Today is the Jewish holiday of Shavuout, which Selam describes as the day that Moses gave the people ten really good rules and then everybody ate cheesecake.
And you thought she wasn’t learning a thing at her Jewish pre-school.
The worst thing about being a non-Jewish family at a Jewish school is the Jewish holidays, and the best thing about being a non-Jewish family at a Jewish school is the Jewish holidays. I spent most of September apologizing for missing 2/3rds of my committee meetings. On the other hand, I was delighted to have a mid-week warm day off in June to celebrate Shavuot in the traditional Jewish way by going to the beach. It was delightful to be able to actually park! in the parking lot! because everybody else was at work or school. It’ll all change in a few weeks when the kids get out of school, but for now, the place was relatively empty.
I brought Selam to this park when she’d been home just a month. It was fall, and I thought we’d play in the sand and swing on the swings. She was terrified by the waves–so much so that we couldn’t really go close to them. Six months later, she turned into a total beach bunny. First, her grandmother gave her this book about Ladybug Girl at the beach, and Selam loved the book so much that she forced me to read it to her roughly 10,000 times. It’s memorized now. Every trip to the beach must include re-enacting most of the elements of that book. We have to build a sand castle, draw pictures in the sand with a stick, go into the water up to our knees, get ice cream, and pretend to bark at the waves. Her imaginary dog Bingo typically accompanies us on these beach trips.
It was a quintissential beach day, today. It was hot enough to swim, without being so hot that you can’t stand not to swim. The sun was just right, and the sky was this misty blue that made it hard to distinguish between ocean and sky.
After a couple of hours building a sand castle and splashing in the water (and barking at the waves and drawing a picture in the sand), I packed up our blanket and moved us up to the swingsets and playground area for a while.
Selam’s imaginary daddy also accompanied us on this trip. He’s been rather active lately. Imaginary daddy bought her candy before lunch, never has to write a rober talk, carries her on his shoulders and makes her the good kind of pancakes every morning. He also doesn’t go to work but goes to school with Selam all day so she has someone to play with. Why yes, I am getting a little jealous of my daughter’s imaginary
daddy. Is that bad?
Anyway, Imaginary Daddy carried Selam up to the swings while I trudged through the sand with the bags of beach detritus.
We shared the swingset with an older girl. She was fair and freckled in a faded blue swimsuit and a long ponytail. She never gave us her name, but allowed that she was 10 years old.
“What grade are you in?” I asked.
“I’m going to be in fifth next year. My school is done for the year.”
“What school do you go to?” I asked, knowing that our city’s schools were still in session.
She named a school and identified its location in a medium sized city north of here.
“Well, school is still going, really, but I’m not going,” she allowed.
“My fake dad beat up my mom and we had to move to the shelter. He broke her nose and her arm and my sister and me hid in a closet and she peed her pants because she was scared.”
“He already knows where the shelter is in our city. So we came here.”
“I see. I’m sorry. That’s hard.”
“Yeah, well, at least this town has a beach. When we get a home far away from fake dad, I can go visit my real dad sometimes.”
“That will be nice.”
The girls pumped and released on the creaky swings. Selam was actually keeping up with the ten year old.
“My real dad has 11 kids with 7 mommys. So he can’t pay no support. But I still love him.”
“I bet you do.”
“I don’t love my fake dad. He hurts people.”
” I wouldn’t like that either.”
“That’s my mom,” she said–pointing with one hand to a thin woman with huge glasses and a large hat. Next to her were four other women and a very, very large tattooed man.
“We’re on a field trip,” the little girl said.
“I’m not supposed to tell anyone we live in the shelter,” she added, eyes flicking back to her mother.
“I won’t tell.”
And with that, she pumped her legs harder and harder, suddenly aware that a four year old was keeping pace.
She extended her legs and straightened her arms until her body was parallel to the sand. Her pony tail flew behind her, dragging like a tail.
Selam looked me hard in the eyes, and we said our goodbyes to the girl with the pony-tail.
I hoisted Selam onto my back and carried her up to the slides.
I watched her climb the ladders and let go, each of us doing our best to trust in the solid ground at the bottom of the sweet ride.