This is about Kingston and Lincoln, the two lovely boys I met at a beach in Panama City. At the end, I will also write about sea oats, that tall grass we see lining up beach shores. It’s upto you to find the connection I’m making between them.




It’s around 5:15pm on the 2nd of April. Here we are, barely out of our food coma and on our way to the St Andrews State Park. Our afternoon has been practically eventless. I put together a cheesy pasta casserole, and stuck it into the oven at the place we were renting for the week.

After that we, all five of us including our dog Yogi, passed out on couches and beds for a deep siesta. What else can a brown man do in the mid afternoon heat of Florida? Tanning like the “American” is out of the question, we’ve got enough of that.

Panama City Beach, PCB, has its share of fabulous gulf coast beaches, but St Andrews is supposed to be one of the best in Florida. It’s obvious we’re eager to get in to spread our blanket on the sand and stare at the sky until the sun sets.

As we get off CR 392, also known as Thomas Drive, we arrive at the entrance to the park. We pay the $8 entrance fee to the ranger at the booth and drive ahead.

As we park, we start taking our beach chairs, blanket and the ice box out of our Jeep. I see an old Toyota highlander parked next to us and two kids clamoring on each side of a middle aged woman. The boys are barely 3 feet tall, and they have wet shorts and no shirt on.

The liftgate is open and blankets fill the left side of their trunk. Tupperware boxes fill the right side. One of the Tupperware boxes is in her left hand and with her right hand she is holding a triangle shaped peanut butter sandwich.

As my boys head towards the board walk, I continue cleaning up the back of our Jeep so I can eves drop on their conversation.

The younger one, is looking up at his mom and the sandwich as she speaks. He reaches for her arm and takes the sandwich from her. He starts biting into it and when he catches my eye, he gives me a shy smile.

I can’t hear what the boys are saying, but a few seconds later the mom puts the box down, and picks them up one by one. She plops both of them on the bed of the trunk. “I am doing my best boys, I really am trying my best. Please try to understand.” My heart strings are tying themselves in knots, as I wonder if the woman is going to cry.

I reluctantly close the liftgate of our Jeep and head towards the beach looking around for my boys. As I walk on the board walk, I take off my flipflops to feel the soft white sand between my toes. On either sides of the boardwalk, tall grass with their golden colored sea oats swaying gently with the wind make a natural fence to the beach.

I spot our picnic blanket a few feet to the left. The boys are busy setting up their spike ball rim and net. I approach my husband and we start walking along the water line. The water is cool and I feel like I’m the original Big Foot, when I see my feet sinking into the sand.

Along our path, there is green mushy algae, a myriad of sea shells and a big flock of terns feeding on something at the edge of the water. The black cap, back of the neck, and the gray belly – will that make Terns or Seagulls? My husband and I debate and soon give up.

Whatever those birds are, we try walking without disturbing them, but they still take flight momentarily, only to settle back in the same spot a few seconds later. I just want to tell them in their language, “I won’t shoot you or grab you by the neck, relax.”

Under a white tent, a huge party of beach goers are playing Latino music so loudly, I wonder if the natural inhabitants of the beach learn a thing or two from these manmade sounds. How can I tell these creatures, we humans are funny, we will listen to our music when we’re out in the nature, and listen to the sounds of rain and birds on our calming, meditation and mindfulness apps.



After we walk for a few minutes, we decide to turn around. We don’t want to wander off so much that Yogi won’t be able to see us. He’s going to get antsy. We didn’t realize until we drove upto the parking lot that dogs were not allowed on the beach. So, we tied him down at the edge of the sand next to our blanket.

Back at our spot, I decide to take a walk in the opposite direction of where we just went.

As I begin walking, from the corner of my eye, I see someone staring in my direction. I look up to see that same woman of the Toyota Highlander. She’s 20 feet from me, but we both are smiling at each other as our eyes meet.

I feel like she’s going to say something, so I pause my steps, and stand there looking at her for a couple of seconds.

“Can I …,” she doesn’t finish her sentence.

“How are you?” I say turning fully towards her.

“Can I give you these shells?,” she says as she stretches out her right palm that has 3 shells. “I feel like these are beautiful and I want to give them to you.”

“Sure, thanks,” I laugh as I open my palms and stretch them in front of her. This must be a new kind of pyramid scheme I think as I walk four steps towards her.

“Are you Indian?”

