Yesterday was a perfect day for the beach – warm but not too humid, a gentle breeze blowing, swirls of white clouds in the otherwise blue sky. My mom friends and I had planned this day trip weeks ago, so we were lucky the weather cooperated. Whether our kids would was another story.
We were supposed to meet at 10, but I didn’t arrive until 11. LM was asleep, but the stroller ride to the beach woke him up. I was left with a cranky pants who didn’t know what he wanted – water, food, toys, none of it seemed to appease him. On top of that, I had just gotten a Fit Pregnancy assignment, so I had to do some research and emailing on my phone right away. I begged him to play on his own so I could take a few minutes. But he wouldn’t.
Eventually he started to settle down. We walked down to look at the ocean, and his initial hesitation near the water morphed into an obsession with running towards the waves with abandon. “He’s fearless,” a woman sitting on a chair nearby remarked. “I know, and it’s making me nervous,” I laughed. “He’s making me nervous, too!” she responded. When a stranger says something like that, you know it’s not just parental anxiety.
I dragged him away from the ocean, screaming (him, not me, although I wanted to), and tried to get him interested in the sand toys. Eventually, he started playing by himself near the other kids. I asked one of my mom friends to keep an eye on him while I wrote my email. Once I was done, I felt like I could finally relax. But then the other moms started packing up to leave.
So I decided to stay on my own with LM. As my mom friends loaded up and started walking away, I hoped they didn’t think I was rude. Because I had gotten there late and had been preoccupied with work, I didn’t feel like I had really been at the shore for very long. I wanted to try to enjoy it – as much as one can while trying to make sure your kid is hydrated and fed and sunscreened up and not about to run directly into the ocean.
LM played by himself for a little while longer, letting me decompress and start to calm my mind. Then he suddenly pointed toward the waves. Oh no, not this again, I thought. But when we got down to the water, he asked to be picked up. I did, and he seemed to relax in my arms. I started to slowly sway with him. Although he had napped in the car on the way down, he was so tranquil it seemed as though he might fall asleep. I started softly humming Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song,” my lullaby for the beach, as LM took long, deep breaths. He put his head on my shoulder and his arms around my neck. I leaned into him, perfectly present and blissful in the moment. He suddenly lifted his head up again, and gave me a soft, serene smile. He pointed up the beach toward our chair.
Walking away from the ocean, I knew he was going to want to nurse. I usually don’t breastfeed in public anymore, because LM doesn’t ask and because he squirms all around and changes from boob to boob. But I decided this was the right time to do it – it is World Breastfeeding Week after all. I grabbed a towel to cover me a bit and pulled my bathing suit down. LM was not squirmy – instead he seemed perfectly restful. I wondered, then, if he could feel my moods and was taking them on. So when I was anxious about being late and having work to do, he was whiny and cranky; but when I was peaceful, so was he.
I try – and fail – so hard to be present in the moment, but my natural type-A personality has a very hard time with it. Even if I’m not actually multitasking, my brain has a way of drifting and thinking about other things besides what I’m doing right then. It makes me feel like I miss parts of LM’s life because I am so concerned about all of the other things going on.
I don’t know if it’s just the calming effect that the shore has on me that allowed me to, finally, accomplish being mindful and present. But in that moment at the beach, I wasn’t concerned with other things. I wasn’t distracted. I was absolutely focused on LM, loving and treasuring him and just being, well, content.
Do you also struggle with being perfectly present in your child’s life? Have you ever had a memorable mindful moment?
“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!