The Ocean in a Jar

When we arrived at our Ocean Isle beach house, my sister, Katy, gave each of the kids a Mason jar to fill with sand and shells. She decorated the lids of the jars and each jar had a tag around it that said, for example, “Owen’s First Beach Trip, Ocean Isle 2011.” I loved them. She is so creative like that.

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Early August, while the boys were napping, Sophie and I decided to make all three ocean jars (the boys, sand, breakable jars and fragile shells do not mix—so we decided to make theirs for them, and then put them up high in their bedroom to enjoy from afar, until they’re older). First, we dumped all the shells on the kitchen table.

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Next, Sophie filled the jars with sand.

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Then she picked out the shells she wanted for each jar, and put them in. Although I wanted to, I stopped myself from telling her how much sand, which shells I thought were prettiest, and where and how I thought they should be placed. Rather, I let Sophie make them completely on her own. As such, she filled them so full with sand. And then she simply threw any old shells in, not caring if they were upside down or right side up. Some, she even buried. But they are hers. And her brothers. And she loves them. And I’ve always told myself that if my children want to color outside the lines, I will let them.

You can see the finished ocean jars above. Also, this is what our kitchen table looks like on a daily basis—a basket overflowing with art supplies, rolled craft paper, Alphie, a plastic bowl full of paint, a glass of water with Queen Anne’s Lace in it, a glass bowl with two Impatiens in it (Sophie loves to pick flowers and give them to us as gifts), the ocean jars and a big glass bowl filled with the extra shells.

I love a beautifully decorated table. If I had the money, I’d have a vase overflowing with fresh flowers on my dining room table always. And I’d throw dinner parties, often, ones that allowed me to do clever things with place settings and the centerpiece. But lately, I’ve been finding just as much joy in a hand-turned wooden bowl filled with clementines (which Sophie eats at least four of daily, now that she can peel them herself) on our formal dining room table. And I absolutely love the mess of our kitchen table. Especially because it’s not a mess of bills or freelance work or dirty dishes. Rather, it’s a mess of art and creativity and play. And I may not have believed this about me five years ago but these days, I’d pick a tiny glass bowl with two floating Impatiens in it, picked by the daughter I love, over a big bouquet any day.

Thank you, Aunt Katy, for the ocean jars. We had so much fun finding the shells and making the jars, and they’re a keepsake I know the kids will love, always.

“The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach—waiting for a gift from the sea.” —Anne Morrow Lindbergh