The steady beat of the waves taking out the tide calms my mind like a metronome. On a remote beach, there is no one here but us. Adrenaline is pumping and my daughter’s every muscle is ready to go. She is filled with the potential of everything around us. I revel in this moment. The thrill of discovery that came to me so many years ago has come again. This time, though, I am a mere observer.
The world surrounding us has never been seen nor touched before – in her five years of existence. How does that hermit crab get in there? A slight Mona-Lisa smile creeps across her face. She’s tucked in there so tight! Keen eyes are filled with concentration and wonder. Her world’s first-ever crustacean is gently rocked back and forth by tiny fingers, carefully avoiding the pinching claws. I catch just a split second of “the look,” her magical glance of overarching thrill at discovering the unimaginable.
We take the seaside like a storm, not the typical lazing, sun-worshippers basking on other beaches. Our interchangeable titles include marauding pirate, seascape artist, wave conqueror, rock climber, treasure hunter, wildlife photographer, and meticulous shell collector. The intensity of childhood energy abounds.
It is a blessing to be able to relieve this exhilaration of innocent discovery. I think back and remember – the last time I held an animal I never knew existed. The thrill of connecting with something absolutely and totally unknown. The titillation of holding my first earthworm. It’s been a long time.
Perhaps this is why I feel compelled to travel to far-flung beaches, beyond the typical family amusement park vacation scene – to recapture that glorious feeling, to taste undiscovered foods, to seek out rare flora and fauna, and to meet new peoples of different cultures.
Parenthood brings its own reward of innocent discovery as my children forge the momentum to adventure. Everyday life is an unending expedition. Combining children and travel is a true miracle, opening up new realms of opportunity, offering fresh insights within the shared experience and a new appreciation of life in our vast world.
Unblinking, my littlest artist has found a new medium. A smile rips across her face as she reaches the cold, wet sand – perfect for creating her sculpture. Sand – that’s all it takes to bring fulfillment to her creative mind. Salt water, shells and sand are reshaped into a medieval fortress and a robust drama of pretend-castle-life breaks forth. A three-year old imagination opens doors to a long-lost world that is often forgotten in my busy daily life.
It has been a hard won battle, the metamorphasis to parenthood. A bond wrought by exhaustive nights, teething, colic, and terrifying emergency room trips has brought me closer to my children than to any other human beings. Like the ocean before us, the journey has been fraught with riptides, currents and the occasional hurricanes. Despite all, we are whole as a family, conquering the fresh territory my children find everywhere.
Mommy, how does sand move? What makes a shell? The questions are now as endless as the waves pouring in. My children are tiring. They will not let go. I don’t want to let go either. I want the moment to last forever. After all, it has taken me millions of minutes of a lifetime to rediscover the joys of childhood. And then, it is merely a fleeting moment in the sun. With a twinge of sadness, I realize that it will happen less and less as the years go by.
I try to think back to a quote by Sir Richard Burton, something about childhood, travel, being reborn again. But my brain is not working as the sun begins to set and my children begin to melt down from exhaustion.
It is not until late at night, when my daughters are softly sleeping that I can locate the quote. By the light of the moon, I read and reread it, realizing what we so often seek in travel is that which has been left behind long ago as children. The miracle is that it can also be found again in parenthood.
“Of the gladdest moments in human life, methinks, is the departure upon a distant journey into unknown lands. Shaking off with one mighty effort the fetters of Habit, the Leaden weight of Routine, the cloak of many Cares and the slavery of Home, man feels once more happy. The blood flows with the fast circulation of childhood…Afresh downs the morn of life.”