“Yes, my hemoglobin levels are dangerously low.” I half-jokingly say about my pale skin.

“My professor is Indian.” she says.

For a second I’m embarrassed for not fully embracing her question about my ethnicity, because she never acknowledges the joke. It’s completely possible that she didn’t get the joke – lack of red blood cells, makes one pale? OK, you know what, forget it. The more I write about it, the dumber I feel.

I close my fist around the shells and look around. I see, my husband and my boys play spike ball over to my left side near where Yogi is.

“The weather is gorgeous, isn’t it? And these birds and butterflies and this beach. It’s all so beautiful.” I say.

“Yes, it’s a perfect day for the beach.” She then adds, “Are you walking this way?,” pointing to the direction we are facing.

“Yes, do you want to walk with me?”

“Do you mind?”

“Not at all, we can hang out.” I say. “Hey, I’m Rachana.”

“Hi, I’m Christina. So nice to meet you.” She continues, “I can walk as long as I can see my little fellows here.” She says looking at the two boys making a sand castle a few feet from us. The boys who are bent over working on their castle, stop to stand up straight and look at me intently.

I wave, and the little one who had smiled at me while eating his PBJ earlier, smiles ever so mischievously at me. The older one stands there motionless as he looks at his mother and me. When his mother smiles at him, he hesitantly waves at me.

“It’s alright. I’m right here, I will be walking with this nice lady here.” She says as we start walking away from them.

“Mommyyyyyyyy.” The younger one starts running towards us and Christina stops to bend down and hug him. “This is Kingston.”

“Wow, that’s a cool name Kingston! How old are you Kingston?” I say almost squealing. I teach grade kids online and theatrics in a high pitch voice have become part of my life.


“He turns 5 next week,” Christina smiles and corrects him while pushing away his wet blonde hair from his forehead.

“Now go play, I am just taking a quick walk with Ms. Raashaana.” “Did I say that right?” She looks at me apologetically.

“That’s perfect!” I say.

As we walk, she says, “You have a beautiful family.”

I thank her and we keep walking silently for a few seconds.

“Are you from here?” I ask. It’s a question most people ask me in different ways. “You have great skin.” “Where are you originally from?” “Are you born here?” It’s hilarious the lengths people go to find out my origin story but doing it in ways they think is the least offensive. And now, I’m doing the same with Christina who has pitch black hair and has a kid with blonde hair.

“No, we are coming from Georgia.”

“No way, we are from Atlanta.”

“Oh, yeah? We live in Valdosta.”

“Do you come here often? It’s our first time to this side of Florida. We’re so happy we did.”

“I used to come here all the time with their dad. We love that grand lagoon over there,” she points to something over my back. I turn around to see a big dune with patches of grass and sea oats.

“Behind that, there are all kinds of birds that come to feed on the fish. The birds that are nesting come here. It’s beautiful. My boys love bird watching from our tent.”

I look at her, and she continues, “We’re camping here for 3 nights. It’s 28 dollars a day, it’s not bad.”

As she stops talking, I look at her only to follow her gaze to her own fingers.

“Oh wow, I’m sorry, are you OK? You look like you’re cold?” Her bony fingers are trembling and for the first time, I notice that her lips are shivering too. “Hey, I must be having a jacket in the car. I have some towels you can use.” I continue talking because that’s what moms do when we see people in distress.

“Yes, I am actually very cold. I’m thinking maybe my boys are too.”

“Yeah, yeah, let’s see if they’re OK.” I say as we walk as fast as we can without sinking into the sand with each step.






On my way to the boys, I wondered how as I age, I sound more and more like my mother. Here I was admonishing a 45 year old stranger. Funny. After we practically run to the kids, I see that both the boys seem to be cold too.

“Do you mind watching over them, I will get our towels from the car.”

“Of course, not. But, you can use our towels, they are washed.”

“No, thank you, I have plenty in my trunk. Boys, I’ll be back in 2 minutes.”

As I keep an eye on the boys, I watch their momma disappear behind the long stems of sea oats.

Kingston is collecting shells and filling up the bed of a toy pickup truck. The pickup truck keeps moving away from him as small waves hit it. Kingston moves towards the truck, but doesn’t make attempts to move to a location where the waves can’t reach him or the truck. Lincoln doesn’t seem too impressed with his sandcastle but all the same isn’t ready to abandon his kingdom.

