I laughed too, for the first time in what felt like weeks, and wished the table was big enough for me. On that day, one of the most terrifying days of my life, and numerous times since, Alex and Eliza have reminded me that play is often the best solace we can offer and the most comforting gift we can receive.
My family and I live just outside of Boston and, as usual, my husband and I took our daughters Alex (7) and Eliza (3) to cheer for the marathon runners at mile 24. We went home at 2:00 p.m. for a much-needed nap and, lucky for all of us, both girls were resting safely in their beds when the bombs exploded less than an hour later and the city was changed forever.
Four days later, on one of the first gorgeous days of spring, most of the city was in lockdown, as authorities searched for the second suspect and we were urged to stay at home. We stayed inside most of the day, but finally ventured just outside to our small, fenced-in patio. The girls ran their fingers through the new “spring sand”, which we’d recently poured into the sand table after a very long winter. They mixed concoctions merging mounds of sand with earth and dried rhododendron leaves in old Tupperware containers that no longer had matching lids.
In that moment, I knew that one of my critical responsibilities as Mom was to shield my girls as much as possible from the tragedy unfolding all around us, from the terror evolving less than five miles away. The best thing I could do was continue our own version of “normal”. So, against the soundtrack of constant sirens and in the midst of my own uncertainty and fear, we played.
Eliza brought me ice cream cones made of earth and Alex offered me the chance to mix my own milkshake. As I ran my fingers through the sand and felt the cool grains sliding under and over my hands like liquid, I was suddenly my 6-year-old self. I was anxious about something with that sick feeling in my stomach – perhaps the realization that most of my life was out of my control. I was standing barefoot on mossy earth in the shaded space between a wooden shed and my backyard fence. I crouched down and picked up smooth rocks one at a time, collecting them into a pile and sticking twigs into the gaps in my mountain. Gradually, without my full realization, the uneasy feeling left my stomach, the butterflies slowed their panicked flurry, and I was free.
Then, Alex began shrieking with delight and I was back on our patio, a mom with two young girls of my own. These girls were now sitting in their underpants in the sand table. They filled the space completely, laughing, making faces, and pouring sand all over each other at their own tiny beach.