Illuminated Parenting

Stuck in the Sand

On a rare, sunny winter day, Jack and I are walking an ocean beach when we notice a car in the distance that is oddly low in the sand. It doesn’t look good from a fair distance away and even worse as we get closer. We come upon a young mother, her two small children, and a feeble grandfather puzzling over how to get their car out of a deep hole. A cold wind whistles by as the mother pulls out sand pails and tiny shovels to dig out the tires. Jack and I each grab one and join in. The younger girl pitches in while her brother begins to find interesting things to do on the beach. The grandfather, showing me his wrist brace, explains he can’t help due to recent carpal tunnel surgery. He seems a little befuddled, upset, but helpful as he keeps an eye on the children and a smile on his face.

Try as we might, no matter what, the just tires spin deeper into the ground.

The call for a tow truck is made, he arrives amazingly fast, but is not what we expect. It’s a car the size of a Ford Explorer with a winch on the front. We all look at each other. Where’s the big tow truck? The driver gets out and assesses the situation. He walks this way and that, has a shovel to test the firmness of the sand in various places, he paces the space between the car and the incoming tide. We have about fifteen feet of space between the thin edge of the foamy waves and the car. It is fortunate it’s almost high tide. Still it adds an extra tension as we watch this family give all their hopes to this local tow man who confidently states he’s gotten cars out of the surf. We all say a silent prayer he can move this car before the tide comes any closer.

People come and go, some stop but most move right on past. Some are shaking their heads as if they are thinking, silly woman driver, doddering old man, they should have known better. I might think that too but I’ve been around too long to know that bad things happen, experience is a tough teacher at times and we can’t predict every outcome. Many, many drivers venture onto the beach. The mother repeats often how they were here yesterday with no trouble at all. She seems distraught, perplexed. The grandfather expresses guilt since it was his idea to come back today.

I find a log, damp and cold, to sit and watch with the grandfather, to offer my support and optimism. The kids have made a seesaw out of some beach wood. We watch them for a moment when he says to me, “This comes at a bad time. She’s a new single mother with a world of problems on her shoulders.” I ask if she was widowed but he shakes his head. It turns out she was a long time victim of domestic violence from a man she married at the age of twenty. The first time he hit her was on their wedding day. It became increasingly worse over time, he was in and out of jail, until finally she was able to get a divorce even though he threatened to kill her if she did. The grandfather shudders with the thought. I do too.

The grandfather told me he sold his house to buy another the ex-husband hopefully wouldn’t be able to find. He also said with a furrowed brow that if the ex-husband really wanted to find them, he could. There was some relief now, since he is currently in jail, but that won’t last forever. The courts granted this fragile family a lifetime restraining order but that won’t stop a determined individual. All they could do was try to put their lives back together one day at a time.

Now I look at the children playing quietly in a different light.

What have they seen? What fears do they hold? What do they believe about the world and it’s safety? And this mother, standing resolutely, watching her car slowly winched free of it’s sandy grave. Another problem, likely a major expense at $250.00 for this fledgling family. How would the people coming by on the beach, judging this woman as they walk away, think differently if they knew her, as a person rather than their assumptions?

As the car is freed and turned back toward the way out, the family is called to pile in because once they get going they won’t stop until they are on solid ground. We say our goodbyes, hugs all around. The grandfather generously attempts to give us some cash, which we politely decline. I can only hope they are able to find the resources they need to put their lives on track, to overcome whatever trauma they have experienced so they can flourish and find the joy in life.

What kind of help does this woman have from friends, other family, or society as a whole I wonder? Do you contribute to those who can’t help themselves? What do you model for your kids? How do we keep from judging those we don’t know, or from lumping them into a group of lazy takers? What beliefs about people in need do you pass on to your kids?

It seems to me that the car stuck in the sand is also a metaphor for this family. Their lives were stuck, isolated, and scary. Strangers came to help, bonds were made, and with group effort of all kinds, this family was freed. As they head out, the tow truck pulling the car with a fat, yellow rope, I send with them my love, my peace and my hope that they continue to find good people who can give them the help they need. Jack and I watch them head back to safety.

I want them safe. Now. Forever.



  1. Myrna says:

    Oh, Melinda thank you so much for this story. You write so well, and are so compassionate. Now I will wonder about this small family and pray for their safety! (hot tears!)

  2. Darrell Kirk says:

    Thank you Melinda. Great story and observations

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