Sure enough, by the time we'd eaten dinner (pizza at JoJo's - very good), secured a deal at the Showboat (Jim got a room for a little over $80), and gotten settled, it was dark. Jim had visited Atlantic City about ten years before and had found the boardwalk pretty questionable after dark. He was reluctant to take the children out, but I'd read about a double-decker carousel and insisted we go.
He asked me to check hours and addresses on the Internet, and sure enough, the carousel was running at the time, and it was in comfortable walking distance of our hotel. At this point (even after my quick Internet search), we didn't really have a sense of the Steel Pier; we set out for a carousel that we imagined sitting by itself on the boardwalk.
Then we walked up on this:
We were all pretty excited.
And the swings! The swings went really high and didn't merely go around in a circle, but also tilted...and flew out off the side of the Steel Pier and over the Atlantic Ocean. I still can't believe my little daughters were tall enough to ride safely, but they rode one after the other, each nestled against me in a shared seat. I love the swings best of all rides, but my heart beat wildly as I tipped and swung and flew out over those dark waters with my squirmy treasures.
Chip did not appreciate seeing his mama swing so far up, out, and away, so after both girls had ridden with me, Jim suggested ice cream. I nudged him as he approached the counter. "Pay extra," I said, "for sprinkles." Just after, this happened:
I didn't know that was going to happen; I'd never seen that expression on his face before, and I haven't seen it, since. But I'll never love a photo more, because it will always remind me of our warm night by the sea. It will remind me that I'm right, sometimes. Prepared, sometimes. It will remind me that I'm not afraid of the darkness or what might happen when I shouldn't be (because, in fact, every stranger's face seemed open and friendly in Atlantic City, and we felt perfectly safe).
This photo will remind me that I know how to mother the small people with whom I've been entrusted. I don't know how to mother other children, but I know how to mother my own. I know how to give them the best of what I am, and have.
If you're like me, you doubt, sometimes. You compare yourselves to others, sometimes. But you shouldn't. You needn't. Your way is undoubtedly the best way for those with whom you've been entrusted. And if for some reason it's not, your heart will tell you, and you'll adjust as we humans are wont to do. You'll make amends. You'll do the best you can, always, and you'll be loved for your well-intentioned failures and not in spite of them. You'll be loved because you're you and not because you're perfect.