A Line in the Sand

>> Monday, September 17, 2007


"They might not like you, Mommy."

It was beach day. We set up our tent, spread out the beach blankets and emptied the bag of sand toys. Michael boogie-boarded, Elizabeth stayed wet, and Samantha sat outside the waterline, dry as a bone. I supervised and fetched towels as needed.

Ahead of us another family established their beach camp and brought several young teenage girls along with them. The girls were beautiful, tall, and thin. They practiced backbends and walkovers in little bikinis. They giggled and covered each other in wet sand. They were fabulous.

We watched them -- some of us from behind our magazines, some of us boldly with our mouths agape and heads tilted in silent awe. Woman watched them with wonderment -- is it possible our bodies once occupied such a small space? Boys watched them with budding lust -- would they go out with me? Men watched them with budding lust -- would they go out with me? -- but then felt guilty.

A little blonde girl wanted to be their friend.

Finally, she could no longer restrain herself. Elizabeth walked over to the group and started a conversation. I couldn’t hear what she said, but the other girls smiled and so did she. Then she sat down with them in their circle -- 3 pre-teen girls and Elizabeth; toes in the sand, shooting the shit, and checking out the boogie-boarders.

I had horrible, disloyal thoughts. What if she’s bothering them? I wondered -- not Kudos to Lizzy for introducing herself to a group of total strangers. I wondered what they were saying. What if the girls were bragging about their first sexual and/or drug experiences and here comes Ms. Four-and-Fabulous to spoil the fun.

“Oh my God, Coriander, did you actually touch his...” they might be saying just as Elizabeth walks over and says, “I like sand. Did you know that ocean water tastes salty?”

I wanted to run over there. I wanted to do the unthinkable and ask, “Is she bothering you?” After all, I was a teenage girl long before I was a mother. Wouldn’t a four year-old be an intrusion -- an annoying toddler, buzzing around their self-involved teenage heads? Shouldn’t I intervene to protect their privacy -- not to mention prevent Elizabeth from acquiring information that would be difficult to explain later? ("Mommy, I want to be a "Blower" when I grow up." A blower? "Yea, like when you get a 'blow job'.")

I stayed put. Something held me back -- something I couldn't quite put my finger on. I figured their conversation was probably G-rated with two sets of parents nearby. No need to worry about Lizzy, since she appeared to hold up her end of the conversation. All in all, everyone seemed to get along quite well. So instead of rushing in, I took a deep breath, pretended to play in the sand, and watched carefully for signs of trouble.

Eventually, the group disbanded. Someone came over... one girl left... then another. Elizabeth was left sitting alone. I picked up a small blue shovel and walked over to her.

“Hey, sweetie. Did you make some new friends?”

“Yes, they were nice,” she said looking after them. “One of them said my bathing suit was beautiful.”

I pointed out a nearby two year-old and asked if she’d like to make friends with her, but Lizzy wasn’t interested. Once you’ve bonded with cute teenage girls, it’s hard to go back.

Later, Lizzy and I walked along the beach, kicking water onto each other, looking for shells, and generally having one of those Mother-Daughter Hallmark moments. Then, up ahead, we saw the girls practicing their backbends.

“Look, Lizzy -- your new friends. Should we go over and say ‘hi’?”

Then, in a single sentence, Elizabeth became a preteen and a thousand years of teenage angst and insecurity crashed upon me.

She paused for a moment, then said, “Well, they might not like you, Mommy.”

Holy Moses. Has it come to this?

What’s wrong with me? I wondered. What do you mean by that? I’m fun. I was your friend long before they were. What kind of girls are these, anyway? What did you guys talk about?

I flashed back to a time when I was left sitting alone on a park swing when no one wanted to be my friend. Yes, I'd been a little bossy as a kid. Yes, I could be stubborn. Yes, I forced everyone to dance to Rock Around the Clock until their feet blistered, but still. Was that any reason for every kid in the school yard to formally announce they were not going to be my friends, anymore?

I examined Lizzy’s face and saw that it held no judgment or animosity or dissaproval. Clearly she still liked me. That's when I realized it was nothing personal. (I also realized it wouldn't hurt to see a shrink about my school yard issues.) It’s not that they wouldn’t like me because I fart when I walk or tell stupid jokes or listen to Rush instead of 50-cent -- all true, but nonetheless. No, at some point, either during my pregnancy, delivery, or shortly thereafter, I’d crossed some magical line between then and now; old and young; us and them. I had become... Mother.

Stupid me. Here I’d thought she was the intruder.

I didn’t want to embarrass her so I let her approach them as we walked by. The girls smiled at both of us, granting us an invitation in the sweetest way possible. One of them wore braces -- adorable. They continued to practice for some sort of gymnastics event, and Elizabeth demonstrated her version of a backbend and jutted her leg high into the air. “Hey look, that’s nice!” they said to her. She beamed. I smiled and said nothing.

The girls had fun showing off to one another. I had a sudden urge to show them my cartwheel, but nixed it. (Not because I couldn’t, mind you.) It's just that I've got friends now and I don't need to compete for hers. I've already had my time in the school yard and I know it can be hell -- no sense making it harder on her.

Instead, I wiggled my toes and casually drew a line in the sand -- with me on one side, and them on the other.




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