Published 3/8/16 on Raising Mothers
“The coming and the going! The ebbing and the flowing! The backing and the forthing!” We could hear her lament a block away. A tattered, toothless town crier, desperately warning no one and everyone. The urgency escalated as the oracle approached. “THE COMING AND THE GOING!” I was afraid. Afraid to meet her gaze, but afraid not to lest she take umbrage. My eyes already averted to navigate the stroller smoothly over the cratered concrete of the Malcolm Avenue sidewalk; I wavered between raising them to meet her gaze and focusing on the baby’s safety. Slabs askew with burgeoning tree roots already threatened to overturn, or at least awaken this swaddled-to-the-point of mummification newborn on board.
Two weeks old, and I’d now only just agreed to venture out with him. Our first-born. I would not let anyone touch him without a surgical scrub-in. My mother had come in to help so I finally agreed to go out. The planning and the preparation for the outing rivaled the machinations of a Seal Team strategic strike. Timed between feedings and changings, we packed for every eventuality for a twenty-minute walk and dressed him for Dr. Zhivago’s return to Lara from the renegades despite the “72 degree hazy in the morning but it will burn off by afternoon” every day of sunny Southern California that lay across our threshold. A walk. Just a walk. We could not risk alighting or lingering where germs lurked. I finally acquiesced to a quick visit to a drug store a few blocks up Westwood Boulevard; but not for long. People might breathe on him. Touch him. Look at him! Ah, how different things would be with the second one. I would hand him off to anyone willing to hold him for a while. But the need to bundle them both against the elements lingers to this day, although they have more of a say in it than they did back then.
I, wrapped in my poufy red down car coat hiding my post-partum plump, pushed. Flanked by my mom and his new daddy, the stroller and I were safe. Until she approached. “The coming and the going. The ebbing and the flowing.” She shouted. Loudly now. Didn’t we hear her? Blond straw sprouted in clumps from her head – as jarring and jutting as the uprooted pavement underfoot. The crevices on her face lied to us about her age. She meandered, her pace oddly unmatched to the temblor in her voice. She had the gait and glare of a rabid raccoon; her eyes emanated a hunger and desperation that her legs could not keep up with.
I tensed and my team sensed it and closed ranks as she neared, ostensibly as a courtesy to make room for her on the sidewalk (we were admittedly an unwieldy triad, taking up more than our fair share of the space), but the Seal Team prepared for an assault.
“The backing and the forthing!” she barked as we passed, seemingly content to deliver her message and no more. Our muscles relaxed in collective relief. DEFCON 1; stand down. She came and went and so did we. The afternoon constitutional concluded without incident, but the shrew left her mark in my memory.
Twenty years later I stand at Compo crawling out of my skin with anticipation of everyone leaving. The new daddy, now an ex, already had. In some ways, so had they, but the physical parting has been a perilously close guillotine hanging overhead. I want to swaddle them both up, place them in a double pram and push past her again. “The coming and the going”. But that selfish fantasy fades with the waning light.
The beach always helps me crawl back into my skin, but I wonder if the ebbing and flowing here tonight will assuage or exacerbate the agitation. Her prophetic words echo in my ears even now, but now I know what they mean. I’m no longer afraid. Just wistful.
The moon waxes full and rises on the horizon as I arrive at dusk. The crowds of people on the other side of the beach – the south side by the barbecues – watching the sunset, are missing the real show. I mean the sun sets every evening, but this full harvest moon treats us only rarely. So cliché, I think to myself, watching the sunset, as I often walk by these people in groups of two, four, or more. With their wine and cheese – clichés, too. Or am I just jealous that I, too, am not toasting the rose sky with a glass of cabernet as the sun goes down.
The main event this evening is the moon’s coming. It lays low on the horizon and far away, like the collar button of a soft blue-y, pink-y oxford shirt folded out neatly just above the water. Its reflection dances on the sound, the trail of buttons down the front placket.
It so mesmerizes as it slowly ascends that I can barely look away walking the length of the beach close to the water’s edge. My feet feel the delicious sink into the just-wet sand, searching for a foothold amongst the rocks and shells, just as they searched the jagged concrete for secure footing. The ebb and flow.
I can’t help but look down. It’s a sixteen-year-old reflex, my search for beach glass – for those rare but gratifying perfectly formed pieces softened around the edges by time and tide. I throw back those that need more time to mature and mellow, and covet those whose unique color, shape, and texture fit so well and feel so smooth in my palm. I anticipate the rarest of finds – blue, lavender, gold, or even red. Those colors not oft-used in bottle making these days. It’s a good omen when one of these colors comes to me. Sea glass demands patience, which is, what I suspect, draws me to the quest. It cultivates in me a quality in short supply. Patience in waiting for the bottle to go to sea to be broken and battered and come back better. Patience in picking the right one.
It’s too tempting to keep them all; to overlook flaws you know need time to resolve. Those must go back. Patience in the search for each speck. The beach glass here on the Connecticut coast is usually small and green or brown and very hard to see in the dark sand. Sometimes I walk so long with my head bent down that my neck aches with nary a piece to show for my pains. Not like Rapallo or Speightstown where the beaches were strewn with chunks so big, varied, and numerous that I could barely contain my joy or my booty. But I have sixteen years worth of the payoff from searching sitting in my house. Treasure in a large glass cylinder that the boys can take when I go.
