“Down the shore everything’s alright”
— “Jersey Girl,” performed by Bruce Springsteen
There is something magical about summer at the shore. That sounds super cheesy, but as with most cliches, it’s also true. I love the beach. I grew up vacationing with my family down the shore, so I feel like it’s part of who I am. Honestly, I’m glad Foggy Daddy likes the beach because that might have been a deal breaker for us if he didn’t (just kidding…sort of).
We just got back from a “magical” (yes, here’s that cheese again) week in Long Beach Island, NJ. I love LBI – it’s less tacky that the boardwalks of Seaside and Point Pleasant (sorry), but still has a small amusement park and arcade (tactfully situated away from the beach). There are mini golf and shops and restaurants. Yet it maintains a quiet, laid-back, residential feel. The beaches are wide and uncrowded. The pace of life is slow. People ride barefoot on bikes without helmets (yes, I know it’s not safe, but c’mon, it’s so breezy, isn’t it?). I witnessed some great free-range parenting as we waited in line for ice cream at 9:30 pm behind a group of five or so kids probably around nine or ten years old; and then walking home we saw many other kids strolling about, parent-less, too.
Rules are relaxed at the beach. Kids out late alone? No problem – they’re just getting ice cream. No helmets? Meh. I barely put on shoes all week, thanks to an oceanfront house with private access (courtesy of Mom and Dad). I scoffed every time FD dragged me off the beach at 6 o’clock with a “Don’t you think we need to feed our son?” reproof. “What a killjoy,” I mumbled. LM was fine — he’d had some pretzels an hour ago. It’s the beach, man. Relax.
This shift in attitude is huge for me. I’m normally quite, well, a bit
neurotic anal uptight. So for me to be the one to say, “What’s the big deal?” is a big deal. I’m not sure if it’s the salty air or the fact that no one else seems to care that they’re still sitting on the beach and their kids won’t eat until late and then they’ll get to bed even later. Time doesn’t matter. Looking out from the deck at night, we’d see little pings of light here and there – people on the beach, reveling in a night walk. Maybe it’s kids looking for lightening bugs with their dad. Maybe it’s husbands and wives sneaking out after their children are asleep to sit on the lifeguard stand like teenagers, as FD and I did.
Normally night is a scary time, as we fear the boogeymen who lurk around corners, bad people who are going to break into our houses or kidnap our children or rob us at gunpoint (or wait, is it just me who has an overactive imagination?). But at the shore, we hear peals of laughter caught on the wind as we walk down the darkened beach or on the street. We hear people in the shadows, talking, giggling, sitting on decks or patios or walking too, and we can’t see them but we know they’re there. Instead of being frightening, they make us feel like we’re not alone. Everyone is enjoying the same thing, this freedom from everyday fears and worries and just, well, life.
I think LM benefitted from a less stressed-out mom. I took an early-morning beach yoga class, and it was amazingly soul-cleansing to hear the waves in the background and feel the sand beneath my feet as we stretched into poses. One of the other women in the class, who owns a house there, said she never locks her doors, and that half of the island has a key to her house anyway. That’s the kind of no-worries life she leads down the shore.
Sometimes I think I should move somewhere where it’s warm all year-round, like southern California or the Florida Keys or even an island in the Caribbean. Maybe I would miss the seasons – as August ends I almost long for that gradual slip from the excitement of summer to the coziness of fall. But maybe I could do without it; maybe it would be worth it to have this type of peace all the time. OK, OK, yes you can never really escape from life; but I’m not even really talking about an escape — I’m talking about a different way of life, a different way of looking at life. One in which we savor moments and experiences and other people. One in which we aren’t so bogged down in the clutter of our lives. Maybe it’s idealistic, but I do believe that the beach culture is a valid permanent lifestyle.
At the very least I want to continue this yearly down-the-shore vacation for LM. But I think a week isn’t really long enough — I’m trying to convince my family to do a whole summer, or maybe at least a month. I could work from the beach house and my retired parents could watch LM… Or, I wonder how people afford a second home at the beach – how much money do you need? Could that be a possibility? Maybe we could all chip in. Hmm…
Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.