Every 7 seconds, the boys look in my direction to see if their one anchor in their mother’s absence is still there or not. I stand firmly in one place, as if to ensure them that I’ll be there for them no matter what.

2 minutes she said, its way longer than that at this point. If she doesn’t come back, I will fight for their custody instead of surrendering them to the state. But at this age, am I really capable to raise two young boys all over again? If anything, the beach has security cameras and we will get her license plate. But, this is not about her, it’s about the poor boys she’s leaving behind. What’s going on, I’m crazy. I’m wayyyyyy overthinking this.

13 minutes later, I see her face. I smile at myself for my thoughts. Did I notice relief in the boys’ faces or was I imagining things?

“Thanks so much.” She says as she wraps up the boys in big beach towels and starts walking towards me.

“If you want to sit, we can just sit.” I suggest.

“Yeah, let’s just sit here for a few minutes.”

We plop ourselves down on the sand and I look behind me to see if my boys were still there. My husband is lying down on the blanket, so I feel relief from the guilt that I’ve abandoned him to chat with a stranger. She needs me more than him at this time, I rationalize with myself.

“The seagulls and the terns are here all morning and afternoon. The racoons come at night. My boys like to chase ghost crabs. They take my phone to use it as a flashlight in the dark. They are chasing those crabs to catch and let them go. They can do it for hours, if I don’t ask them to cut it out and come for bed.” We both laugh when she stops.

“As summer comes, we have to be careful with using too much light on the beaches. The turtles are mating until after Labor Day.”

“Aww, that’s a nice thought. But, my goodness, it looks like you’ve done your PhD here on the beach! How do you know so much?”

“Actually, we come here 4 times a year. September is when red tide season starts. There’s a lot of algae in the water, and these waves become very dirty.”

“Do your boys see their dad now?” I ask.

“Yeah, only when I can bring them here. He runs his own shop, so he can’t go out of town so much. He will be here tomorrow morning, he’s taking them in his friend’s boat for a couple of hours and then to lunch.”

“Christina, I’m a writer, so I hope you don’t mind me asking these questions. I just want to understand how everyone is doing in life.”

“No, not at all. It feels good to talk to an adult once in a while. What do you want to know?” And without waiting for answer, she continued, “I was born in Colorado and lived all my life there. I moved to Valdosta 6, 7 years ago.”

We are not looking at each other, but straight ahead at the sea where there are a few ferries carrying people on a sunset cruise.

“Do you feel overwhelmed? Do you get any me-time for yourself? What about money?”

“I take care of my friend’s house in Valdosta, so they let me stay there rent free. They’re retired and they go on cruises most of the year, so it works out. They have no kids, so they’re nice to me.”


“You asked me about my me-time, I will have a little bit of a break when their dad will take them for a few hours tomorrow.”

“Hmm..” I take a deep breath and tilt my head in her direction. She’s sitting to my right.

She draws her knees close to her chest and cradles them with her bony arms. She’s wearing a black oversized beach cover up and her legs are bare from the knees down.

“My mother’s old and my daughter thinks she can’t leave her grandma and move here. She’s 23 and works in a bookstore in Boulder. But, she’s pregnant, so I want to see her and cook for her.”

“Wow, wait a second, you’re going to be a grandma?”

She laughs throwing back her head into the wind. “Yeah!”

“Congrats Christina!”

“Yeah, but my mom thinks I didn’t do a good job with my life. She thinks I could have done better raising Sammy. And Sammy thinks I’ve abandoned both of them to move to Georgia. The funny thing is that they both can’t get along with each other.”

“Well, they have one common enemy.” I say to which she laughs.

“Why did you move to the East, if your life was in Colorado?” I ask.

“I just wanted a fresh start. Honestly, after my dad left, I was done with everyone. I was done taking care of everyone around me.”

“And now, I have these two.” She laughs looking at them.

I turn to look at the boys as I smiled dryly.

“Your shoulders are so symmetrical. Mine, I just have to keep scrunching them up and down to keep them from hurting.”

“Oh really, when did you notice that?” I look at her.

“I’m studying to be a chiropractor, so that’s what I first see in others.” She laughs.

“Do you know, we all store our stress in our shoulders?” I say.

“Oh yeah, that explains it. My upper back and my shoulders are very stiff all the time. I keep massaging them as best I can from what I learn in class. I’m doing my masters in Physical Therapy in VSU.”

“What’s th…”

“Valdosta State,” she says even before I finish my question. “Oh, your son is here.”

