My three-year old daughter has told everyone she knows that she is going to the beach this weekend. Sort of puts the pressure on her parents to actually deliver, no matter the weather, no matter the conditions. But as always, we will deliver because that is what parents ultimately do; we bring the simple desires to life.
I love the beach. My favorite memory of all time is sitting on the end of the dock, when the world is gray and hazy and the day is just starting, listening as the waves break themselves against the stoic sand. There is a quiet, a stillness that can not be duplicated anywhere on earth. Despite those out walking the sand around me, the dogs panting in the early morning heat, there is a loneliness that is almost spiritual.
I enjoy most of nature’s wonder. There is nothing like being surrounded by a forest of giant trees, listening as those that live there speak. The dirt path, created by the thousands of shoes before you, and the battle to survive and live in a world where the rules are determined by the predators that roam. There is a complex beauty there. But in front of the ocean there is a more simple one.
Sitting on a dock’s many stairs, with your feet hovering over the cool sand that hasn’t seen water in years, and being close to the power of water without being tripped within it, is simple. The sun breaking the horizon, and the steam from the perfect cup of coffee, allows for a peace, a moment that life doesn’t offer that many times. There is a connection I can feel; not to the animals, not to the sand or the waves, but to the loneliness.
I come by my love of the ocean naturally. My grandmother, my bipolar grandmother, was insistent my whole life that her family would meet once a year at the ocean. And we did. We would spend weeks playing, collecting shells, and eating delicious foods. The grownups would play marathon Trivia Pursuit contests, while the children would try to stay awake to listen. There would be one day of going into the city and shopping while the men played golf. There was a ritual to the vacations, a comfort when surrounded by the happy laughter of those I loved most.
The ritual would change as more and more children came to this world, and it would change as those children grew. But I could remember the beginning when it was magical. When the laughter coming down the halls of the beach house, was worth all the horror of sleeping in a new bed. I remember the 16 hour drives, when my parents would wake me up in Atlanta so I could see the lights. I remember all these moments going to the beach, living on the beach, and even leaving the beach. It is probably one of the happiest moments of my childhood.
My grandmother would go into the water and float with her toes above the waves. There was nothing scary about not being able to see under the water, there were no jellyfish or sharks, because my family was right there. There were long walks that were never felt, because my hand could latch easily onto my mother’s. There was magic.
Of course, the beach that I take my children to is much different. It has showers so a visitor can change after a long day in the sand. There are few homes on the beach I go to, but there are thousands of tourists looking for the same things I am. I go in the middle of the day, instead of the early morning dawn when the beach is just starting to stretch its arms for another full day. And there are life guards with huge chairs that I have to walk around to find a sunny spot.
There is still the unknown under the water; the questions revolving around the steps I am taking and the poor animals I am probably crushing. There is still the lookout for jellyfish and other animals, and there are still the long walks but with no one’s hand in mine. But the water and the ocean are further away from me, because these days I approach it like a mother instead of a friend. Finding the same peace and wrapping it around like a warm quilt is close to impossible.
Despite the impossibility there are so many things that I want to give to my children. I want them to know what it is like to have family vacations, and to see the early morning dawn from a different perspective. I want them to know what it is like to be so crammed into a beach house that you literally have to step over people sleeping on the floor. I want them to feel the comfort of knowing that no matter what someone will want to go into the water the exact same time that you do. I want them to look down a long series of tables in a seafood restaurant with nets and buoys on the wall, with no hope of hearing whatever is being said on the other side. I want them to feel the disappointment that because of their gender they are forced to either go shopping or golfing.
I want to give my children the wonder of family before their natural inclination is to run as far away as they can. It is one of the main reasons I always wanted four children; so I could recreate those summers. So I could recreate the childhood romantic memories of laughter, loudness, and excitement. I wanted my children to feel it; I wanted my grandchildren to feel it.
I have resolved myself to the fact that I literally can not have four children. My health simply won’t allow it. But I will never give up the memories. I will never stop seeking those early morning dawns, when the world is as perfect as it can be. I will never stop longing for the salt, the moist air, and the power only the waves loving the sand can give us. I will never not need those perfect moments of silence in the thousands, the stillness in the movement, and the abject loneliness of a world I do not live in. For now, I will simply remember it in my thoughts, and hope that once again this weekend I can have a moment that will have to last me a lifetime.