Shifting Sand Dunes

Cape Cod National Seashore

Once upon a time, I was a very pregnant first time Mom spending Mother’s Day Weekend on Cape Cod chaperoning 56 class of 1976 Seniors. The class president announced they’d voted unanimously that each Senior be allowed to place their hands on my beachball sized mid-drift to feel the baby kick. Respectful of democracy, as their social sciences teacher and faculty advisor, I agreed figuring that for teenagers, feeling an unborn baby’s movement was a reality check for any post lights-out fraternizing in the motel.

Narragansett Beach Dunes circa 2000. jal

Early Sunday morning, we took the crew of sleep deprived (and probably hungover) to the Cape Cod National Seashore. The park boasts the grandest sand dunes of New England. That was way before the dunes were planted with sea grasses and beach plums to save the Cape from the relentless forces of sea erosion. Back then the dunes were majestic windswept mountains of fine, powdery sand with sparse vegetation. The kids sprinted up the lee side of the dunes and gasped at the diamond strewn ocean vista. A chilly wind whipped their hair, the cold Atlantic stole their voices, and the brilliant sunshine bolstered their courage. They proceeded like lemmings. Screaming joyfully they bolted off the dunes into the endless blue sky towards the Atlantic Ocean.

I quietly stood by as a sentinel and watched them tumble away from adolescent turbulence into the undertow of adulthood. The dunes, unprotected by recent law to preserve them, absorbed the force of their fall. They felt they were safely jumping on Mother Earth’s feather bed. Once their youthful energy was spent, many rested their backs on the warm sand and crooked arms behind their heads as they contemplated life past this day and graduation. It’s pretty doubtful that any current school conduct and safety policies sanction class sponsored beach weekends or endorse students’ laying hands on a pregnant class advisor’s belly.  Yet, all returned safely to their mothers, bearing celebratory greeting cards and sandy hair in time for Sunday dinner.

Over the years the winds have scattered my children around the world just as wind shifts sand dunes from one place to the next. To be clear, the forces that move dunes reflect the laws of nature and to the disappointment of poets shifting sands are not entirely unpredictable. Sand dunes evolve over time.  So does motherhood.

My maternal perspective progressed as our family evolved and I was crowned a grandmother. I’ve learned over time about how swirls in the flow can blow a family towards unfamiliar turf. It’s natural to be wary of change but it is the way of life. Motherhood is a process of trying to protect one’s dunes from storm brewed tidal swells that can sweep a beach right off the coastline. Mothers plant notions of family in each dune hoping they’ll take root and hold the sand in place. If successful, over time the dune will be our protection from damaging wind and encroaching surf.

The Nest pathway to Indian Rocks Beach – Between the Dunes. jal

Perhaps the greatest wisdom of motherhood is knowing that it’s okay for kids to climb and reach the top of a sandy dune, sense the wind, raise their fists toward the sun, and take a daring leap toward the sea. They’ll grow up and likely migrate to other beaches but the sandy footprints left in their mother’s hearts will never be erased by winds or tides.

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