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Childhood's Ever-Widening Circles

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Sarah was only 2 the last time we went to the beach. Overwhelmed by her first sight of the rushing water and the crashing waves, she hung back, clinging tightly to my hand. After a few minutes, lulled by the soft hiss of a retreating wave, she took a few cautious steps forward, only to run back to my side as the water came rushing toward her.

Slowly, over the next half an hour, she ventured out again and again, each time going a little farther and waiting a little longer before rushing back for reassurance. Before long, she was playing happily in the surf on her own.

As the afternoon wore on, I noticed that the tide was going out. The waves continually rushed in, but each time they retreated a little farther, so gradually that only the increasing rows of rippled watermarks on the wet beach gave it away. Sarah occasionally smiled at me over the growing expanse of glistening sand, unconcerned that she was slowly getting farther and farther away.

* * * *

One evening last year, I was about to retire for the night when I spied something sticking out from under my bed. It was Rose, Sarah's favorite doll. From the beginning, Sarah loved Rose so much that she hardly let the doll out of her sight. Rose had been everywhere with us: the mall, Grandma's house, McDonald's, the library, the dentist's.

Over the years, Rose had been a fairy baby, a mermaid, a princess, and a papoose. She had explored the jungle in the backyard, been the honored guest at a hundred tea parties, and soaked up countless tears.

As I looked down at Rose's sweet, worn face, I suddenly realized that I could not remember the last time I had seen Sarah playing with her. Slowly, over the last year, Sarah had been reaching for her less and less. She was beginning to outgrow her beloved Rose. After all, Sarah was almost 7.

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