You might remember me writing about going to the beach in New York and collecting sea shells as a young girl in the post, “A Plate That Holds Half A Ring.”
I often walked alone beside the ocean at this beach, thinking, dreaming, picking up shells and shiny rocks, and gazing at the waves. I also spent time with some friends there my sister and I knew from school. Sadly, they weren’t great company and were often unkind.
At that beach club, a parent (usually mother) would often pay an older child if they wanted to watch her child since it was an open, safe community kind of place. I had wanted to do that, but I was a little bit younger than most of the other girls that had been babysitting, so I’d have to wait.
Then one day in the shallow pool, a mother asked if I wanted to play with her daughter, Danielle. The little girl was making waves in the water with her hands and had a quiet expression on her face, droplets of water on the ends of her eyelashes. Her mother told me she was three; I was nine, but I was thinking I was closer to ten. (When you’re that age you always round up.) She would pay me to play with her for a couple of hours or however long we wanted. I was so happy.
I decided to take her to the beach and play in the sand, maybe make a sandcastle. When we got to the beach she started crying before I could even ask if she wanted to make a castle, that the sand was too hot on her feet. So I asked if she wanted to leave, but she just kept crying and saying the sand was hot and hurting her feet.
I said, “I can carry you.” She wouldn’t stop crying and saying she wanted her mom. I was not a very strong girl so I didn’t know that I’d be able to pick her up, but I didn’t think of that then, picked her up and carried her (noticed, ahh, heavy!) walking quickly past the beach, cabanas, the big pool, and right to the baby pool where her mom was sitting. She said thank you and paid me even if just for a few minutes, and I could try again tomorrow.
For some time, she cried every time I came and wanted to stay with her mom. I felt sad but I understood that I was very attached to my mom when I was her age and did the same thing, and so most of the time for awhile I would play with her while her mom was there.
Sometimes we’d go to the ice cream truck. Her mom would give me money for her and me. She always got the strawberry shortcake ice cream bar and that one was my favorite too so I would also always get that one and we’d eat them together.
Once she stopped crying every time, she became pretty outspoken and would say to me, “Okay, you go stand over there.” Her mother noticed that and told me not to listen to her and would tell her not to tell me what to do.
I felt sad one day because the girls I knew from school were being mean to me and I told this to Danielle’s mother. She had told me not to feel bad, that they were jealous, and she combed my hair near the beach, and said my hair was so pretty.
When Danielle was four, I began trying to teach her letters. I remember I’d show her the letters and say them aloud. I taught her “D” first for her name and she learned that one quickly. The other letters I’d show her, she would say, “N” for almost every one, and then when I pointed to N, she would say another letter or she wasn’t sure.
I watched Danielle for two summers and toward the end of the second summer, her mom invited me over their house. By then, she wasn’t attached to her mom anymore and didn’t “hate” me so much. We were watching a train loop around and around her living room, and she smiled at me and kissed my cheek. I thought that was sweet, especially how she had cried every time she saw me at first. I loved her as if she was my daughter or little sister.
She was four and I was ten, so around that time, the age difference was changing in a way, where she was getting to be an older child and I was getting to be an even older child, and we sadly lost touch.
It is interesting how the same amount of years can seem different depending on the time of a person’s life. Years apart in age can feel more or less at different times. I know Danielle most likely doesn’t remember me, but I am grateful for having known her and those experiences that time in my life that I still cherish.