This past Tuesday I was walking on the same Long Island beach that I have known since I was a girl. My mind was wandering aimlessly, memories coming at me in no order or direction. Just like it did years before my husband, children, and my messy laundry room occupied my thoughts most of the time.
Of course the stroll wasn’t exactly carefree because I was with my three children. But they were happily running ahead of me with my dad, and I could at least enjoy a small moment of peace and time in my own head.
Because I’m an excellent multi-tasker, I could do this all while occasionally telling my six-year-old, Peter, to not go so far into the edge of the water. I also manged to be the willing receptacle of the shells and rocks that the kids would bring to me to put in my daughter’s doll bag that I grabbed out of my minivan and borrowed for the occasion.
Lizzy’s pink skirt was blowing in the breeze, and Tom was laughing with Peter as they would look for more shells to give me. Watching my children so carefree and happy filled me with a feeling of gratitude.
My dad’s familiar bald head was in the distance. He was holding Lizzy’s hand and showing her the birds.
As I was walking I willed myself to remember the details so I could replay the memory on days when I feel like a 24-hour TV channel with the slogan “All Mom All The Time.”
I thought back to the many summers that were spent at this same beach with my mother and sisters when we were about the same ages as my kids are now.
Back then, I loved the sand and the water. Going to the beach was a regular summer treat, all at once routine, yet something that I looked forward to. My sisters and I would bury each other in sand or look for minnows and swim in the water.
My mother’s orange and black bathing suit with the tiger lily print is etched in my memory. At age 68, my mom still has great legs, but when she was in her thirties, she was stunning. Her skin would get so dark in the sun, and she would look very exotic. Not like the other mothers with their more conservative bathing suits and white cream on their noses. I wondered if I would ever manage to look like her.
It never seemed fair to me that I got the dark hair of my mother and the Italian side of the family, yet also had the pale white skin from my German father. My blond sisters were born with skin that tanned beautifully. Somewhere in the gene mixing, something got a little confused.
Of course now, when I’m mistaken for the youngest when I’m in fact the oldest, there’s a little bit of a vindication. But back then I was just jealous.
My mind went to the summer when I was 24 and walking with my parents on the same beach. A welcome change of pace from my apartment in the city.
I was in a job I didn’t love, and I was unsure of where my life was going. I was casually dating a fraternity brother of my roommate’s boyfriend. My dad was mad at me because I had decided to go to Pennsylvania to meet him instead of going to the annual family reunion at my uncle’s farm upstate.
I turned to my mom and said that I had a feeling that I was going to go to Pennsylvania and never come back, yet I didn’t think that was the right choice for me. She turned her head and said something I hadn’t even considered.
“Then Kathy, don’t go.”
I chose the reunion over the guy. A week after I got back from my uncle’s farm I found myself on a blind date with the man who has been my husband for 18 years and counting.
“Peter, get closer to the sand… the sand Peter… sand… good job.”
“Mom, look at this shell.” Tom hands me a few sandy shells to put in the bag.
We catch up to my Dad and Lizzy. Lizzy’s arms fly around my neck as she gives me a big kiss.
I take a look at the sand bar where we have ended up and realize just how far we have walked.
And just how far I have come.