A small gift from the sea

It’s a long way — in both miles and mindset — from the silent morning sadhana at Kripalu to my parents’ house in Florida, where my family convenes each March for our sons’ spring break.  By the time I arrived last Saturday night, fresh from my month of yoga immersion, Steve and Jack were already here and in full vacation mode — tennis, hot tub, read, swim, more tennis.  Henry’s plane landed an hour after mine, and then, for a couple of perfect, too-short days, we were all here, making meals, reading our books, playing Scrabble, hanging out with my mom and dad, and catching up in person for the first time since early February.

As usual, we found ourselves crowded into a booth at Chili’s.  Henry ordered a (legal) Margarita; the kids (I still call them that), in deference to me, agreed to vegetarian nachos; and we began to wax nostalgic, recalling the days when the annual visit with the grandparents also included Steve’s folks, as well as stops at every mom-and-pop variety store (in search of the newest packs of baseball cards), shell collecting at the beach, Little Rascals video marathons, mini-golf, and Peanut Buster Parfaits at the DQ.  The memories gave rise to lots of laughs, and I said something about how great it felt, how special it was, to have us all gathered here together. The boys reminded me that I say that exact same thing every single time we are together.  I suppose I do.  These days, when the four of us actually land in the same place at the same time it does feel like an occasion — always too short, always bittersweet, always special.

Monday we drove Jack across the state to meet up with his school tennis team for a bit of pre-season training, and this morning we dropped Henry off at the airport at 6:30 am for his flight back to college.  It was still dark when we pulled up to the curb, the remnant half of the fattest, closest moon on record lingering in the sky.  I watched my older son push through the revolving door and disappear into the bright terminal and felt a similar revolving effect in my own stomach, as the easy togetherness of these last few days was suddenly displaced by a wave of sadness.  It still gets me, just how alone alone feels every time we say good-bye to our sons.

With one more day here before our own flight home, Steve and I drove down the empty highway and up and over the long bridge to Sanibel, where we used to spend at least part of each winter vacation when our boys were little.  It’s been years since we’ve been back, but as we walked along the familiar stretch of beach and watched a new generation of young sand-castle-builders hard at work, every step seemed to give rise to a memory.

I’ve just spent a month practicing being fully present, and yet strolling along the water’s edge this morning I seemed utterly incapable of simply being in the moment.  Sanderlings scurried along at our feet.  The sun rose higher in the sky, the water was perfect, the beach filling with families and sunbathers and shell collectors, all intent on milking their varied pleasures from the day.

And I found myself fighting back tears, trying way too hard to savor a lovely walk with my husband while, at the same time, overcome with a swirl of emotions — missing my sons, missing the life we used to lead together, missing their vanished childhoods and our own younger, more innocent parenting selves.  How clearly I remember every bathing suit they ever owned; the big, cheap beach towels with hoods in the corners that could completely envelop a small, shivering boy; the bright, indestructible toys we stored at my mom’s house and hauled out year after year; the small, irresistible  plastic shark Jack once “borrowed” from another little kid and failed to return, and his tearful confession at the end of the day when his guilty conscience got the better of him; the smell of suntan lotion slathered onto a small bony back; the taste of gritty cheese crackers and warm iced tea; the scrim of sand in the rental car; the bags of prized shells ripening and stinking in the back seat as we headed back down the causeway, windows open wide. . . .

Steve and I walked side by side, mostly in silence, for a mile or so, waves lapping at our feet, and then we turned around and made our way back.  I stooped and picked up a pale gray piece of a shell, broken, unidentifiable, but worn smooth as satin to the touch.  Somehow it seemed like the right one to slip into my pocket at the end of this less-than-wonderful morning, a battered fragment, far from perfect, yet weathered and beautiful in its own right.

There is an abbreviation known to everyone at Kripalu:  BRFWA.  It stands for Breathe. Relax. Feel. Watch. Allow.  In yoga class, this is a fine way to move into and out of poses, slowly and with awareness and compassion.  I think it is probably a pretty effective strategy for negotiating the inevitable ups and downs of everyday life as well.  I’ve been worried about how I can possibly incorporate all the learning of the last month back into my “real” life, how I can assimilate some of the changes I cultivated in class and turn them into new ways of being, even when I’m not on a yoga mat.  It was so easy to stay calm and centered while ensconced in “the bubble” of Kripalu, where all I had to do was show up and be myself in a room full of like-minded, equally dedicated souls.  But it’s so much more challenging to bring my “yoga self” back home and layer her onto my “mom self,” that self who seems at times to be comprised of equal parts of nostalgia for what’s over, worry about what might yet come to be, and yearning for the physical presence of grown children whose lives have (quite rightly) carried them away from home.

Breathe. Relax. Feel. Watch. Allow.  I wish I’d remembered these simple words at the beach this morning.  They might have given me a little more room to simply experience all my swirling feelings, without so much recrimination and self-judgment.  I might have allowed the sweet memories to wash through me rather than wishing for what can’t be.  I might have  allowed my tears to fall and then I might have taken a few deep breaths and allowed the sea air to dry my cheeks.  I might have held my husband’s hand and shared my feelings with him, and  allowed him to comfort me a little, instead of trudging along in silence as I did, convinced that I should somehow be doing a “better” job of walking on the beach.

