When the thing isn't about the thing
A few weeks ago, we spent the weekend camping at the coast. The first full day we were there, it was overcast and not warm, but because we live in the PNW we went to the beach anyway. We figured the kids could climb on the shipwreck and our friends’ dog could run and we could all put our toes in the surf.
Within 20 minutes my kids were soaked through their clothes and I was carrying their dripping jeans down the beach while they jumped in waves up to their thighs and I just prayed I wouldn’t run into That Mom who thinks it’s inappropriate for my 5 year old who’s the size of an 8 year old to run down the beach in her underwear.
The tide was low and these giant pieces of seaweed had gotten stranded on the beach. They were easily six feet long, complete from root to leaf, and Eva quickly befriended one and named it SeaSea and asked for pictures with it and dragged it all the way up the beach and back. When it was time to go, she was devastated that I wouldn’t put SeaSea in the car. We found a nice, safe spot for SeaSea on top of a sand dune and gave her hugs and cried all the way back to camp.
We thought that would be our only trip to the beach. But the next afternoon the sun was out and it was warm and we spontaneously decided that a pre-dinner trip to the beach would be lovely. Just a 30 minute visit before sunset.
The minute we pulled into the parking lot I knew we had made a mistake. “Let’s go find SeaSea!” But of course she wasn’t where we left her, or anywhere else we looked, and now I’m climbing sand dunes with an inconsolable, sobbing 5 year old and a 2 year old who‘s staging a sit-in while she yells at me that she’s tired of climbing (the implication that this outing is ridiculous is not lost in translation, nor can I disagree). Between sobs, Eva is telling me that SeaSea was her bestie and why would anyone take her and where do I think she is and do I think SeaSea is going to remember her and know she loved her and of course she won’t and she will forget her completely because she has a new friend now and she never loved Eva the way she loved her and no one will ever be as special as SeaSea.
And I’m kneeling there on the sand asking Eva if maybe, just maybe, this is about something else.
Because sometimes you’re 5 and you’re starting kindergarten at a new school and you’ll have new friends and a new teacher and you’ve spent weeks talking about how excited you are but you haven’t looked your fear and grief in the eye and now you’ve projected all of your feelings, both known and unknown, onto something that isn’t the thing but feels like the thing.
And sometimes you’re 34 and still do that sometimes and you know what it looks like when the thing isn’t about the thing.
So we sat on the beach and cried for awhile. And then we found another SeaSea and played with her and chased her and took photos with her and drew pictures of her back at camp. And for those next few days I carried Eva’s heart in a different way.
There are a million moments in motherhood when you don’t know what to do and you’re pretty sure you’re blowing it 80% of those times and you pray for your child’s future therapist because God knows what that person will have to help your child work through. But once in awhile you hear that quiet whisper that this moment matters even though on the surface it seems absurd and impossible and even a little silly and you slow down and you listen. Because sometimes you need someone to be there for the thing that isn’t the thing, so you know they’ll still be there when it is.