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(I was at a women’s retreat on a beach in South Carolina.  The assignment was to imagine taking a walk with your younger self.  Who was she?  What was she like?  This was my experience with that little girl.)

I took my 5-year-old for a walk on the beach.

“I’m going to find 100 perfect seashells,” she said.
“What do you mean by ‘perfect’?” I asked.
“Not broken and no holes,” she said.
“Good luck,” I said. “I walked twice yesterday and they’re hard to find.  Why don’t we look for shells with character?”
“I can find them,” she said, and right away picked up a couple.

BE WHOLE.  BE WHOLE.  The waves thundered.
YOU ARE WHOLE.  YOU ARE WHOLE.  Said the undertow.

Meanwhile my kid kept finding one more and one more perfect shell.  I guess she’s closer to the ground than I am.  I soon tired of the hunt and tried to divert her with a game of hop-scotch, her favorite.  She would not be diverted.  She’s focused.  Some say stubborn.  Where were all these unbroken shells yesterday?  She kept finding them and putting them in my bag.  My neck began to hurt from leaning over, studying the beach, looking for perfect shells.  Surely we had 100 by now.  I told her so, but she wouldn’t stop, wasn’t convinced she had made the goal.

“What if I don’t have 100?” she asked.
“I promise we’ll go back and look some more.”

But she wouldn’t stop, couldn’t stop.  She had set a goal and was determined.  Some would say compulsive.  I kept my mouth shut.  I had told her she was the leader and I was going to let her lead.

“Honey, what are you going to DO with all these shells?” I asked.

She put her hands on her hips and looked at me with that incredulous look that said she couldn’t believe I was even asking such a ridiculous question.

“It’s a COLLECTION!” she declared.

Aha!  That explained everything.  The bag was getting heavy and we had reached the end of the beach, or at least where the channel and the surf came together.  We had reached the end of MY beach.

“Let’s go sort them,” I suggested.  “I think that’s what you do with collections.”

She seemed ok with that and I only had to insist once or twice more.  She is determined.  She is focused.  She sets very high goals for herself.  Some say “over-achiever.”  And thus I begin to see how every positive aspect my kid brought into this world was, at one time or another, depicted as a negative:  Stubborn.  Compulsive.  Over-achiever.  Hmmm.  Is that the put-down way to say “determined,” “focused,” “sets high goals for herself.”


The waves repeat over and over as I take my kid by the hand and we walk back to the beach house.  We sit at the picnic table and sort the perfect, unbroken, no-holes shells.  All 227 of them.

“Pick out a dozen to keep,” I tell her.  Earlier, at one point in our walk I asked what she would do with all the extras.  She reminded me how some kids find more Easter eggs than others, and it’s good to share.  That’s what she would do with the shells.  She picked out a dozen.  And then two more.

“Wait!” I said.  “You already have 12!”

“No,” she patiently explained. “These are the finalists.”

I sighed.  And rather than spend 30 more minutes, let her keep all of the 20 finalists she ended up choosing.  The rest are down on the picnic table for anyone who wants some perfect, unbroken, no-holes but holy shells.

She wants to share.