We sped from the airport to the beach as soon as we landed in Los Angeles for the long weekend to celebrate two big events: our fourteenth wedding anniversary and our daughter’s thirteenth birthday. Perhaps unconventional (like the rest of our lives), we zippered these two celebrations together, as we’ve done from the beginning.
On our very first wedding anniversary, we dined at an outside table on the Seattle waterfront over a great big baby bump and fresh halibut, nervously anticipating our daughter’s arrival and the forthcoming parenting adventure. We didn’t know one baby could lead to seven, but because we have always been “us” with little ones in the mix, it seemed natural to bring our thirteen-year-old girl and three-month-old little boy along for our weekend away in LA. The rest of the kids stayed home, split up between two households that have become more like family than friends. They were on a weekend adventure of their own with best buds.
As we rolled up to the beach, she squealed with delight in the back seat. “Look at the sand! It’s so different from the beaches around Seattle!” She gushed over the dunes and the expansive horizon, and the amazing California sun. Seattle rarely has cloudless days and blissfully warm temperatures, even in the middle of summer.
The baby slept in his car seat, having used up all his wakeful energy on the flight, so my husband offered to stay in the air-conditioned car.
“I don’t need to put my feet in the sand,” he said. “You go play in the surf. I’ll just watch, all creeper-like from the car.” Ha.
“You sure?” I asked. “We can keep the baby covered in his bucket seat and just sit out on the sand, if you want,” not really thinking about the physical feat required to slog through sand with the awkward carry of a bucket seat with a baby inside.
“I’m sure.” I think he wanted a minute to catch his breath from a long morning of hauling us and all our gear through two airports and across a busy city with notoriously bad traffic. He probably also wanted to have a few quiet minutes to check in on the steady stream of memes that come through his social contacts.
Having traveled straight from Seattle, I was in long pants, which I was determined to roll up to my knees so I could walk along the water’s edge without getting the ankles soaked. Ten seconds on the hot sand with my bare feet reminded me that, yes, the water is farther away than it looks from the parking lot, and also, walking in the sand requires core and pelvic floor strength moms of seven may no longer have.
My daughter and I made our way down to the water’s edge, and she skipped through the surf with enthusiastic abandon. I stood back a little ways, looking on while she gobbled up every sensory detail of beachgoing.
I found a small purple shovel someone left behind and used it to dig a giant “13” into the flat sand.
“Alaina, come stand over here! I want to take a picture.” I had to say it a second time, a little louder, so she could hear me over the incoming waves.
She obliged and I tried to find an angle to capture the scene without her shadow falling right over the numbers. The mid-morning sun was to her back, rising in the sky. She gave me her quirky smile, and tipped her head to the side to indicate she was ready to get back to the water, and I had one of those hit-you-like-a-truck moments when I realized—really realized—she wasn’t a little kid anymore.
Of course I knew she was thirteen, but as I tried to connect her age with the girl in front of me—my first baby, wild curls, free spirit, and a ruffle around the bum of her toddler swimsuit (the way she looked last time we visited a California beach together)—it didn’t quite compute.
Just two blinks ago, I was walking her to preschool several days a week—curls bouncing, a Mickey Mouse backpack slung over her shoulders, and little flip flops with a strap around the back clinging to her feet as she ran with excitement to her next adventure. It’s no different today. She brings unmatched enthusiasm to everything she does; undeterred by challenges, unfazed by any pressure to perform. She still runs with flat and heavy feet, pounding her legs into the ground like a wild horse on the move—sometimes slipping into a gallop more than a run, even at thirteen, no matter how silly it looks.
Along the edge of the breaking waves, foam and surf splashing up her long, teenager legs, she kicked at the water with delight. I sat down in the sand a little up the hill, my flip flops beside me, and took it in. Tears filled my eyes out of nowhere, and a glance down at her sandals beside mine—the same size—made them spill over with holy wonder over how babies become grown so very fast.
I watched my daughter with the expanse of the ocean beyond her. I treasure this and every other holy moment I’ve held privately in my heart. I am only one who gets to see into her world from my unique vantage point; as her mama.
No one else carries the memories I have, like the sound of her saying, “Let’s twirl, mama!” Even at 3, she was nudging me out of my comfort zone. Twirl? Serious girls like me don’t twirl. Not until we give birth to sparkly, effervescent little girls who don’t take no for an answer, grab our hands, and start the twirl for us both in a patch of green grass near the park playground.
“I want you to come run in the water with me, mama!” The taller version of this girl held her hand out to help me up, so she could drag me to the waves.
I joined her, reluctantly, because I didn’t really want to get my jeans wet. She playfully kicked the water at me and asked if we could follow the waves out and sprint back up the hill to just barely outrun them as they came back in. I was a little unsure, but I obliged and tried to keep a close eye on the pattern of the waves so I could be sure I was on the winning side of that race.
“Isn’t it so fun?! The water is so warm!”
All was good and well until an extra big wave came in with shrieks and giggles as water splashed up and soaked my pants through, well past the knees. So much for staying dry!
We laughed and walked along the beach for a little while longer. Mother and daughter—lingering in a simple, holy moment of togetherness—helping each other find the best stuff in life.
Maybe mamas don’t have to be completely responsible and practical at all times. Maybe it is good to twirl. Maybe it’s necessary to get soaked. Maybe these are all signs we are living the good life with our eyes wide open, all-in for the adventure we’re on together.
Emily Sue Allen is the founder and visionary behind KindredMom.com, an online community and podcast dedicated to helping women find joy and purpose in motherhood. Emily is passionate about living a deeply nourished life and celebrating the beauty of ordinary moments. She is forever marked by the rescue and redemption Jesus Christ has accomplished in her life. Emily is a featured contributor in Strong, Brave & Beautiful: Stories of Hope for Moms in the Weeds, a collaborative volume of essays written to encourage moms in the weeds of parenting kids at home, a member of Hope*writers, and an ongoing devotional writer for Joyful Life Magazine. She lives with her husband and seven kids—three girls and four boys—in the Pacific Northwest. Emily’s website is emilysueallen.com. Subscribe to her newsletter “Flowers, Children & Other Lovely Things” at emilysueallen.substack.com and find her on Instagram.