I sat and watched Noah and Jason play in the sand -- digging holes and ponds and building bucket-castles. And I sat and watched them play in the ocean -- and I would realize that I was smiling. A big, goofy, squinty, involuntary smile. Every time I looked at him. I couldn't help it.
The last time we went to the beach, Noah was a baby. He couldn't walk or do much beyond shove handfuls of sand in his mouth or squeal when we dipped his feet in the water.
This time he could run and dig and splash on his own, just cautious enough to ask "Hole my hand? Hole my hand?" each time we'd take him down to the water. The beach was the most exciting, most fun, most greatest thing in the entire world, and the joy would sometimes bubble up over and he'd toss his hands in the air and scream. We heard him murmur "beach, water, ocean, beach" quietly in his sleep at night.
But sometimes, as I sat and watched, I still saw that little baby. The round little belly and the barest hint of chub where wrist meets hand. The excited babble of sounds and shrieks instead of words. There was something about wet hair and shivering lips that made him look so small, so vulnerable, so perfect.
He could play and swim and play for hours, and we watched and smiled, wishing we could give him more time here, wondering whether he's old enough to remember this trip, with his Nemo bucket and the big holes Daddy dug in the sand and the taste of grit in his peanut butter and jelly.
And when I wrapped him up in a towel and held him close while he shivered and struggled against his heavy eyelids, his head against my chest and his baby brother kicking from within, I promised to remember. And to thank him one day for letting me see the world for the first time all over again.