Right now, there is a commercial on frequently in our area. The commercial promotes Lake Tahoe tourism by showing gorgeous images of Lake Tahoe with animated “monsters” superimposed. If your kid has ever played the Endless Alphabet game, you know what the animations look like. Helene is utterly dazzled by the commercial and has been asking to go to Lake Tahoe for a while now. (Sorry – can’t find a video of it to share!)
Today, I had the opportunity (because of my awesome sister!) to take Helene to Half Moon Bay for the night. If you’ve never been, Half Moon Bay is located down Highway 1 on the northern coast of California. It’s a gorgeous expanse of cliff-bordered coastline and rocky surf. I asked Helene if she wanted to go on a journey with me to the beach. “Yes!,” she exclaimed. “Let’s go to Lake Tahoe.” Foolishly, I tried to correct her. “No,” I said, “we’re going to Half Moon Bay.”
“Ok. We’re going to Lake Tahoe. Let’s get in the car.”
And so began our 2-hour voyage from home to this spectacular place. The transition from the car to the hotel did not bode well for the trip. Anxiety and echolalia were in full gear. There was – of all things – a dog in the lobby, and that just about put her over the edge. But, once we got into the hotel room and she caught a look at the panoramic view of the ocean from the balcony, something magical happened. She relaxed – not completely but enough for me to get her changed into a swimsuit and interested in walking down to the beach.
The walk to the beach was a challenge. Next time you’re near the water, really pay attention to how many birds are around. For poor Helene, walking the half mile from the room down to the stairway to the beach was like walking through a minefield. The seagulls were fine – the “mine, mine, mine”s are a known quantity from endless Finding Nemo viewing. But an over-abundance of Bug’s Life has ruined her for other birds – especially black birds. There are a lot of damn black birds near the water.
Once we got down to the beach, though, none of that mattered. She rushed to meet the water, ignoring the strange feeling of sand between her toes, and shouted gleefully when the frigid liquid ran up to grab her toes and ankles. She willingly held my hand and laughed all the way from her toes when the first really big wave knocked her right off her feet. Without much prompting from me, it was as though she immediately had a respect for the power of the ocean – she would walk forward juuuuuuuust far enough to get a good splashing but not so far that I started to panic.
And there we stood – hand-in-hand – at the shoreline of the great Pacific Ocean for more than an hour. Do you know what it feels like to touch pure joy? I do. It feels like the hand of a six-year-old in the hand of a mom who knows exactly what her little girl is thinking and feeling for 60 minutes. It’s the communication of a thousand pages of unspoken words. It’s the heart massage of laughter that comes all the way from the toes. It’s the tickle of a voice bubbling over with excitement. It’s taking the one-two punch of sand in your hair and salt water in your mouth then getting up and shouting, “Another big one!!” while stamping at the receding water with your feet. It’s a brief and fleeting moment of unified understanding.
Our adventures went on through the day – a stubbed toe on the way back from the beach, enough time in the swimming pool to turn us both to prunes, a luxurious bubble bath in the ridiculously amazing bathtub at the hotel – but Helene is back where we started. She is perched in a patio chair, surrounded by her favorite blankets, eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and staring wistfully at the ocean. A bagpipe player is going on in the courtyard below, and after each song, Helene claps and says, “Well done!” (Which only proves the Irish somewhere in our cross-pollenated bloodlines.) She has been sitting in that chair for nearly two hours, utterly transfixed.
I think back to a night – at the pinnacle of the stressful time that was the divorce from my ex-husband – when I escaped to a friend’s house in Bodega Bay. I hadn’t slept in the better part of a week, but the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks below the house lulled me to sleep like the perfect lullaby, somehow giving me the strength to keep going. And, I wonder … I wonder if this little day trip is the same kind of magical respite for my little girl from the chaos and disorder of the outside world or the jumble of signals firing in her brain that never quite transmit. Whatever it is, I am looking at her right now without a shadow of doubt that she is happy and content. It is one of the best vacation days I could possibly ask to have.
“Mother Bear,” Helene says to me, “isn’t it beautiful?”