We were on our yearly trip along the Oregon Coast with our 5-year-old daughter, Samantha, and 7-year-old son, Jordan. A “Log Trucks 500 feet” sign greeted us on Highway 101. We stopped at Bullards Beach State Park, where a bright yellow and black sign warned us of danger from the ocean: “WARNING, Deadly Sneaker Waves and Hazardous Surf.”
The kids tumbled down the fine sand dunes and scrambled back up with great effort, their feet and legs disappearing into the quicksand of the hill. My husband, Jason, and I were walking and talking together in front of our charges as the sun set on the sea, shading a steep shore with tall weeds.
The beach and the rolling, curling waves glittered in the sunlight. Stones clicked and clattered as they were tossed onto the beach by cylinders of water. Then the water rolled out again, exposing tiny clam holes and smoothly rounded agates.
We strolled, embraced and walked further along the shore. Glancing back to where I thought our children were playing, I saw only Jordan at the edge of the waves, a tree branch dangling from his hand.
“Where’s Samantha?” I yelled.
Jordan looked around frantically and screamed in panic, “I don’t know!”
I dropped my purse and sandals, and screeched, “Samantha!”
Jason yelled, “Samantha! Samantha!”
I stood there, shocked. A devastating feeling washed over me. My heart pounded. Where was our baby? I looked toward the shore, then to the sandy, grass-topped dunes, then back at the sparkling, dazzling, deadly ocean. There was no sight of her. How could she have gotten so far out? Where was she?
I raced out into the waves, the water sloshing against my ankles, and I turned again to look at the hill. Jordan was sobbing uncontrollably. I gathered him in my arms and searched everywhere for her. My head pounded.
Then, our errant child, her golden head shimmering like a brilliant lighthouse in the dying sunlight, appeared on the top of the grassy ridge. She stared at us with her mouth wide open. “What?”
We shouted, “Come here!”
Jordan ran at her, grabbed and hugged her, and wouldn’t let go. He was still weeping.
“It’s OK, she’s here, she’s OK,” I said, and wrapped my arms around them both.
“Well, I was just up there getting a stick to throw in the ocean,” Samantha sighed.
We pledged to never again let our children walk behind us in this dangerous spot, or at any other time. They must always be in front of us, no matter what we do.
We mistakenly left Jordan as Samantha’s caretaker. That is no job for a 7-year-old. I should have known better than that. Our children teach us so much as parents.
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