At the beach with my daughter
I took Cordelia, my 8-year-old daughter, to the beach for a few minutes late this morning. Only she and I. She started by writing, “50 Jellys” and “I found 50 Jellys” in the sand, as if in remembrance of the washed up jellyfish we had seen this week during our daily sunrise shore strolls.
Then she waded into the ocean. Wind tousled her long, blond hair. She shuffled tentatively – because of the unseasonably bracing water? Or did she hold herself back from departing from the shore or from me – or both? She twirled and jumped up as waves approached her.
She walked further out cautiously, the water never reaching above her stomach. She looked back occasionally, checking whether the shore remained, or I had, or both. Had we left? Had we retreated? Had we abandoned her?
She faced the horizon and resumed her play, her jumps – her tan skin and golden hair reflecting sparkles of sunshine like the cutest buoy on the sea. Sometimes you don’t need to see a smile or a face to witness joy.
For a moment, Cordelia stopped. I could see her head still, her body silent. Even the sea seemed to pause.
In that moment, I wondered whether Cordelia grasped some truth or hidden knowledge, far beyond the intellectual understanding of her 8 years. Something she dimly perceived would be true one day, but not today.
The shore represents transition, liminality, change. Growth. A dividing line between stability and firmness on one side of the thin white bubble line, and wildness and danger ever lurking on the other side. Cordelia walked into these waves, as I remained on shore.
And I wondered if she felt that someday she would leave the shore and safety – and I would not leave the shore with her. I would no longer come with her. I could no longer come with her. She would face those waves alone. Or at least, without me.
She looked back. She saw me. She walked a step further into the sea and looked back again. She twirled and jumped again, acting like the waves were hurdles in a track meet. She took two steps even further out. She did not look back.
The wind blew her hair, scattering it like aureated confetti. It blew cool on her youthful skin. She did not look back. She looked ahead – not with the piercing gaze of steely adulthood, as far as I could tell from 40 feet behind her. A look of joy and youth and play and brightness and movement.
Still, she did not look back. Did she know that one day I would no longer be able to leave the shore with her, but would also not be on that shore at all – watching her, watching as a father watches?
The sun and wind came down on us. The gray waves rolled in, the short whitecaps undulating across the beach.
She turned around. Smiling, she skipped out of the sea. Reaching for my hand, she called out, “Come on, Dad, let’s go back to the pool!”
Thanks to the editors of Foster for reviewing this essay: Christine Cauthen and Alice Sholto-Douglas.
Image created by Midjourney.