A certain part of my heart longs for these moments to never change. I look back on pictures like this one, where my oldest son tastes the salty breeze on his lips for the first time, feeling the sand underneath his toes and laughing out loud at this wholly new experience.
I look back and want to freeze it, but in something more than a single picture, more solid than a flimsy memory, more lifelike in substance than what a camera can fashion.
Because that little person who could not stand without my strength to guide him no longer needs my arms to stand. He’s got it.
He no longer needs my hands to grab on to as he walks towards the ocean water. He’s got it.
He no longer needs me to lift him up to dodge the crashing waves. He’s got it.
He’s been back to the beach many times since this initial adventure down in Pensacola five years ago. He’s swallowed more seawater than I’d ever thought was medically possible. He’s gotten sunburned, windblown, knocked over, and covered in sand. He’s built sandcastles and torn them down. Dug holes and filled them in. Fought a jellyfish without success. Buried friends and family alike in shallow graves upon the shore. Chased a kite, dodged a bird, and very nearly eaten a live crab when his parents looked away for a single second.
A whole lifetime of experience between then and now.
I never wanted him to change, even as I knew he probably couldn’t help it. I wanted him to stay the age of tiny feet, growly hugs, chubby legs, and soft hands that held so tightly to my own.
But, of course, he didn’t. He left all that behind as he ventured onward in life.
So I have a picture of that age. And a memory. Both provide a hint of the real thing, but maybe it’s enough for now.
Enough to trigger his squeezes on my fingers that I can almost feel, or his smile so loud that I can almost hear it, or the touch of sand underneath my feet as they scoot forward, inch by inch, shuffling alongside those tiny, miniature toes as we make our way closer and closer to the danger of the ocean waves.
He’s not worried.
After all, danger’s not so scary when your daddy makes you brave.