It was a golden weekend. All four girls--Mermaid Girl and her three friends from babyhood, Jessie and Camille and Sarabeth, all on the cusp of five, all going to kindergarten in the fall--played together harmoniously, like girls in an old-fashioned storybook. Even when it rained, they gathered together in one of the yurts and played and colored. When they started to get wild, RW brought out a bag full of beads and everyone strung necklaces. They went to the beach in their two-piece bathing suits, holding hands in a row as Camille's mom led them along the path in the afternoon sun. They ran through the warm water--the Pacific ocean! warm!--shrieking and laughing.
The two-year-olds--Jessie, Camille, and Sarabeth all have little siblings about the same age--were cute and charming and funny, imitating the big kids, picking things up and moving them around, contributing to the general hum of good feeling and mixing in a little benevolent chaos.
We parents all got along. We hadn't planned to share meals, but somehow we all ended up gathering at Camille's family's site the first night, having hot dogs and chili together, and then roasting marshmallows. The four girls sat around the fire, holding sticks and comparing marshmallow-roasting tips. The grownups drank margaritas and poked the fire and talked, easy and happy. Then the dads (including me, the Honorary Dad) put the kids to bed, while the moms, old prenatal-yoga friends, did dishes and stayed up very late drinking and gossiping and reminiscing.
That first night, Jessie slept in the van with us. Jessie is MG's very, very best friend. They've already had a few sleepovers, but this was her first time in the van. I read them a chapter of Betsy-Tacy (Jessie's a few books ahead of us in the series, but she deigned to hear an earlier segment again) and then I went down to the lower bunk to read while they giggled in the pop-top bed. Every few minutes I'd call up, as mandated in the Parents' Sleepover Handbook, "Time to be quiet, girls!"
After a while, they were quiet. I was quiet too, reading by flashlight. Then I heard Jessie's hushed voice from up in the pop-top: "I think we're alone in here," she said.
"They left us by ourselves," MG said.
"Hey!" I called. "I'm here!"
"Oh!" they giggled again, relieved.
It was a golden weekend. We took turns keeping an eye on the kids. People got to spend time alone or with their partners; I read two books, and even took a nap in the van on Saturday afternoon.
On Sunday we went to the beach again. It was uniquivocably warm and sunny, finally. I kicked at the sand dollars scattered on the beach; I'm always on the lookout for a good one, ever since I accientally stepped on the sand dollar MG found last summer. Usually they look good from the bottom, but when you flip them over it turns out that the top's been broken at the center.
But this time I found a good one, unbroken, right away, I ran to bring it to MG, who was splashing in the ocean, and she held it tight. I walked over to the right, where the tide was washing in and out in a long, shallow, flat ribbon of shore, and saw dozens of white disks. Sand dollars. I picked one up: it was another perfect one. And another, and another: a jackpot, a bounty, a treasure trove of perfect sand dollars.
RW joined me and we gathered enough for all the kids to have one, one for me, one for her, a few extras in case someone's broke. MG claimed two. RW picked one that was golden in the middle. We saved some for Jessie and her little brother, who'd had to leave early.
We took the leftovers and arranged them in a circle around the post that marked the path to the campsite, for someone else to find.
"You must have seen them just as they came in from the sea, before they could get broken," RW said. If I believed in such things, I'd think it was a sign, a gift, a forgiveness for all the things broken or neglected: the sand dollar stepped on, the hair pulled while brushing, the sharp words when I've lost all my patience. A gift to be able to pass them on, to family and friends and complete strangers. A test: will I get greedy, gather all I can hold? Or take just enough for each person to have one as a keepsake?
But I'm not really mystical like that. It was lucky, fortuitous, like the weather; like the chemistry and temperament of our four girls, our four families; like the library volunteers who came Friday morning so I could leave early and be part of it; like the fluke of mood that made me think I could handle so much togetherness after all.
I'm not mystical like that, but it felt blessed. A golden weekend.