The dock stands awkward like a kid in high school swim class, skinny legs and tan lines showing. Our little ones sprawl from the diving board into muddy water and go airborne off slides that jut out three feet above the surface. Even toward autumn, the lake feels the summer drought.

Sand and pebbles resist as I spiral a sun umbrella into the ground a few feet from the water. The umbrella leans, so I drag my foot over the surface to make a little mountain of support around the pole. A silvery feather peeks out from the pile. I keep on raking the grit and soon I see the feather in full.

I jump back fast, almost pull the umbrella out of the ground. The feather is a fin and at the other end of it there is a mouth sprung open in rigor mortis, eyes petrified shut, gills flaking in dry oxygen.

Familiar doubts floated up from the deep this week. Am I enough? Am I really equipped for this calling? Am I missing out on some secret that every other mother knows? Backtalk, boredom, bossiness– they drain me and then the doubts drain me some more. Water sinks low and ugly stuff shows.

A happy yell sounds out from the floating pier. My husband catches cannonball kids and zooms them about in the water like a speed boat. He’s a natural. I want to learn from him, scrounge some of his energy.

The dead fish frowns. I grab a sand shovel and slide it under the hollow creature, lift it, balance it, hold it as far out as my arm will reach. Please stay in one piece. Eek. I tiptoe to the rusty barrel and bury it with crushed cans, potato chip bags, and PB&J crusts. He’s at rest there, this bottom feeder.

On the beach blanket in the shade, I skim my magazine and bounce in and out of conversation with the girls. Soon, I feel a little nudge at my side. Sweet as can be, my friend’s little one curls up next to me with his eyes closed and makes a pillow of my hip. I pull him forward to lay his head on my leg. He sleeps a while, taking in gulps of air to the beat of lapping waves.

He doesn’t know it, but his little nap in my lap is rain to me, clouds breaking and filling me back up to the waterline, setting things right again, reminding me of the good I’m made to give.