My husband has sailed past my horizon line out on a fishing boat beyond reach of cell phone towers. I grab the kids’ swimsuits from the drying rack on the balcony and pack our lunch. Out over the water, a plane sputters by dragging an airborne billboard behind it, an invitation for a meal on a nearby island.

Today, I drive us across the Sanibel toll bridge in a caravan with my sisters-in-law and all of our young children, eight little cousins so far, all age 4 and under. We stop at the closest beach, a curved arm of island that rakes in the shells for the taking. I give the kids their shelling bags, but soon they drop them and go for fistfuls of shells to throw them back into the waves.

I’m in the middle of reading Gift from the Sea, and as we women fly solo on this shelling adventure with the children, I can’t help but think of Anne Morrow Lindbergh who gave up flying co-pilot with her world-famous aviator husband so that she could keep her feet on the ground as a mother raising five children. She, too, had set records in the skies, becoming the first woman in the U.S. to earn a first-class glider pilot’s license. Yet, she gave up the turbulent life of the aviatrix to embrace the work of mothering and the work of writing.

“I think best with a pencil in my hand,” she said. She had a lot on her mind on this personal vacation on nearby Captiva back in the early 1950s. She had come with images of other women and their “porcelain perfection” and “smiling clock faces” and thought how different motherhood might be for her if she weren’t in the public eye. She had, after all, suffered through a terrible media frenzy in the grief of losing her beloved firstborn son in a traumatic kidnapping and murder in 1932.

Anne looked at other women around her and envied their “smoothly ticking days”. She thought she must be one of the few women looking for her own “contemplative corner,” but over time, she discovered women of all paths and experiences who voiced similar struggles and the desire for more “creative pause” in the midst of their domestic duties.

My sisters-in-law put their kids in their cars to head back, but I have the inclination to try and pull off a picnic with my two little ones. I lay a blanket over the sharp shells and pull out our sandwiches. We scarf them down, and then sink our teeth into the fruit and goldfish. These moments are quiet with our mouths too full to talk.

But when I begin packing up and tell them we’re going back for nap, my toddler girl stomps toward the water and turns up her volume. I catch her by the tail of her life jacket. She kicks and screams and none of my deescalation efforts are working. We are in evacuation mode. My son, in a much-appreciated moment of cooperation, puts our trash into the picnic bag. I roll the blanket up fast and grab our towels and hats and shells, then strap the bags over my sunburned shoulders.

I trudge through sand with my flailing girl as a parcel under my arm. I get a panoramic glance of the people around me. I feel the public stare. And I have an idea why Anne Morrow Lindbergh so longed for solitude. Still, she knew that hers was more than an individual struggle, and so she penciled down her thoughts, then held her writing to the wind and let it take wing, giving back to the people who had shared their struggles and thereby shaped her like the sea smoothes the edges of broken glass.

Back at the condo, after I’ve convinced the kids to nap, I settle in on the vinyl webbing of the balcony chair and grab my book and pencil. A breeze wafts through the screen of the porch and I sigh back.

Soon, my husband returns with a banquet of grouper and red snapper. His first catch of the day had been a shark. He told me how he lugged it up from the water, holding firm against its thrashing. He took a good look at its thick skin and serrated teeth and its fighting spirit. After a few seconds and a mental picture, he held out the line to the fisherman’s knife. And just like that, they let it go, gave the strong creature back to open waters, where it was meant to be. As for my strong creature…she slept soundly in her bed.

{This week’s post is based on the Introduction to Gift from the Sea featuring original words from Anne Morrow Lindbergh and a 50th anniversary reflection from the author’s daughter, Reeve Lindbergh. See the rest of the posts in this series here. }


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