Tidal toddler. October 2021.

Every morning on vacation—after I watched the sunrise during the infant's first feeding, after the toddler resisted changing his diaper or donning a bathing suit, after the husband figured out his telework schedule for the day, after the infant nursed a second time, after I applied sunscreen and filled waterbottles and packed snacks and finished half a cup of by-now-lukewarm coffee—a random combination of the four of us would land on the beach that lay a stone's throw from our rental home's deck. And every morning for 14 days, as we followed some tortuous variation of this "schedule," this old Onion article headline flitted across my memory: Mom Spends Beach Vacation Assuming All Household Duties.

Indeed, our two weeks at the beach earlier this month were largely a corrupted version of our regular life, only with less childcare and more sand. Or, in the semantics of many fellow parent peers, we were on a "trip" rather than a "vacation." And what a trip it was, filled with breathtaking tantrums, delightful discoveries, physical exhaustion, unbridled play, and raging doubts on my and husband's parts about whether we are in fact able to parent one child, much less two.

Just what everyone wants to think about on "vacation," right? Except traveling—or rather, being out of one's predictable routine and curated milieu—is precisely the time when the parenting rubber meets the road and lays bare whatever issues you've managed to avoid until that point. For me, watching my older child have many ugly meltdowns (sometimes several per day) drove home for me the stark responsibility that not only must I model appropriate behavior, but that I also must name and minister to all attendant emotions—a tall order when I too feel helpless, inadequate, or just plain tired.

Basically, I have to be the grown-up. But on "vacation," I didn't want to be the grown-up. I wanted to sit on the beach for nine hours straight and fall asleep whenever I felt like it and begin movies earlier than 9 p.m. so I could reach the end credits awake. I wanted the life I once led, just with the addition of adorable babies in bathing suits. Was that so much to ask?

Apparently ... yes. Because that's not my current life, and it hasn't been my life for a while. Just as winds and tides reshape dunes (sometimes gradually, sometimes with brute force), so am I constantly adjusting to my role as parent, an identity that, three years in, I still prompt myself to claim.

At one moment, however, it was just me and my toddler out on the near-deserted beach. We were jumping in the breakers under a cool gray sky, his light blue hat and orange swim shirt a reminder of summer in the early autumn light. His sand-covered hand was tight in mine, but not because he was frightened. Rather, he was thrilled.

At one point he pulled away and ventured by himself a few feet farther into the water. I watched him clench his gritty hands at his hips, whether from chills or determination, I don't know, but nothing deterred him from his firm stance, beckoning waves that must have appeared immense in his eyes, shrieking with delight whenever one rolled above his knees. Through each swell he remained upright, and after a couple minutes he looked back at me over his shoulder, face alight, to call, "Mommy! Come! The waves!"

He did not need me to steady or comfort him. He simply wanted me to experience this—the vast ocean, the raw power, the immense awe—alongside him. At the sound of his call, his young voice high in the sea breeze, my heart wrenched apart in witness to such naked, trusting, sandy, soaking love.

When I remember this "vacation," I will no doubt recall its lowest low points, the screams and tears from all quarters. But I will also remember this moment, the quiet instance where I watched my firstborn grow in front of my eyes, the interaction that now, reflecting on it, tells me that I must be doing something right to raise a child who is learning the courage to brave big waves; to have a child who yearns to share the endless adventure that is joy.

Prayer #371: Tide Pool

The tide pool seems safest: the briny meat of the sea at the innocent depth of a puddle. Its edges defined, with the promise they will shrink further, disappear, and never overwhelm your little body.

We both must start here, I suppose. You with water only up to your ankles, me with a set container to manage, a simpler danger where I can practice my vigilant scan and suppress my creeping awareness that I will not always be able to keep you safe. The day is so blue that I see your busy frame reflected in the still water—a marriage of sky and sea; a fleeting union; a betrothing promise to meet again above, beneath, and within you.

A strange dichotomy, this: Danger lurks everywhere, but so does grace. One I cannot protect you from; the other, I do not presume to. The water only gets deeper from here. Together we swim.