“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!