We spent our month of village living on a tiny island nestled in a bay carved into the coast of the PNG mainland. The island had three huts, one for us, and one for our 'Wass Papa' ('watch father', or 'watch family', who looked after us and taught us how to do basically everything from poop in the outhouse perched over the mangrove swamp, to gut a fish), and one for our Wass Papa's inlaws. The bay was filled with little creatures that shimmered iridescent at night, leaving a starry wake when you moved a paddle or your hand through the water. There was one huge tree at the far end of the island, which had a rope tied to an extending branch, from which we'd swing with wild abandon into the bay.
Even at the mature age of 8, I had a special blanket with silky lining around the outside edges, which I would rub against my face while I sucked my finger. It was incredibly calming. And at this time of upheaval in my life, when we'd just left America and were living in drastically different conditions, that comfort was incredibly important to me. My mom, with her typical foresight, had cut a small piece off of my blanket to take to village living with us, so that the entire blanket wouldn't be accidentally dropped in a cooking fire and be lost forever.
Although I was supposed to leave my blanket piece at home, I snuck it out of the hut one day when I went to meet my Wass Papa's kids at the rope swing. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, an hour had been spent swinging out and then dropping into the water. When the fun was over, I realized, with a sinking stomach, that my blanket piece was gone.
I was hysterical. My mom responded the way I later would to my own kids: "Well, I'm sorry, honey, but it's your responsibility." My dad, on the other hand, responded the way Scott does now. He took his mask and snorkel, and went out in a Herculean attempt to locate one lost blanket piece in the vast ocean. An hour later, he came back, and told my sobbing 8 year old self the following lie:
"Honey, here's what happened to your blanket piece. A mommy fish was swimming along, looking for something soft for her baby fish. You see, the mommy fish's nest in the coral for the baby fish was hard and the poor baby fish was so uncomfortable. The mommy fish found your blanket piece floating along, and took it in her mouth and put it in her nest and now the baby fish has a nice, soft place to rest."
It took some convincing, but I eventually acknowledged that the baby fish needed my blanket piece more than I did.
It wasn't until my 20's when I realized that fish do not actually make nests like birds do, nor do they need soft things with which to line the nests.
Fast forward 24 years, and I am sitting at my kitchen table with my own 6 year old, talking about our upcoming beach vacation with the cousins. Sophie had never been to the beach before, and was excitedly talking about everything she wanted to do with Paige, her 4 year old cousin.
"We are going to splash in the ocean! And make sandcastles, and look for shells. And pearls. I want to make a shell necklace AND a pearl necklace with Paige."
Me: "Um, honey, pearls might be hard to find on the beach. You see, clams ..."
But Sophie interrupted me, "Oh, no, I am going to look REALLY hard for them. I'm really good at finding things, Mom. Paige will help me, and we'll find pearls and make fancy pearl necklaces together."
My heart softened, and I was struck by sudden inspiration. "You know," I said slowly, "Sometimes, you can find nests of pearls on the beach. Maybe you and Paige can look in the sand and find some pearl nests?"
A quick call to my sister in law and my mom set the rest of my plan in place. Weeks later, on our first day at the beach, my mom pulled me aside and showed me the strands of pearl beads she had found on sale at Hobby Lobby. I slipped down to the beach, created six 'nests' of pearls, and marked each site with a single bead on the top of the sand.
A few minutes later, the girls arrived at the beach, buckets and shovels in sand, and what followed were twenty minutes of wonderment and excitement.
Paige kept yelling, with a hysterical pitch to her voice, "We're RICH!!! We're RICH!!!", while Sophie grabbed frantically at the pearls and dropped them into her pail.
Yeah, I lied to my kid. But it was totally worth it.