Tonight the shore and sky lines compete for my attention. I want not to miss a moment of the majestic moonrise. As it comes up its reflection on the unusually choppy water shape-shifts moment by moment. Shards of silver glass in a neon arrow point back up to it. Lolling crescents like its children sway gently to sleep beneath it. A path of flames. And finally little bits of Rice Krispies bobbing in a bowl of black milk. Did they eat Rice Krispies? I can’t remember. Rice Krispies treats, for sure – not that I ever made them, though.
The moon itself evolves as it grows up—bigger, stronger, and full in its fullness. I watch it grow into young adulthood before my eyes. An oxford shirt button no longer, for sure. Now an enormous Necco wafer in that unmistakable orange. The man’s face clearly visible, his mouth puckers into a Mr. Bill “O,” like he is as surprised as I that he’s grown so quickly. I find only one piece of sea glass by the time I reach the cannons; it is too dark to see any more.
Families linger. Tired children of tired parents beg for “one more minute,” strategically scheming to avoid what they know to be inevitable once they get home – sleep. How children struggle to avoid what we welcome. The boys would beg for one more. Story. Drink of water. Trip to pee. Hug. Kiss. How could I resist. How I miss that.
We line the shoreline, gazing at the amazing full moon through our iPhones, hoping to in vain capture the indescribable combination of sea, sand, air and enormous, shining disk to post on FaceBook and share with our 863 friends. Wouldn’t it be better to just stay on the shore in the moment and stare? Breathe it in, absorb it through our toes and skin and let the image burn into our retinas and keep it – hold it- in our cells to call up at will and smile or sigh at the overwhelming assault to our senses? That’s what I want to do with this moon. And the boys.
The line of Rice Krispies has morphed into sparklers like the ones children wave by the thousands (the children and the sparklers) on this very beach at the annual Fourth of July fireworks extravaganza. Like the boys did for so many years on this very beach. The sparks are more distinct –sharper, like the double-edged knife of my impending freedom- and dancing still. The higher the moon goes the more distinct becomes the flat, spreading platter of a reflection directly beneath it. The trail of sparks separates and spreads until the tablecloth of white eclipses it, extinguishing the sparkler like a beach blanket.
I meander back along the water’s edge, watching the moon all the while. Cackling parties break up, the parents warm with wine and the children conceding defeat. They are just a little too loud now- like she was; they’ve overstayed their welcome. They need to go. They perforate this perfect picture shouting about plans to reconvene at their kids’ soccer games the next morning.
I can hear the creak of the swings as I pass the playground. Persistent children or courting teens? I don’t dare look over for fear of intruding on the latter, and because a glance at either group would remind me of the time that’s passed and of the moments that have come and gone forever. I pushed them first on the safety-barred infant swings, then the toddler seat swings, and finally the tire and strap swings, flying in tandem with them when they were old enough to propel themselves. Until they no longer wanted me by their sides.
Now it’s almost too bright to look at. The face has faded. Save for the reflection below it’s so dark and clear that it’s hard to discern where the sky ends and the sea begins; hard to see the horizon. But that’s ok. I know it’s there.
I reach the end, not wanting to go. It’s too beautiful but I know I can’t hold on to it. Time does march on and it will wane and wax again. I linger for a few more moments on the low fence by the volleyball court; my car is parked nearby. It’s quiet now and I’m drinking it in, crying, I realize, slowly.
A big, black, large-enough-to-be-a-living-room SUV pulls up urgently, headlights slicing the night. More light pours out as the front doors open. Adults emerge, as does wailing from the back seat.
“Stop, just stop! We just have to look for something MOM left here. We’ll go in a minute. Leave your sister alone. Leave her alone! Where did you have it last? I can’t believe you lost it! That camera was expensive.”
“I don’t know! If I knew we wouldn’t be looking for it, would we? Maybe it was on this bench. I thought it was on this bench. Leave your sister alone! Did you hear your father? Maybe at the playground. I’ll go down there. I mean it! Leave her alone!”
“You can’t go down there it’s too dark you’ll never find it forget it it’s lost was your name on it?”
And then they see me. I sit still, frozen like the deer in my backyard when they see me through the glass sliders as I move inside my house while they graze on my lawn and every flower I’ve ever planted. I feel badly. Guilty. Like I’ve intruded on some private family tableau. Can they see my tears, I wonder? I’m embarrassed. Why is this crazy woman crying alone on the beach in the dark? Why was that crazy woman wandering Westwood warning of the tides?
“Oh, hi,” they say in unison, their tones and their bodies softening. Even the children quiet as they crane their necks inquisitively to see me. “We’re looking for a camera. Did you happen to see a camera?”
“No, I’m sorry, I hope you find it.” “The coming and the going! The ebbing and the flowing! The backing and the forthing!” I want to scream, but I dare not. The humidity has frizzed my hair into a wild halo and I don’t want to scare them any more than I’ve already done. Head down, I go to my car, making room for the new families coming.
Diane Lowman is a single mother of two young adult men. She teaches yoga, provides nutritional consulting, tutors Spanish, and wanders the beach of Westport, CT. She looks forward to what’s next.