I recently read Anne Lamott’s book “Traveling Mercies,” which is an entertaining collection of essays on her journey to faith and wholeness. It’s very funny and very wise, all mixed together into a delightful snapshot of a real life, cellulite and all.

I just so happened to read the chapter/essay entitled “The Aunties” on the first day of our Atlantic beach vacation this summer. She dubbed her middle-aged woman’s dimply thighs “the aunties” during a trip to the Mexico beach. I won’t say any more than that — you really must read the entire hilarious story. But I think you definitely experience that chapter the best while sitting on a beach with your own two aunties facing down the shapeliness of youth.

Anne also described the sound of the waves as a washing machine for our minds. And did I ever need a laundering. Miraculously, despite accompanying our three young children to the beach this year, each of us received the gift of time to just sit and soak in the sound of the surf.

I thought my heart would burst just watching my children race in and out of the waves, dig in the sand, and fly kites with the uninhibited abandon of youth. They needed this vacation as much as we adults did, after enduring years of hospital stays, doctor and therapy appointments, x-rays and labs, surgeries, and Elli’s death. I am so thankful they had this brief time to just be normal kids. (Though Little Girl was a little teary the first day we arrived because she missed Elli. Thank you God, for my sensitive Little Girl. Help me be sensitive to her.)

I even got some therapeutic floating in.

When I was a child, our family took vacations to the Pacific beaches in southern California. My sisters and I would spend whole days body-surfing, jumping through waves, and building massive sand castles.

[Incidentally, unless my sense of smell has been dulled over time (which is highly possible, as I’m 25 years older now), it seemed to me that the smell of the Pacific was much more briney, more salty, than the smell of the Atlantic. I wonder if it’s just me?]

On our last day at the beach, I finally decided to throw caution to the wind and get thoroughly drenched in salt water. I took our boogie board out into the surf to ride some waves in. Scott had done this a couple different times and enjoyed himself immensely. Other vacations have required extreme effort from us adults to keep the kids from drowning or wandering off and getting lost or getting sunburned and to help Elli participate to the fullest extent possible. This translated into no chance to step away and “play” ourselves. This year, we’ve begun to enjoy that sweet spot where the kids can entertain themselves somewhat independently and yet still stay close by.

I’ve always loved to participate in fun rather than just passively observe. When I discovered boys, I also discovered two kinds of girls — the ones who stand or lay around trying to look their best at all times in case a boy looked their way, and the ones who get out there and have fun, regardless of how it messes up their hair. I decided early on that any guy I was interested in would like a girl who gets out there and has fun, who finds disheveled and windblown attractive. (And also who likes a girl who enjoys to eat. But I digress.)

As soon as I got thigh-deep in the water, jumping over the breakers like the me of yesteryear, I flashed back to those blissful summer days in the Pacific. Fighting against the current that tries to carry your body away down the shore. Floating up and down, watching for a wave with just the right curl at the top.

Then a wave caught me off-guard, the board curled up under me unexpectedly, and I tumbled end over end in the rough water. I got sinuses full of sea water (not unlike a Neti-pot rinse, only with a more abrasive quality) and a cut on my ankle. Very undignified for a mother of four.

Incidentally, the proper mother-of-four swimsuit is not ideal for body-surfing. You know — the kind with the skirt that hides fuller hips and a stomach that will never look the same after carrying four babies to term. But who cares about such minor details when you’re surrounded by people of all sizes and shapes, covered with tattoos, in skimpy suits or ratty old t-shirts? After reading “The Aunties” I was feeling very liberating from all that body-conscious stuff anyway.

So I tugged my suit back into proper position, reassured Big Boy that I was fine (he had seen my ungraceful tumble and was a bit alarmed), grabbed up the boogie board, and headed back out thinking all the while that I really need to start swimming for exercise again.

I think of Elli so often that it’s second-nature — I don’t even consciously realize I’m thinking of her. Clinging to the board as I bobbed in the water beyond the breakers, I thought of her and knew she would have loved body-surfing. I imagined floating next her, paddling side-by-side as we caught a wave in, laughing and splashing and catching loads of sand in our swim shoes and suits. I hope that wherever she is now, she’s enjoying things like this… only better. Only perfect.