My youngest daughter turned five-years-old today.
She requested her two best friends for a small gathering. She will receive three small gifts from her daddy and me: a small stuffed horse, the kitten family from the Calico Critter collection, and a beautiful kindergarten nap mat made by a talented friend.
The gifts are not extravagant and years from now, when someone asks her what she got for her 5th birthday, there’s a chance she may not remember these gifts.
But exactly one week before her fifth birthday, I gave her a gift that I am certain she will remember always.
I gave her a moment.
The intangible moments of love and connection we give our children and loved ones far outlast the material gifts they can hold in our hands today.
This is my story…
My daughters and I recently made a spontaneous trip to the beach to spend time with my parents while my husband traveled for work.
For several days, my almost-five-year-old daughter was afraid to venture to what she called “the deep end” of the ocean.
But on the last day of vacation, my curly-haired girl looked out into the blue infinity and made a declaration.
“Today we are going to the deep end, Mama.”
While I have made huge strides in my aversion to having wet “pool hair,” I am still not a big fan of salt water in my eyes and sand in my bathing suit. Therefore, I thought about convincing her to stay on shore to play in the waves or build a majestic sand castle.
But I didn’t.
Thank God, I didn’t.
I lifted her into my arms like I did when she weighed far less than she does now, and began taking slow long strides as the tepid water passed my hips and danced against my waist.
Once the water was up to my collarbone, she said, “OK, Mama, that’s far enough.”
The surf had a meek presence that day. Other than a few periodic surges, the water never swelled higher than my neck, nor higher than my daughter’s shoulders, as she sat perched upon my hip.
“What’s your favorite small animal?”
My daughter’s question appeared out of nowhere just as randomly as the small plane hosting a banner with the words “All-You-Can-Eat Shrimp” suddenly glided overhead.
I described my love for furry, curious kittens by telling her about the two litters I cared for in my lifetime, once when I was four and the other when I was twenty-five.
When I asked about her favorite small animal, she rattled off five creatures, got stuck on the topic of mice and went on a tangent about not liking rats except for “Little Chef” in the movie “Ratatouille.”
Logically, her next question was, “What’s your favorite BIG animal?”
I could only think of dolphins, but she was able to list horses, elephants, and giraffes. With a mischevious grin, she added hammerhead shark to her list of favorites.
This brought us to the discussion of megalodon sharks, our recent trip to the aquarium, and whether or not those teenage boys (who were farther out than we were) could be eaten by sharks.
This nervously prompted me to ask: “Are you ready to go back to shore and see what your sister and Grandma are up to?”
Even shark talk did not scare my child that day.
My goggle-wearing, freckled-faced daughter whose wet curls clung to her head like seaweed to a mermaid thoughtfully replied, “No. I like it out here. I like having Talk Time in the ocean.”
It stuck me that she referred to what we were doing as “Talk Time.”
“Talk Time” is our sacred bedtime ritual where we indulge in any conversation she wants in the cozy sanctuary of her bed.
Yes, I would have to agree; this was more than just a conversation. Although it wasn’t dark, nor was it quiet, it was child-parent bonding at its best.
She then spotted several speedboats beyond the buoyies and asked why they couldn’t come closer to the shore. I explained that the water was not deep enough and they would get stuck.
She appeared to have something more to say about the boats and began a sentence with the word “sometimes,” but then her voice trailed off.
After that single word, she simply stopped talking and leaned her cheek up against mine and said, “I love you, Mommy.”
I couldn’t remember the last time I was “Mommy.” Maybe when she was two or three. Now I am always Mama, Mom … and sometimes an occasional “Rachel,” just for fun.
The word “Mommy” hung in the air like a flashing yellow light indicating it was time to be alert; remember her words; absorb this moment.
And then, because some thoughts just bear repeating, she said, “It’s fun having Talk Time with your mom.”
But this time she added something more.
“Sometimes moms can sound mad when they really aren’t.”
I didn’t want to ask, but I had to go there …
“Do I do that?” I asked wincing at the brutally honest response I was probably about to get.
“Not that much,” she said very matter-of-fact.
I was about to release a heavy sigh of relief when she tacked on: “Only when you say,” (insert my four-year-old’s imitation of my high-pitched agitated voice here), “‘Girls, stop fighting!’”
I took this opportunity to tell her I’m sorry if I sound mad or gruff when I could use a nicer, calmer voice.
In return, she said she was sorry for fighting with her sister.
Our heart-felt confessions were quickly replaced with merriment as a helicopter flew overhead causing the most unexpected comment to come out of her mouth.
With the seriousness of a chemistry professor explaining the accuracy of a litmus test, she declared, “It’s hard for boys to go pee on a helicopter because the plane bounces around so much.”
In the midst of our simultaneous laughter, I learned that we had her big sister to thank for that useful bit of information.
Next, we spied clouds with happy faces. There, of course, was a story there.
Then we jumped out of the way of a gigantic school of tiny opaque fish. There was a story there, too.
And then we saw a couple of boogie boarders which didn’t create so much a story, but rather a long list of questions.
During it all, I simply held her as we swayed in time with the gentle tide. She lovingly smoothed my wet ponytail as it curled around my neck and clung to my bare shoulder.
My daughter and I held our ground in the vastness of the ocean for over thirty minutes that day.
Finally she indicated that it was time to return to shore.
As we slowly made our way back to reality, her arms squeezed a bit tighter around my neck and she rested her cheek against my face as if to savor this moment, as if to engrain it in her memory.
In that intimate gesture, I swear I could read her mind … not her present mind, but her future mind.
I could practically hear the words she will think of one Sunday afternoon as she drives home from a rare solitary trip to the grocery store, or while she walks with her child along the shell-lined sand, or while lying in the dark of night after counting useless sheep. This is what I heard my daughter’s future mind say:
When I was one week shy of five-years-old, my mother carried me out to the deep end of the ocean.
She held me as we talked about life.
I don’t remember exactly what we talked about that day, but I remember her long wet hair secured in a ponytail that glistened like a horse’s tail in the summer sun; I remember how it felt silky smooth as I stroked it in my hand.
I remember how her eyes crinkled up as she laughed, and how her smile lingered like the smell of sunscreen on her skin.
I remember how I was in charge of when we returned to the shore; she didn’t seem to have anywhere else she needed to go or anywhere else she wanted to be.
I remember how it felt to be held in her arms as the gentle waves splashed against us and occasionally graced our lips. Even the salt water tasted sweet.
We were in the deep end of the ocean, but I was not afraid; I was in my mother’s arms.
The week before I turned five, my mother gave me a moment and through that moment she has held me all along.
The gift of ourselves is the most precious, meaningful gift we can give our children and the ones we love.
Next time you have the opportunity to give a moment, don’t hesitate. It could be what they remember days, years, and eternities from now. It could become that moment in time that will soothe a broken heart or bring laughter to a face you adore long after you have left this earth.
The Do You Have A Moment? by Hands Free Mama, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.