Every year when my husband, our kids and I travel from San Francisco to the beach in Southern California, there's a lightness to each of us.
School is on hiatus; work is shut down. Vishal, my husband, and I pack the car the night before, and the four of us leave early the next day before the sun has risen.
In the car, we're still quiet, looking out at the dark sky as shades of pink and pale orange begin to peek through. We can still see the stars twinkling and shimmering and the shadow of the moon. The brake lights and headlights of the other cars pass by silently, adding iridescent red and gold to the landscape.
As daylight emerges we make the first of several stops. Each time we get out of the car, we stretch and breathe. The world smells different, like vacation, like freedom.
There's a kind of release as soon as our trip begins. All our worries from regular life are temporarily boxed away, and there's spare room now that allows us to look around with fresh eyes. We get that heady feeling, so fleeting, so difficult to get to — but it’s here now and beautiful.
We reach our hotel in the early evening and it's as though we've come under some sort of magical spell. It is a mid-level hotel, not terribly fancy, but our two children are dazed as they walk into the lobby. They stand still for several minutes just looking up at the atrium, their mouths slightly open in surprise.
The next day our adventure starts early because the kids are up before 7 a.m. The sun is bright as we drive to Coronado Beach, and we arrive at a place where the water and sky are the same shade of blue. The sand feels like velvet under our feet. The Hotel del Coronado serves as our backdrop with its giant red and white Victorian towers peeking through tall palm trees and other exotic plants.
Malaina, 9, and Zidaan, 5, are giddy, their exuberant laughter making their bellies shake and forcing them to catch their breath.
They bury Vishal’s feet in the sand and then fall backward, shrieking when his toes slowly emerge like small monsters, wriggling their way out.
They run in and out of the water, their faces turned in delight when waves crash higher against their bodies than they expect. The three of them make a sandcastle, complete with bridges and moats.
From my blanket nearby, I see that the sand has added a layer to both children, covering them from head to foot. The sun has tinged their cheeks rose color. Their arms and legs splay as they run, roll and cartwheel in the wide, open space.
It’s finally close to sunset, and the kids are still not tired. We've moved farther from the water to a spot where stairs lead to a sandy area sprinkled with large boulders. It’s chillier here, but the kids don’t feel it, even though they’re still in shorts and T-shirts. They take turns jumping from the boulders, landing with a thud on the sand. Vishal and I sit on the stairs, squeezed close to each other.
My eyes rest on Malaina. I silently note how big she is. Nine years have passed so fast. We laugh when Zidaan falls a little too hard but quickly stands up and shouts, “Don't worry! Zidaan is not hurt!”
Now the sun is casting shadows, creating a dark and deep orange-gold altered reality. My head is on Vishal’s shoulder, so I hear from only one ear, and all movement takes on a halllucinatory quality.
My heart starts to ache as I watch my children scream and laugh as I move in closer to the man I love.
“Remember! Remember this!” I tell myself.
As the sun makes its final descent, the kids run toward us. “It’s setting!” they yell, and bound up the stairs to us. They wrap their arms around our necks. I hold onto Malaina behind me, and my husband has Zidaan, and we are all laughing, off balance, falling forward.
We are absorbed in this moment, where time is stationary, where our children are permanently 5 and 9, where the connection we share seems perennial.