LM is still getting used to the water and the feeling of sand on his feet. He did enjoy pouring water out of buckets and climbing in and out of holes dug in the sand. He loved spending time with his cousins. We walked him through the arcade, watching his amazed face as he took in the sensory-overloaded atmosphere. He took naps in the tent on the beach. I hope he’s learning to love it the same way I did when I was a kid. I want those good old-fashioned, timeless memories for him, of hanging out at the ice cream parlor with friends, of looking for treasure in the sand, of having barbecues and going kayaking or maybe even sailing. I want him to have that “magical” experience, that kind of summer that seems removed from reality, an alternate universe where everything is good and easy and relaxed.
Even for just one week a year.
Do you love beach vacations, too? Tell me about yours!
Last summer my family visited some relatives in Virginia. One day, my husband, sister and I went for a hike in a state park with our babies in carriers, while my parents went to the lake there. After our walk, we had to call my dad to come and get my sister and her daughter, because we only had one car seat in our car. While we waited with my sister, my husband started our car to let it cool down, since it was a 90-degree day, and came to sit on a bench in the shade with us and the babies a little ways away. Then, a couple emerged from the wooded trail and walked to the little parking lot. They stopped and peered into our car. “What are they doing?” I asked my husband. As they continued to look in, cupping their hands around their eyes so they could see through the windows, I head the man say, “I don’t see a baby in there.” My husband, holding our son, walked over and asked them what was up. Having noticed it was running and seen the car seat, they were checking to make sure there was no child in the car. “We were just cooling the car off,” my husband informed them.
OK, so they were just looking out for a child who might have been left in a car alone…while his parents went for hike (who would do that?). But at the same time, the incident made me feel watched and under surveillance. Even though I wasn’t doing anything wrong, it made me feel like a potential criminal. I know, these people didn’t know me. I wouldn’t leave my son – especially to go on a hike, wtf!? – but maybe some parents would. But it unnerved me, that strangers were looking out for the welfare of my child. I felt like it was, honestly, none of their business.
My feelings probably stem from a deep-rooted fear that my child will somehow be taken away from me – I blame post-traumatic stress from my losses. Anyone who dares to intervene, even on behalf of my child, brings out my mamma bear instincts. He is my responsibility. No one else needs to look out for him. This is my job, and strangers have no right to take it away from me. I’ve got this.
I know my reaction probably isn’t rational. But I have seen other people, specifically moms, who seem very quick to judge the parenting of others, as if they know what’s best for other moms’ kids better than the moms themselves do. So when it comes to child safety, when is it OK to intervene? A debate on one of my FB groups arose the other day when a mom observed another woman leave a child in a parked car while she returned a shopping cart. The observer waited until the woman got back, and then took to FB to complain, saying that because the cart return area was far away and the woman had eyes off the car for a couple of minutes, it was not safe for the child. It was unclear from her post whether the car was running or not. The responses from other moms were mixed – some said that they strap their kids in first, start the car and then lock it while they return the cart. Others said they just leave the cart by the car. Others said they unload the groceries, return the cart, then carry the kid back to the car. Some moms argued that the kids were way safer inside a locked, running car than being carried or walking across a parking lot where they could be hit. Some moms were afraid someone would abduct their kids in the few moments they were alone.
We all know that leaving a child in a hot car is not acceptable. But what if the car is locked and running, or if it’s a cool day? How long is OK? Or is it never OK? I was haunted by this story of a mom who left her four-year-old in the car on a 50 degree day to run into a store for five minutes, was reported by a “good samaritan” and subsequently arrested. It seems we are all at the mercy of do-gooders who believe it’s their duty to police parents, all in the name of the safety of children.
I don’t agree with this. Yes, there are instances of immediate danger when action should be taken. But peering into car windows? Posting complaints about other moms on FB? Calling the cops after the fact on a mom whose kid was OK? I think we’ve gotten out of hand. Not only are we now supposed to be helicopter parents, but we are supposed to be helicopter bystanders as well. I support (to some extent) free-range parenting. I don’t believe the world is as scary as we think it is – it’s the media and the overload of information that’s done that to us, because statistically the world is safer than it was when we were growing up. I don’t live in fear of child abduction – I fear more likely occurrences, like car accidents, a lot more.
I’m sure I shouldn’t take offense at the well-meaning stranger looking out for my child at the park that day. Now that summer is here again, we do have to be mindful about children in hot cars, and maybe that guy was honestly just concerned. But I also don’t want to feel that my parenting choices are being judged by some unseen Big Brother who’s going to report my every move. There are a lot of gray areas between what’s OK and what’s not OK. I feel that it’s my right to judge where that line is for my child.
What do you think about strangers looking out for your children? Are you grateful or defensive about it?