I'll continue our topic next time, but first a few thoughts about our family trip last week.
We have a yearly ritual that would devastate the girls if we discontinued it. We go to the Jersey shore every September. Maybe Fred and I look forward to it as much as they do. But why? We do exactly the same things every single time we go.
We stay at the same hotel, usually on the exact same floor. Every morning with Dad, the girls run down the hall in their pajamas to get coffee to bring back to the room. After breakfast we rent a surrey and ride up and down the boardwalk for an hour. We always go past the place where the sign says "No Surreys Past This Point", but we go anyway because we were told it's okay after Labor Day. Then some bossy person always feels the need to reprimand us. But that's part of the fun. We have to go to this forbidden spot to get the homemade doughnuts. The rest of the day is filled with endless walking up and down the boards and endless hours in the sand collecting shells and splashing in the waves until the sun spreads its golden evening light over our faces. Dad always helps construct a sand castle and the girls are fascinated to watch it slowly flood and wash away with the incoming tide, like some ancient civilization. In the evenings after dinner, the amusement park awaits. The girls pile into the wagon, the wheels clackety-clacking across the boards as we pull them for miles. We always buy caramel corn, uncovered and overflowing, of course, to eat while we journey back to the hotel.
Every trip really is a bit different though. On one of our first trips Liana was a baby and some adjustments had to be made for her. She slept on the beach in the wagon, a huge striped towel wrapped around her. As she grew, she first ventured into the sea in the safety of my arms, her legs velcroed to my waist. Then in no time it seems, she learned to jump the waves with me holding both her hands until my arms ached. This year, she refused to hold my hand at all, jumping all on her own with her sister. Arielle used to enjoy special time with Dad playing miniature golf while the baby napped, but those days are gone now that Liana is older and wants to join them.
What will change next year? We figure this is the last year for the wagon. Surely Arielle won't ride in it when she is nearly 10! I probably won't ride the carousel again. Next year Liana will be tall enough to go alone. I think now of my first ride at this shore, holding tightly to a tiny Arielle high on the painted horse. A rush of memories had filled my mind and I was once again riding with my own baby sister in Balboa Park in San Diego, my grandmother carefully keeping her eye on us. Oh, what wonderful times...
When the girls are teenagers, will they still walk the boardwalk with us, their old parents? A day will come when our daughters can't come to the shore at all. They will be in college, or married, or living far away. Then Fred and I will be one of the elderly couples on the benches, watching the young families stroll by, lost in our memories. But it's really all about the girls' memories.
Will they one day hear a snippet of the song, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," and remember their dad doing a little dance in front of their favorite golf place that continuously played that song on a loud speaker? Will the smell of burnt sugar make them think of that caramel corn they ate in the wagon, shivering in the chill night air? When they sit on a bench, teaching their own children how to eat an ice cream cone, will they remember how patient Dad was when their ice cream dripped all over their hands? Maybe they won't remember details, but hopefully they will remember how very much they were LOVED. That's really why we continue our family rituals, isn't it?
Each trip I thank God for one more year we're all together, because these times really aren't endless at all. For generations the waves have deposited their treasures on the sand and children have delighted in them. But our time here on earth is short. "Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes." James 4:14.
On our last night on the boards, instead of my arms aching from holding my babies, my heart was aching for my little girls growing up too quickly. I looked out over the ocean and noticed a full moon, the surface of the water shimmering in its light. Beautiful, powerful, mysterious. It's a gift, a sign of God's presence and his endless love for us. I'm reminded to put my hope in him, who "richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment." I Timothy 6:17. Just like we do with our children.