In an Uncertain World, THIS is What’s Stayed the Same for Our Family

Recently it feels as if I have been unsuccessfully trying to emerge the winner at the shell game. I watch and analyze each sleight of hand and, just when I am sure I know which shell to choose, I second guess myself. Picking the right option feels weighty knowing the odds are stacked against me. Everything is just a guess after all, based on the best information I can gather at the time.

Welcome to 2020.

This summer, we returned to the beach. (Twenty20 @TinaVal)

The world is upside down these days

The topsy-turvy Covid world is full of uncertainty and change. My family, like many others, lost traditions like college graduation, senior sports and a family reunion in the last six months. Not to mention the lack of jobs for my kids and remote learning challenges.

We have spent many a day lamenting our old life and the freedom to roam unchecked. Amid the losses, I was determined to seek the silver linings of a pandemic. Our touchstone has always been the beach.

My kids grew up spending summers at the shore. When they were toddlers, I took any chance to run to the ocean. That often meant tackling three boys, sand and a whole lot of gear by myself. I would set up right beside the lifeguard chair and not sit down once for fear of losing someone on the wide expanse of beach, or worse, in the ocean.

Luckily, all the boys had a healthy fear of the water, but keeping them occupied and near to home base proved difficult. I devised games, built sand castles with them and did anything I could to pass the time.

I don’t know when it started, but eventually the boys started looking for shells to amuse themselves. Each time they trudged to the water’s edge to fill a bucket or jump the waves, they would return to me proudly bearing gifts from the sea.

My boys collected shells during our beach vacations and I kept them all

I kept almost every one of them. They slid around the bottom of the beach bag, were mixed in with the shovels in the toy sack and stacked in a clear vase on the dining room table. I didn’t have the heart to toss even the uglier shells. Each one had its own unique journey through time and tides; who was I to judge?

Over the years, our beach time was interrupted by swim team, football workouts and jobs. While we still considered it our respite, we didn’t get down as often as in those early days before schedules ruled the boys’ worlds.

This summer, while mourning all that we had lost in the blur of Covid-19, we vowed to take advantage of our free time. After all, we would likely never have this much time to be together as a family again so we might as well be in our happy place.

Even that turned out to be an adjustment as some of our traditions and outings were not possible in a locked-down world. It was challenging to watch the kids as they absorbed losses large and small. Certainly not a tragedy by any means, but as we all craved some modicum of normalcy, we were disappointed at every turn.

During one of our stays, a hurricane blew through. It seemed like a literal interpretation of the tumultuous times as we watched the angry sea threaten to overtake the dunes. The next day dawned sunny and clear but the ocean remained too rough for swimming.

I knew that my sons were going to be fine

As I lounged in my chair, a shadow fell over me and I squinted up to chastise whomever was blocking my Vitamin D. But when I raised my head, I saw my son looming over me and in his extended hand was a shell. Weathered and pitted, it was not a pretty specimen with no shimmery spots or perfect edges.

Yet, it was beautiful to me.

That shell showed promise. It was a signal that my boys were going to be just fine. That they knew to look for the treasures that are only unearthed after a storm. That as much as life changes, some things will always remain and be in your control. And one of those things is perspective.

I marveled as my boys returned to what they knew and bestowed many shells on me that day. Later, I added them to our collection and felt like we were finally winning at this pandemic game.

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About Maureen Stiles

Maureen Stiles is a Washington DC based freelance journalist, columnist and editor. With over a decade of published work in the parenting and humor sector, Maureen has reached audiences around the globe. In addition to published works, she has been quoted in the Washington Post and The New York Times on topics surrounding parenting and family life. Maureen is the author of The Driving Book for Teens and a contributor to the book Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults as well as regularly featured on Today's Parenting Community and Grown and Flown.

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