From being a parent and grandparent I recognize the combination of such extreme pleasure and anxiety. And I can’t help but wonder, “Is this normal?” Thoughts whirl through my head of living in the moment, experiencing joy, denying the good, and worrying about the bad. It’s all there. All I really know is…I’m a worrier, a fast-forwarder, and a hyper-alert caretaker who would almost rather forego pleasure than live in such a high state of anxiety.
Last evening was a classic example of who I am. On my way to my next-to-last evening walk on the beach I was wonderfully waylaid by the cohort of children who hang out at the intersection of the beach road and the main street of town. “Can we go with you to the beach? We want to walk with you.” They scattered to their homes, gathered up all of the kids from the families, and at the last minute called the little one…probably four years old.
Off we went.
And off I went.
What could be more fun, walking to the beach with a gaggle of girls; hugging me, hugging each other, capering and cavorting, and joyous? While they were joyous, I was fretting a bit.
I don’t see children from the village at the beach. In fact, I have never seen them with anyone but me. Yet, their parents willingly relinquish them to me and the kids know their way.
The needs and wants of this many children do not create a cohesive group for long. Some are stopping to watch the crabs run into their holes. Some are whirling strands of kelp over their heads. Some are slowing their stride to watch the boys in the neighboring sand field. And so I am stalled, not knowing which way to turn to keep each of them in my sights.
The tide comes in at this time of evening and I would have been happy to have a hand on each of the younger ones, and especially the baby of the group.
She was not to be trammelled by grasping hands, however. She skipped, she ran, she cartwheeled, she lifted her face to the sky and ran with her spirit. The two oldest children and I were constantly calling her name. “Stay with us”, we would call to her. And she would try. But she couldn’t resist raising her arms to the sunset and dancing with the wind.
I played in the sand with the girls. We drew giant hearts and stood inside them together until the waves washed them from under our feet. We stood on the small cliffs of sand and let them crumble and carry us into the lapping water. And I worried.
Where was she? I counted continually. Were they all there? But mostly, I watched the littlest girl? I would snatch her from the water as she waved at the sea. I would break into a run to catch her when she ran further than my hoarse voice could carry.She wasn’t disobedient. She was exuberant and free.
I wasn’t free. I was laden down with the responsibility of caring for children whose abilities and reactions I didn’t know.
Or was I not free because of who I am? I worry just as much when I’m with my grandchildren. I don’t totally live their pleasure for fear of missing some vital key to their safety and well-being. Did I relinquish my ability to be carefree when I had children and took on responsibility? Doesn’t someone always have to be in charge?
Well, as for tonight, I’m not sure how I’ll get to the beach. I may have to skirt around the children in order to have a last leisurely walk.
And when I return home I know I can’t stay away from my grandchildren. I won’t give up my joy of experiencing their joy in order to be at peace. I’ll still take them anywhere and any time I can. I’ll still cherish being alone with them. And I’ll still worry.