A Family’s Guide to Collecting Rocks

We collect rocks at a state park along Lake Michigan. Mom lets us wander the stony beach after we meditate with her against the waves. After we breathe in gratitude and breathe out anxiety. Breathe in adventure and breathe out stagnation. Mom reminds us that we are free.

Marna likes the smooth stones, round as the moon. She stacks them into family units, which follow her down the rocky shore like babies reaching for their mother. They are never in groups of three like Marna, Mom and me. They are in groups of four or five or seven. They expand every time she creates them, swelling like the waves. We are never enough for Marna; even I know that and I’m only seven.

I collect the stones that sparkle like they swallowed the sun. I find every color and line them up like a rainbow, like a bridge. I try to help Marna’s families cross the bridge but they keep falling apart when I move them, and I keep forgetting which stone people belong to which family and so the families become separated, too. Nobody stays together.

I’m afraid Marna will get mad at me like she does sometimes when I take too much blanket while we sleep, or when I cry because I drop the ice-cream from my cone and Mom doesn’t have enough money to buy me a new one, but Marna doesn’t get mad when she sees all of her families separated. She shrugs. That’s life, she says and skips away. I don’t know what she means but if Marna says it then it’s true.

Before we leave, the three of us brush our teeth in the parking lot drinking fountain, its water as cold as dripping glaciers. Marna holds the button while I stand tippy-toe to brush and spit. The water is so cold it makes my jaw ache.

Mom wipes off our feet with a towel and we all climb into the car barefoot, even Mom who has to drive. The windows are down and the air whips our hair into our faces and our bare feet tingle with the memory of the stones as the night comes for us.