So. Transformation doesn’t happen overnight after all, or even in a month.  And good-byes are always hard.  In the meantime, though, I will remind myself:  Breathe. Relax. Feel. Watch. Allow.


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your comments

  1. Big fat tears splashing on my desk. I am still in those years, with small bony backs, sand toys, and hooded beach towels, and still, still, I already miss them. xox

  2. The emotion in your words is powerful…I felt the pull of nostalgia sweeping into my heart. My son will be graduating from college this May…my daughter will be starting high school in August . I just booked our beach condo for this June, realizing that it may be the last time we are all together on a vacation. Thanks for the insight: Breathe. Relax. Feel. Watch. Allow.

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      And yet, life does surprise us: a year ago, my mom and dad took our whole family on vacation — me and my brother, our spouses, the grandchildren. I never would have imagined such a thing, and yet there we were. Still, it’s not the same as the old family holiday. Treasure it while you can!

  3. After a less than perfect Mommy day here with my 7yr old son, thank you for your words which remind me that it is all fleeting. I feel guilty for being less than patient today. Sometimes we have a vision of what ‘perfect’ looks or feels like, but it never quite pans out the way we imagine. I have a long way to go before my little guy leaves the house. I am trying to savor every little moment, and be completely present in that moment, but some days it just doesn’t work out.

    Thank you so much for your writing…

    • Hi JeeJee,

      I had to reply as I had a less than perfect day with my 2 little guys (5 and 2). Remember that we are learning right along with them. It’s OK to not love every single minute – maybe every other minute?


  4. Your words ring true for me today. On my 5th weekend in a row as a single mom with my almost 4yr and 1 yr old boys. All I could think about was sitting in a coffee shop or the things around the house that yet again are not being attended to. I ventured on and sat at the train table putting together tracks, making firehouses out of legos, reading books and really ‘trying’ to be present in the moment with each of them.

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      And even being fully present for just a few minutes at a time is quite a gift — to yourself, to your kids. As the Stage Manager says in Our Town, “only saints and poets” seem able to realize every moment of life as it’s lived; the rest of us mortals just do the best we can with what we have and who we are. And that’s enough.

  5. I can think of very few occasions indeed when letting the tears flow isn’t the best possible thing. Unless I’m in line at the grocery store or in a business meeting, I usually say “why not?” and let it rip. It’s almost always better, easier, and brighter on the other side.

  6. As a mother of 5, ages 7, 11, 14, 15, and almost 18, I find myself in this emotional yo-yo land often. I’m still trying to savor all the innocence and beauty of my last’s young childhood while seeing the complicated adolescent years being played out before my eyes and somehow trying to make sense of and savor that as well. I find it’s difficult to be fully present sometimes when there are many places to be–emotionally and physically. But, your writing inspires me to keep trying and to consciously create and look for the good.

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      I love what you say, “consciously create and look for the good.” Really, if we can just remember to be grateful, then we find ourselves returned again and again to the moment at hand.

  7. Beautiful commentary, Katrina. I was taken with the title” Gift from the Sea.”

    Did you know that this is the name of a wonderful book by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Charles’ wife? It was written in the 50’s and is a real treasure. I urge you to crack its cover as a way of returning to peace.

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      One of my all-time favorites. And high time to read it again. The amazing thing about this book is that it was written over 50 years ago, and yet it doesn’t seem dated at all; in fact, Ann Morrow Lindbergh’s words are more urgently needed now than ever.

  8. I’m glad you’re back. 🙂

    I remember my mom saying, so many times in my college years, “This may be a rare event soon, with us all being together on (insert holiday name).”

    My four siblings and I chuckled at her and went back to the easy natural way siblings mold into each other, no matter how long we were apart.

    Then suddenly, before my youngest brother had barely turned 20, she was gone. And indeed, the last time together had been the last time together.

    Then we understood.

    Now I have teens, kids moving on to young adult lives. And I’m the one saying, “This may be the last ______ that we’re all together..”

    I see them roll their eyes. But some day they’ll know. And for now, it makes me feel closer to my mom. Knowing now, what she knew then.

    Thanks Katrina. For reminding me of that sweet memory.


    • Katrina Kenison says:

      I guess it’s what we mothers do: pause and try to hold on to every precious moment of family togetherness, while the kids take it all for granted. They will have their time, though, time to be nostalgic and grateful and sentimental; for now, they have the freedom to squander time and to imagine that we’ll all be around forever.

  9. This was beautiful. Thank you for putting into words the feelings that must swirl inside all of us, but we are no in tune enough or too afraid to voice.

  10. Every time you say goodbye to your boys and you share it with us, I feel a sadness about missing my boy. I did say boys, because it’s hard to accept that they are grown man and we can no longer be with them as much as we want because they are building their life. I feel your pain. I miss my son. I haven’t seen him since January. I pray that he comes home this weekend.

