My daughters are in the ocean, jumping waves. The water is frigid, just like the ocean at Old Orchard Beach, Maine, at the height of summer. It took them a while to get used to the water, but once they surrendered to its frigidity, they threw themselves in with abandon. Now they are drenched, salty, sandy, and ecstatic. I am certain their lips are blue.
They say that it's more fun to come to the beach with daddy than with me. He gets in the water with them, while I sit on the beach and read. There was a time in my life when I would have been in that water. In fact, I enjoyed the ocean then more than my daughters do now. My sisters and I paddled on our floats, body surfed, searched for fish and shells, and nursed a few jellyfish stings. A small price to pay.
Now I sit in a beach chair with my book, my big white sun hat protecting my face, my sunglasses covering my reading glasses. I must look ludicrous, but I don't care. I am ecstatic myself. The wind and the smell of the salty air and the feel of the velvety sand on my toes, sand that has just recently been underwater, are heavenly.
There is a narrow lookout between the wide brim of my sun hat and the top of my reading glasses. I watch my girls through that slit. As I read, I look up periodically to check that they are safe. They don't need me as much any more, and there is freedom for all of us in that. I am able to sit and relax and enjoy. They are able to play and splash and run. And we don’t worry too much about what the other is doing.
We do, however, keep our eyes on each other. We look up from time to time to make sure that the other is still there. That's our touchstone, our way to make sure we are where we are supposed to be in the world.
They've come back to the towels to warm themselves in the sun for a bit. They have taken the time to tell me that I look ridiculous, which I know, but I am beyond the point of caring. In fact I’m beyond the age of caring. And it's rather freeing, this not caring very much of the kind of picture one presents to the world. Sometimes I do care. I take care with my appearance and my clothes and my hair and all of that. But at other times I just let it all go and just be myself, who I am in that moment. And the world can keep its critique to itself.
For me, this is one aspect of the French woman’s ideal, to be bien dans sa peau, literally, “well in her skin.” It’s an all-encompassing phrase with many life aspects. But at the moment, I’m well and truly enjoying one of them. And I’m at peace with myself.