It is the first time we have been to the beach all summer. Somehow the idea of bringing a one year old who loves to shove things in her mouth to a land full of sand, sea shells, and sea gull feathers seems an act of folly. But a friend is in town and it’s hard not to show off the beauty that Chicago has to offer.
Ours is the largest stretch of beach in Chicago. And when we are here, feet planted in the sand with the waves washing up against our legs, I know this is where we are supposed to be. I feel peace when we are on the beach.
I watch my almost five year old (how is she almost five?) comb through the sand, studying each broken sea shell, each feather, each rock. I can’t begin to count the round stones she picked up and throw into the lake. Over and over again, she and her sister throw them out like wishes into water that seems to have no end.
We aren’t prepared for water play. They walk out in the water and the hem of their dresses graze the lake, soaking it in. And soon they walk out a little further. They continue walking out until their father yells out to stop, but by then it is too late. They are a wet mess. And I shake my head and smile. It’s my fault anyway. I’m the mom and I knew better then to tempt them with the lake and not expect them to want to play. I promise them we’ll return this weekend with swimsuits, towels, buckets, and shovels.
There’s a pier near our beach where you can walk out and see the city skyline. That juxtaposition of water, sky, land and steel leaves me silent each time. Kathryn yells out that she sees the “tallest building in America!” We haven’t had the heart to tell her that the new towers in NYC have taken the place of the Willis (Sears) Tower. Each morning she looks out of her bedroom window to see it and it just seems cruel to take that away from her.
Sophie asks if we are standing on a bridge. I tell her it’s a pier. She asks me the difference between a pier and a bridge. I blurt out: a pier is solid all the way down, dug deep in the ground past the water. I begin wishing we were dug deep in our community.
It’s here on the beach that I feel like we belong in Chicago. Here I don’t worry about entrance exams, selective enrollment, test scores, classroom sizes. Here I breathe deep the lake air. I see the families that surround us, children splashing in water and that little boy digging himself into a hole that will soon be washed away by the changing tide. I see the young people surround us, oblivious for just a while longer to the demands of adulthood. I see a group of Muslim women, sitting under that tree that grows on the edge between sand and grass, heads covered, talking as they vacillate between laughing and serious whispers.
The hard edges of city living are washed smooth, just like the rocks that line the shore.
The sun is shining down, warming our skin. We hold hands and walk back to our car. I look down and look at their feet. There are not many things I like more than seeing my girls feet with a light coating of sand. There is just something about it that makes my momma’s heart burst into a thousand pieces. I walk back slowly, knowing that each step puts us that much closer to the Chicago I don’t like as much. So I hold their hands tighter, Lucy nestled snug against me, sleeping between my chest and the baby carrier, blonde hair shining in the sun. I whisper to them, “I love you.” And they hold my whole arm, head resting against my hip as we walk back to our life.