I make this trip every year to laugh with my sisters and cousins and aunt. I make this trip to see my kids play with their cousins. I make this trip to remember how it was to live at the beach in the summer.
I make this trip every year to go to the beach. Each morning we pack beach chairs and umbrellas, snacks and drinks, towels, sunscreen, and beach toys. It looks like we are going away for a week. We cart all the stuff onto the beach and set up a compound my cousins slowly roll in with their kids, one day there were thirteen kids altogether, aged 6 weeks to 8 years. We usually go early on the Fourth to claim a spot before it gets to crowded, but a rainy morning got us there afternoon. Most days we stay until dinner. Those late afternoon hours, when the sun isn't so intense and the breeze off the water picks up and crowds start to shuffle off the beach, are my favorites. On the Fourth we leave early to get everyone fed before the parade.
I make this trip every year watch a parade full of firetrucks and Little League teams tossing candy and a band wearing crazy mixed up costumes led by a guy in a ratty red nightshirt and boots waving a plunger. There are fewer floats, fewer kids walking through in what likely was their Halloween costume, but otherwise it is much the parade I watched when I was a kid. Kathleen sat on the sidewalk in front of my sister, not liking the sirens. Elizabeth sat on my lap and only teared up at one sudden loud blast. She pointed out and named doggies and horsey and truck. She waved and clapped.
After the parade this year, crossing the street back toward home, I skirted by a stroller and noticed the mom. I knew her, but couldn't figure out how. "Look at all my candy!" her son exclaimed holding up his bag. "Good haul," I smiled. Two steps later it came to me. The candy carrying boy had a heart transplant while Henry was in the hospital. I remember his parents haunting the hallways, the drawn looks, the ecstatic night his heart came in. He looks good now.
"I'm five!" my cousin's daughter announced to me. This shouldn't have surprised me, but it did. Five is making all Henry's would-be peers more obvious to me, more than they were at four or three.
Just before I left for my trip, I read a book called The Shape of the Eye. The beginning of the book brought back so much of the early days to me, the days of getting used to the words Down syndrome and cardiologist and 02 stats and Early Intervention as part of my baby's life, part of my life. It brought me back to the day of Henry's surgery and how stressful it was even though we thought everything would be fine. I sat outside with my girls splashing in the water and took deep breaths and fought back tears.
"You're not going to have three are you?" my neighbor asked. How to answer that one. "I do"? "No"? I went with "we're done." I watched my sister and two of my cousins wrangling their three kids at the beach. I have three, but I will never do that.
I walked the beach and found heart-shaped rocks that I tucked into my bag. Tomorrow, I'll tuck them into Henry's garden.
I don't know what it is about my time away for the Fourth of July, but each year I seem to come back with these little scraps of stories. I don't have a lot of say about each, but I feel the need to unpack them, just as surely as I unpack the dirty laundry and the bathing suits and Elizabeth's blankie.