I turn around to see my younger one approaching us pointing to my husband in the back. My husband is pointing at the sun.

“Wow, I didn’t even notice that! Thank you boo” I turn to say to my son as the red orange ball sinks into the ocean. I am amused and frustrated with myself for not paying attention to the sun even though I was facing it all this time.

I can sense every single head on the beach is fixated on that symbolic “end of the day” event. It’s a mute tribute to the eternal power of nature, and one we all hold in deep awe.

“You might have to go.” Christina says, her voice softer than before. I look towards where my boys are and they are on the blanket staring at the sun.

“Yeah, I guess. I will just sit with them for a few minutes. Hey, but, I’m so grateful you decided to talk to me. Thank you so much.”

“Thank you Rashana, I am so glad I saw you.”

“Hope you’re raising them with a sense of autonomy. How long will you spend your life taking care of everyone else around you?” I turn to look at her boys as I say it. “If you’re raising them to take care of themselves well, you’re all set. We won’t be here forever right?”

“I am trying. I’m trying my best. I think they will be OK. They know how much I’m trying to give them a good life.”

“You know what? Even I can see that.” I say as we both get up.

“I’m so tired. But I am happy that I met you.”

I don’t remember who initiated it, but we both reach out to hug each other.

“Thank you, likewise.” I say as I tousle Lincoln’s hair for the final time.

As I walk away, I stop to turn and I see Christina looking at me. “Hey, can I have your number?”

“Yes, of course, why didn’t I think of it myself!”

“I won’t call and bother you, I would like to message once in a while.”

“No problem, but I just had a question, don’t mind me asking. How do you know this retired couple in Georgia if you lived in Colorado all your life?”

“Oh, John was my dad’s neighbor growing up. They were best friends. John says I remind him of my dad.” She smiles.

“Oh, wow, OK. If I’m writing about you, this is a question my readers might have.”

She laughs, “It’s ok, no problem.”






It’s 7:03pm. The sky is a bright salmon pink. To my left, the waters of the Gulf of Mexico are lapping at the boulders. To my right, the Sun has gone away to say it’s hello to all the early birds in Japan.

We pull our blanket together and as we start walking to the parking lot, I make an attempt to fold it. Yogi is next to me on his leash, just happy to regain his semi-free existence. I look back one final time to see the children I am leaving behind.

Kingston is bent over his brother’s sand castle as he crashes into it with his pickup truck, the bed of which is now full of a heap of shells. Lincoln has abandoned his monarchy and his castle and is kicking the algae back into the ocean. Christina is looking at her phone.

After a few steps, when I look back, all I can see is the sea oats blocking my view of the beach. They’ve lost their bright orange hues and look pale wheat under the darkening sky.





Sea oats are not just your pretty face on the beach. They have a hard life. Salt from the ocean winds coats their leaves and stems. Winds and high tides bring sand all over them most days. Sea oats can also endure long periods of drought.

But, inspite of their tough life, sea oats do very well in poor soil. What might kill other plants around them only makes them stronger. Their rhizomes, the underground stem network that generates lateral shoots and adventitious roots at intervals, reach 40 feet below the sand’s surface.

In fact, there’s no point being too nice to sea oats. If the soil is rich and fertile, other plants will grow eventually choking out the sea oats.

These sea oats will remind me of children who are happy on the outside and tough on the inside. Those children who smile for the camera hiding everything they will endure in hard times. Just like how Lincoln and Kingston did for me when I asked them to stand next to Yogi.

Where I live, there are no sea gulls, dragonflies or sandpipers. And where I live, I don’t know how many Lincolns and Kingstons walk my street. Unless, a Christina will decide to spare an hour of her life with me.





* Christina In Valdosta: Name of the mom and her city changed on purpose.


* * *


About The Article Author:

Our mission with FutureSTRONG Academy – to grow children who respect themselves, their time and their capabilities in a world where distractions are just a click or a swipe away.

I see myself as an advocate for bringing social, emotional and character development to families, schools and communities. I never want to let this idea out of my sight – Our children are not just GPAs. I’m a Writer and a Certified Master Coach in NLP and CBT. Until 2017, I was also a Big Data Scientist. In December of 2044, I hope to win the Nobel. Namasté

Write to me or call me. Tell me what support from me looks like. 

Rachana Nadella-Somayajula,
Program Director & Essential Life Skills Coach for Kids and Busy Parents

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