We are staying on a small cove on the Costa Brava, where the water is calm and clear. Le Petit is a little bit scared of the sea. Curious as ever, he toddled right up to the water holding tightly onto my hand. The first waves made le Petit laugh, but the first to reach his belly made him cry out to be picked up. Balanced on my hip he clung to me and surveyed this strange new element with distrust.
I brought him out to (my) waist-deep water and showed him how he could dip a hand in the water and taste. "It's salty!" I explained. He duly tasted and seemed to approve.
Daddy came dog-paddling back to shore with a stone he'd fished off the bottom. Le Petit grabbed it from him and put it in his mouth. He soon had two stones, selected to be big enough not be swallowed, one in each hand. He still was not tempted by the water. I tried to give him to my husband so I could swim, but le Petit would have nothing of it, preferring Mommy's safe arms to Daddy's.
The beach is a short, steep walk down from our hotel along a stone path shaded by pine trees. On each trip back up we found le Petit pine cones to clutch. He loves having something in his hands, and objects from the natural world -- stones, pine cones, bark and flowers -- are his favorites. We try our best to keep him from eating any of it, but I'm sure some dust and grass end up digested anyway. I tell myself it is a toddler rite of passage.
The second day at the beach gave le Petit more confidence at first, but he slipped and fell in a wave in the two-foot span between my arms and my husbands'. Although he was scooped up and righted in a split second and was never in danger, his face was covered with sand and we felt terrible. After that, he happily sat on my lap in the shallow surf but would go no further. I admired his wisdom.
The third day at the beach the wind was high and the waves were larger. I held le Petit tightly and swung him up and out of the water when the biggest waves hit. His fear slowly disappeared. He laughed at his father coming up for air like a seal and the people playing soccer on the beach. He made conversation with a family of British tourists. He dismantled an abandoned sandcastle to pillage the prettiest pebbles.
I left him walking the shore with my husband and drifted out into the water. I could see the two of them, my tall husband in his flowered swim trunks, nearly bent over in two. Le Petit with his diapered bottom and floppy hat, skinny bare chest thrust forward, planting each footstep in the sand with more purpose than precision.
This year it is pebbles and pine cones. The salt and sand and noise and taste of the ocean are all new. What discoveries will next year hold?