It was our yearly cottage vacation on the beach, a time of fun and relaxation. We’d been doing this for a few years with two other families and it had become a beloved getaway for all of us. There were six kids altogether — three boys and three girls — and my daughters, Anna, five, and Avery, almost-three, had fallen in love with the sand and the lake.
The boys discovered a creek down the way with hundreds of tadpoles. They spent an entire afternoon catching them. All the kids were enthralled by the squirmy black creatures, and the boys created a “home” for them in a sand pail. They devoted additional hours to digging a hole in the sand to fit the pail perfectly, and creating a labyrinth of sandcastles and tunnels around it.
As the sun began to set, we cleaned up the scattered shovels and towels. As everyone else headed up to the cottage for dinner, Anna and I were the slowpokes, straggling behind.
“Mommy?” Anna called to me as I started heading up the dune. I wandered back. She was peering into the pail we had all left behind. “The tadpoles are still here,” she said.
I could sense her internal conflict immediately.
“They should have set them free,” she said.
“Maybe they forgot,” I suggested.
“No,” she said. “They built all this as a home for them. But they’ll die.”
Anna was clearly agitated, not sure what to do. Should she follow her instincts and risk upsetting the boys, or just walk away? I could feel her wrestling with the decision. I almost said something, but stopped myself. She was only five and of course I wouldn’t have judged either way, but I realized this was one of those opportunities to get a glimpse of the character she was developing.
Imagine my heart when she started digging the pail out of the place it was snugly nestled in the sand. Imagine my pride as she actually said the words: “I have to set them free. It’s the right thing to do.” I’ll never forget that moment.
“You’re absolutely right,” I said, and got down and helped her dig the pail free and upturn it into the creek.
As we walked up to the cottage, I heard her say, “It was the right thing to do” – more to herself than to me. As it should be.