  11. I feel the sadness of this so keenly, Katrina—I know that it is beautiful, and poignant… but as I BR into your words I Feel the sadness, perhaps the very worn shell sadness that links us in our true Selves, those soul-Selves that need not attach (only our discrete egos, those tear-prone selves that vibrate right along with all our sad walks and our later melancholy tracings), those soul-Selves can watch, they can allow. Still, we cry most freely in knowing that we are connected in ways mysterious but all-encompassing. Then our sorrows might wear the shell of us away until nothing is left and we are the sea itself once again.

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      Definitely bittersweet, because of course our children are doing what they are supposed to do: growing up, leaving, creating lives of their own. I think that I’d feel sadness if they were NOT managing to do that. So, there is always the push-pull, of wanting them to be close and also knowing that growing up entails putting a bit of distance between us.

  12. katrina – Your words take my breath away and make me long for something I’m not even yet missing. I know someday I will and your words will be a comfort.

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      Funny how good we are at imagining things that haven’t even come to pass! But if that helps you appreciate what IS, right here and right now, well, that must be a good thing.

  13. Katrina, this is so perfect. You remembered! You came back to the breath and that is what matters. It astonishes me how very present you are through these sad emotions. It’s such a big thing to relive your babies leaving every time you see them and it must be so challenging to be back in THIS world after being at Kripalu. Thank you for BRFWA.


    • Katrina Kenison says:

      Thank you Pamela! I’m learning BRFWA in a whole new way, now that I’m home. It’s sort of like driving in Drivers Ed, with the guy sitting next to you with his own brake, and then finally taking the car out on the highway all by yourself. It’s all up to me at this point, whether I remember to breathe and relax and keep the car steady, or veer right off the road. Taking it slow!

  14. Hey, Soon there may that next miracle of life-GRANDCHILDREN

  15. Oh my friend… How hard it is to be with ourselves, sometimes.

    I feel these days rushing toward me – and I wonder how I will go forward with my oldest not in the same story while the two little are home and in the same place – where will I be?

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      Hard to be with ourselves, but such a comfort to be with like-minded friends! What’s amazing is that, when the day finally comes and life changes for good, we really are ready, parents and children alike. Which is not to say that it isn’t hard!

  16. Sharon Keener says:

    So lovely, Katrina. Returning home from Kripalu has been filled with emotion. So many events happened while I was away and now I must pick up where I left but there is a missing segment to my “reality”. The conversations I was not a part of but now am expected to continue. The questions from wonderful friends and family “when can we come to your class?” that I cannot answer. The new boyfriend that became immersed in my family and I was introduced to at church. The church ladies’ yoga class where I felt like I was stumbling because there was so much to share and not able to find the words they would understand. But it is a new week. One more week removed from the Kripalu love cacoon and I strive to remain in the moment. The sun is sparkling on the icy tree branches. There was a little rainbow on my bedroom wall this morning and we are all well. Breathe, relax, feel, watch, allow. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      Love this! Two weeks ago, we graduated to the sound of bells tinkling and now here we are, right back in the midst of life’s great swirl. Somehow, though, don’t you think we’re finding it a little easier to simply go with the flow, to trust that we’re where we need to be? And remember, the church ladies aren’t going anywhere; you can bring them tiny morsels of what you’ve learned, just a little bit at a time, and that will be enough.

  17. My Baby turns 25 tomorrow and has told me how mature he feels he has become(&I am so very grateful!) I (on the other hand) had a moment of crisis, yesterday as I signed up for my first ever class at the Senior Center!!! I remember hearing that it is not the pose where we injure ourselves but in the transition-so “go gently” Gotta love those transitions!!! BRFWA-I love it! Namaste’

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      Jo, this is great advice: to pay as much attention to the transitions of life as to the “poses.” In Florida last week, a neighbor of my mom’s saw us together and thought we were sisters! A great day for her, a humbling one for me!

  18. Shannon Balletto says:

    Katrina..beautiful..certainly captures my feelings as my 15 and 16 year old children informed me this past week that neither of them are able to attend our week at Cape Cod this summer. I feel sad, however, one will be working his first job and the other attending a sports camp because she made the Varsity team. All good..but this was my “favorite” week every summer..gone for good.

  19. MOE GEISINGER says:


  20. As always, you wrote the words that I needed to hear tonight. As I sit here getting ready for a rummage to sell all the little baby outfits of my darling three boys, I find myself wondering… do I cherish it all enough? Am I ready to start a new journey with these three? Can I slow myself down enough to “breath, relax, feel, watch, allow” the moments of their childhoods to be ones I want to relive?

  21. Thank you for sharing. After just returning from our winter vacation on Sanibel and walking the beach with my husband, thinking of all the love ones I wish were walking with us…I realize that being in the moment can be very difficult. Gifts from the Sea is a favorite book of mine and now I added The Gift of an Ordinary Day — as both gifts to enjoy and share.

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