Jalama Beach became my first love the moment my toes danced atop sand mottled with broken seashells and I gazed across the grey expanse to dream. I often visit this familiar shore when I explore my memories, shifting through the timeline of how a small brown-skinned girl in love with mud pies grew into a wife and mother. Navigating the vast and murky space between these two “me’s” requires that I tread through moments of joy and sadness to achieve a better understanding of myself.
I wade through the shallows, re-watching my past in flickering moments. I read these memories like cowrie shells, divining my future as a mother. As crashing waves pepper my skin, I search for the best parts of my childhood to replicate in motherhood. If I can understand where my hurts were born, maybe I won’t replant them onto the fertile ground of my daughter’s life.
At the end of my exploration, I find myself ashore, peeling away questions that cling to me like strips of seaweed. I bring these questions to my mother. Her answers are hyssop for my soul. They heal deep wounds and smooth scars from my childhood.
One afternoon, I dwell in a memory of me picking through bookshelves in our old townhome. Pain surfaces as I remember coming to this bookshelf during stretches of deep loneliness. I email my mother about an old encyclopedia set. Though it had been around since I could remember, I knew nothing about its previous history.
Do you still have my red encyclopedias? When did you buy them for me?
I may have one or two left. I bought them when you were just a few months old. Did you ever use them?
Her question surprises me. I cannot understand how my mother missed this, how she had not seen the significance of her gift to me. These encyclopedias housed stories I read when I tired of playing with dolls. They informed research papers and essays I wrote for nearly a decade. They opened a door to a universe that I longed to comprehend.
Words pour out quickly into an email, and I pray my mother understands how much I value these books. In her response is a hurt I did not know existed:
I thought I wasted my money. It was hard paying for that set. My check was so small, and your biological dad wasn’t able to help at times.
Her words wash over me and my heart overflows with compassion. I never acknowledged that my mother might be suffering from her own hardships. She could help me because she was my mother, but also because she was standing in the shallows with me. With this realization, I am able to love my mother in a way that she deserves. In this moment where I swam from the shore of my own security, I parted the waves and found a balm for both of us.
I am comforted by the knowledge that my mother has always been with me on this journey. She has taken my suffering and given me inexplicable peace. When she did not have a solution, she guided my search. In return, my successes have shown her that her efforts were not in vain. As I close my mother’s wounds, she heals mine and shows me what longsuffering really is: waiting with open arms to wrap your child in gracious love that may not be immediately reciprocated.
The day has come for me to tread through the crashing waves with my daughter. She is not quite two years old, but I am prepared to protect her from the disappointment and heartbreak that are bound to come. When I watch her push headlong into every adventure, I can only hope that she will continue to arm herself with fearlessness. For I know the waves are only going to get higher, the ocean rougher. I will never let go of her hand.
DW McKinney is a transplant from San Diego living in Austin. She writes in between proofreading legislation for the State of Texas and (mis)adventuring with her daughter. Sammiches & Psych Meds has featured her parenting satire. Her non-fiction is forthcoming in TAYO Literary Magazine. She promotes Otherness on her website, www.forlangston.com.