driveway. Soon the tide will come and wash the sand car away, and there will be only memories of the children sitting in the deep well of its cockpit, uttering the profoundly satisfying sounds of the pretend engine: “Vroooom-vroom.”

The sound echoes into reality as the girls and boys up above us on the seawall pile into their respective cars and drive away. They head in the same direction, and I wonder if their parallel play will continue at the clam shack or the pizza joint. I wonder if they will muster the nerve to speak to each other before the night is over.

I smile at the thought of this, a not-too-distant memory. I know they will see it too one day: How the days go by like years but the years go by like days. Cameras cannot capture it the way the mind can. Soon, the teens will be looking at their reincarnations at the beach wall from their place amid sand castles and beach shovels and tubes of SPF 55. I hope they smile, too.


Bonnie said...

I loved this. True poetry.

Fairly Odd Mother said...

Made me so wistful but also made me feel wise. I can only imagine that this feeling is multiplied by 1000 when we become grandparents. Beautifully written.