Three Things I Learned on my Summer Vacation

Summer is over and fall has begun and I know this because people on Facebook are talking about pumpkin spice. But before I embrace sweaters and falling leaves and the extra holiday pounds, I would like to reflect a little on what I learned during my vacation under the sunny skies of Virginia Beach.

1. My Older Daughter Cannot Be Trusted Around Boys

One day I will write a post about my six-year-old’s romances. But for now, let me just say that she has a fiance, a boy who proposed to her when they were both three. And although she has remained steadfast in her plans to marry this boy for nearly three years, she also has a back-up fiance and a back-up back-up fiance. The girl likes boys, and boys like her.

She might be a bit too into boys for my liking, but she has always picked the sweet, smart boys. Her fiance (the main one) first won her heart by offering to take one of the big-wheel bikes from their preschool and ride it to find me when she told him that she missed her mommy. Her back-up fiance was reading at a 3rd grade level and building DNA models in kindergarten. And her back-up back-up fiance stuck up for her when she was being bullied by a girl in their class who is bigger than both of them.

And then, we went on vacation. On our first day there, my husband took our girls to the beach while I went shopping for groceries. When I joined them later, I came upon this scene: my six-year old, bobbing neck-deep in the ocean, talking to an older boy with sun-kissed skin and shiny golden hair. When they came out of the water, I saw that he was not only handsome in the surfer-boy style but that he also wore an actual shark-tooth-on-hemp necklace. This child was the Benjamin-Buttoned version of my teenage fantasy and he was chatting up my baby girl.

She told me later that she was talking to him because he wanted to see her beautiful seashell. So, she gave it to him and they talked and then he gave it back and they just hung out in the water afterward.

I have to admit that after she told me this story — about how the strong and shiny surfer boy talked her into sharing her precious seashell, I was sorely tempted to grasp her by the shoulders and tell her that no boy — ever —  has the right to have her beautiful seashell if she doesn’t want to give it to him! But I resisted because maybe (just maybe) I was reading a little too much into the situation.

It's too soon for this!

It’s too soon for this!

2. If You Put a US Coast Guard Approved Flotation Device on my Younger Daughter She Will Swim ANYWHERE. 

My three-year-old is tiny. I weighed her today and, for the first time ever, she has broken 25 lbs. She is a small kid.

But if you put this little half-pint of a girl in a life vest, there is no body of water that she won’t try to conquer. She was wearing her Puddlejumpers out in the waves where the Chesapeake Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean and she was owning them. If you give her a boogie board along with that life vest, she will wrap her little arms around that thing and ride the waves like she was born in them. Not only is she unafraid of the bobbing of the water, but she was actually managing to propel herself through it. She was swimming in water that I was afraid to go in. In the wave pool at the water park, she positioned herself in the deepest water, where she could be sure that she would get hit by the waves at their most powerful.

There is a certain amount of pride that you feel when you see your own personal tiny person out in the world doing brave and difficult things. In fact, the feeling is almost overwhelming. I can’t stop myself from scrolling at random through the pictures I took of her, marveling at how my fierce little toddler is taming the ocean.

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3. Beauty Is in The Eye of the Person Who Believes She Will Find It

Like most beach vacations that take place with children in tow, I spent a good part of ours walking along the shore line looking for seashells. I focused on finding the ones that were whole, with the traditional opened fan shape. I was looking for the pretty, perfect ones. I only found a few.

My daughters, on the other hand, picked up shells indiscriminately, or so it seemed to me. Their buckets were full of the broken bits and pieces that were everywhere, the ones I overlooked when I was looking for my perfect specimens.

But when they were showing me their finds after we finished, they were as enthusiastic about them as if they had found true treasure.

My older daughter would hold up a battered-looking  piece of shell and say, “look, mommy, at how this one has bumps and holes all over it. Isn’t it beautiful?” And then she would grab another broken piece, saying “and look at this one! Do you see the color? It is so shiny. Isn’t this one so beautiful too?” And so it went, with each and every shell she found. They were all broken up bits and pieces, but to her they were all beautiful.

And they were beautiful not because of any intrinsic sign of hidden beauty she saw within them. They were beautiful to her because she had set out to find beautiful seashells and so — she did.

The magical thing is that when I was looking at the shells on my on later that night, I no longer saw their brokenness. All I saw was their beauty. And I realized that sometimes, finding beauty in life and looking for it are the same thing.

 

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Remembering The World We Left Behind

When we were on vacation this summer, my cousin went into premature labor with her third baby. It had been a difficult pregnancy, which ended in a challenging labor, and I felt awful that I wasn’t there to help her through it.

My older daughter overheard me telling my husband how bad I felt that we were away — and how much I was looking forward to meeting the newest member of our extended family — and told me she had an idea for something we could do to welcome her brand new baby cousin.

