The infinite sky is motionless overhead and the restless water is boisterous. On the seashore of endless worlds the children meet with shouts and dances.They build their houses with sand, and they play with empty shells. With withered leaves they weave their boats and smilingly float them on the vast deep. Children have their play on the seashore of worlds.They know not how to swim, they know not how to cast nets. Pearl-fishers dive for pearls, merchants sail in their ships, while children gather pebbles and scatter them again. They seek not for hidden treasures, they know not how to cast nets.The sea surges up with laughter, and pale gleams the smile of the sea-beach. Death-dealing waves sing meaningless ballads to the children, even like a mother while rocking her baby’s cradle. The sea plays with children, and pale gleams the smile of the sea-beach.On the seashore of endless worlds children meet. Tempest roams in the pathless sky, ships are wrecked in the trackless water, death is abroad and children play. On the seashore of endless worlds is the great meeting of children. – Rabindranath Tagore
My daughter Katriel was recently named ‘Student of the Week’ at her elementary school. Soon after, my beaming child handed me a note detailing how a parent was to pen a letter ‘introducing’ Katriel to her class. The prose should explain who Katriel was, what made her unique, how to tell her apart from all the other eight year olds hanging out at the playground.
So I sat down to write, but nothing came. Because what can you say about your own child without sounding like every other gushing mother or father ever to walk the planet? How do you put into words how much you love this child, as opposed to all the world’s children? And how do you write any words at all about your own little girl, when across the ocean another little girl has been grabbed out of her school yard and shot in the head?
All parents feel their children are singular. No one else can possibly love their one child this much, this fiercely. But my Katriel has never been singular. She is the second-born of identical twins. She is the youngest of five ones. She has always been ‘one of many’, part of a pair. Her every action, word, and deed has been seen as a circle within bigger circles, like a colored dot on a Venn diagram. Statistically she is one child among many, one sister among siblings, one eight year old girl in a sea full of girls. Does anyone have the time or inclination to even spot her, much less know what makes her her?
What I sense with increasing sorrow is that Katriel is my only child still fully engulfed in ‘childhood’. Her twin, Juliet, gets up at 6:30 am every morning to practice the piano. Juliet’s favorite food is ‘salad’. Juliet begs to make dinner, play on the Kindle, try out for the talent show. Juliet would live in an apartment on her own with a roll-top convertible if she could.
Katriel wants to live in the jungle, at the top of the trees, like a monkey. She often sings little ditties over and over, a trait she picked up in toddlerhood when she used to chant, “Waffles” with each step she took. Now she plucks on banjo strings and sings random sentences strung together like proverbs, such as, “Lamps aren’t lamps if they’re broken,” or “One day I”ll be a monkey, someday, if I’m lucky…” with such repetitive joy that eventually we all tap our toes and sing along.
Yet in school, Katriel is quiet as a Beatrix Potter mouse, complete with pigtails and glasses and a finely ruffled skirt, eager to sit up straight and print neatly to please her teacher. Then the recess bell rings, and Katriel skips down the hall, holding hands with her friend Ivy, and out they go onto the grassy field together, until Katriel runs away to hang from the monkey bars or spin in circles, playing ‘Plane’.
Most afternoons, when I retrieve Katriel and her sister from school, she tugs on my hand and cries, “Skip, Mom! It’s much happier to skip home. Or hop.” Then, just like Peter Rabbit, she hops down the sidewalk, singing, “Cupcakes and Gummy Bears are wonderful, wonderful friends…until I eat them!”
Katriel – my final, friendly, funny girl – finds the world delightful, still. She traverses it blithely unaware of dark edges, because she’s still in the light, soaked in sunlight, singing and skipping as her spirit soars free.
But none of those kinds of motherly observations seem right for a school letter. Instead, I pen stories about Katriel as a baby, how we put colored hair clips in her curls to distinguish her from her sister. How Katriel’s clips kept disappearing…hm…what was going on? Finally we figured out the mystery – Katriel was swallowing the clips whole. And now, even though she’s eight, we still tie her hair back in pigtails every day so that she can’t gobble it up.
I write about her unique method of cleaning her room as a toddler, how she would scoop up any toys on the floor, then run full tilt ahead down the hall. At the entrance to one of her siblings rooms, she’d pause, then launch those toys over her head and chuck them into their rooms without a word. Clad in footie pajamas, she’d repeat this process, running back and forth with arms full, till her floor was clean and she could raise her hands in the universal ‘Victory’ sign.
Lastly, I revealed Katriel’s long-held family nickname, Seashell. I explained how Juliet couldn’t say Katriel correctly when she was little, that somehow it always came out as Seashell, and that’s what stuck. How Seashell seems almost prescient now, it fits her so well. Because of all the places that Katriel loves, it’s the sea that fills her with utter glee. She is fearless in waves, festive in sand, buoyant in froth and freedom and fun.
On Monday, way across the sea, an eight year old girl was grabbed by her long hair and killed. The plot of that story seems not so different from many of the movies we pay to go see in theatres – a meticulous, savvy assassin; an international terror plot; a cryptic hunt and chase, kill or be killed scenario that thrills onscreen, yet defies words when it occurs in real time.
On the seashore of endless worlds children meet. Tempest roams in the pathless sky, ships are wrecked in the trackless water, death is abroad and children play.
Katriel still just wants to play. She doesn’t care about race, or creed, or religion, or net worth. Those things are taught, violence is glorified, and tempests do hover, crashing down on us all.
“Let’s skip to school today,” Katriel proclaimed this morning, tugging me along. “No,” I replied. “I want to walk slowly, and watch the flowers bloom, and hold your hand.” Dutifully she slowed down and didn’t sing anything at all and we walked to school in silence, me, my Jewel, and my Seashell.
At the front doors of their school, I let their same-sized, identical hands go, and watched them enter a place where we teach our young to utilize thinking skills loftier than ‘kill or be killed’.
As I stood there multitudes of kids swarmed through the doors, some with missing teeth and unruly hair, most with unblemished skin and friendly faces. I thought of them all flinging off their backpacks and playing there on the seashore of our endless worlds, my Seashell and all the other baby Seashells born in 2003 now running hand in hand along the sand, still innately knowing how to get along, with their songs and skips and smiles for all.
Then I walked home with tears in my eyes. Because my children, your children, our children are singular. They are cherished. They are our hope for the future if, and only if, they are allowed to come hopping back home at the end of the day.