Her idea was to take pictures (of everything) so we could show the baby what his new life would be like. I had never let her use our camera before — I’d already broken it myself and trusted her five-year-old fingers even less than my own– but her offer was too endearing for me to resist. So I handed it over and off she went, recording her world as she saw it.

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My daughter kept up her photography project after we got home, and I had the best of intentions to upload and make prints of her pictures so we could give them to my cousin for her son. But the last few busy weeks of summer led us into the even busier weeks of a new school year and I kept putting that project to the side. It wasn’t until just a few days ago that I finally had a chance to sit down and really look at the images my girl had recorded.

I may be viewing the through the lens of motherly pride, but as I went through my daughter’s pictures, I grew increasingly more impressed by what I was seeing. That’s not to say that her pictures are masterpieces of composition — we’re not raising a young Ansel Adams here. But they are expressive photos, and they reminded me of how different the world is for us when we are small —  they reminded me of the way we see things before others start telling us what to look for.

My daughter took pictures of shadows. She took pictures of feet — the toes of her own shoes pointing toward the toes of her father’s. She took pictures of her sister, capturing her silliness, zooming in on the curve of her chin, highlighting the brilliance of her blue eyes. She took pictures of the texture of the clothes she was wearing, of the wrought iron of a patio table, of her own reflection in the side of our car. At dinner one night, she photographed the family sitting around her, the items on the table, and the room we were in from the perspective of someone who is just over three feet tall. (And for the record, ALL adults, when photographed from below, have double chins. It is a law of physics.) She indulged enthusiastically in the art of the selfie, experimenting in expressions and recording them at arm’s length.

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May daughter’s pictures were in distinct contrast to my own, which were dedicated to recording the moments I wanted to remember — not so much for the way they really happened, but so that I could string  them together and present them in beautiful color to my future self. My pictures were a collection of the images I wanted myself — and others — to see about the life we are living.  They said things like, “the beach is fun!” Or, “Look! We saw dolphins! Aren’t we cool?!” Or, “My kids are beautiful and smile a lot and this life we are living is really awesome.” They are, and they do, and it is, but I have profited more from looking at things from my daughter’s perspective than I have from trying — often in vain — to capture and preserve the best moments of my life.

My daughter’s pictures are simple. They are entirely without artifice or intent. They are just a reflection of a child’s world, recorded by one child for another. There is no need for embellishment because the world to a five-year-old is magical enough without it.

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Click on any picture to view as a slideshow

De Colores

When my older daughter was about two, I spent lots of time teaching her things. Like colors — I came up with engaging, educational games that were fun for both of us. And they worked — my brilliant little miracle learned her colors. I was pretty amazed by both of us, and I stuck that achievement on the front page of my mental brag book.

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Who needs pants?

Then came my second daughter. As with most younger children, she got a much more faded, jaded, tired version of me. And now that she is two, most of our one-on-one time involves me chasing her around the house with a diaper and a pair of pants while she screams “no mommy! No dipey! No pants! I be naked!” She is lucky if she gets a couple of half-hearted minutes with a depleted set of her big sister’s flash cards.

So you can imagine my delight when, while she was sitting in the ball pit at our mommy and me gymnastics class, she picked up an orange ball and said, “yook, mommy! Orange!”

It was a miracle! Somehow, I had managed to teach her colors without even trying. I was better at this parenting thing than I had thought.

Then she picked up a blue ball and proudly exclaimed, “blueberry!” She not only knew her colors, but she was also associating them with fruit! The kid is a genius. I picked up a red ball and said, “Look! An apple! A red apple!”

“No, mommy,” she said. “No red. No apple. Strawberry.” Then she picked up a yellow ball and said, “And lemon. Dis one lemon.

And then it dawned on me. Orange. Blueberry. Strawberry. Lemon. She wasn’t talking about fruit, and she had only indirectly learned her colors. She was talking about characters from the television show Strawberry Shortcake. The new one, with characters that are much less child-like, and much more Barbie-like than the quaint version we moms grew up with. The one that she watches excessively, with the obsessiveness that only a two-year-old can attain.

I have achieved no miracle of parenting. My child officially watches too much TV. She still doesn’t acknowledge the words “red” or “yellow.” But do you know what she does do? Whenever she sees something purple, she says it is “plum.” She asks for her baby doll’s blueberry dress, and calls all shades of bright pink raspberry. This is what we call vocabulary building.

So next year when she is in preschool and her teachers are holding up that yellow card my child, the poetess of the class, will raise her little hand and declare that it is “lemon.”

And I will be proud.

Hey, it works.

Hey, it works.

Y por eso los grandes amores
De muchos colores me gustan a mí.
     Y por eso los grandes amores
De muchos colores me gustan a mí.

~ De Colores