Tuesday, July 19, 2011


We have gone to the beach, my children and I, finally this summer, in mid July.

Our toes slide past the shoreline’s tickling foam fingers with hours and hours of traveled anticipation at our backs pushing us further and further into the crashing waves.

The first slap of ocean upon sun warmed flesh a shock delicious and bracing, and as familiar as breathing to me, thrown suddenly way back to my beach-washed childhood.

They want to go deep, my sons. Beyond the breakers, with me.

"Swim, mommy! I want to swim!" Jacob has been chanting over and over, impatient through the processes of establishing our beachhead; of blankets unfurled and corner weighted, towels piled at the ready, glasses securely stowed away.

He will not be denied.

We stand thigh deep in the churning foam as I test the ocean’s resolve to push us under, pull us out. The waves are dramatic but not demonic, the undertow manageable. It’s a go.

This first time I must take them out together, as neither will countenance being left behind, shore-locked and waiting.

When I was their age I was out in the deep on my own, body surfing the breaking waves as my father had taught me.  But these are city boys, our forays to ocean beaches few and far between. Once or twice a summer season. (Last year not at all, to my heart's sorrow.)

And I, after an urban beginning, was raised an Island girl, the south shore beaches my constant summer's terrain.

It was a casual thing for our family. Once a week, sometimes more, we'd toss our towels and a couple of peanut butter & jelly sandwiches into a bag and we’d be off to the beach. And then as a teenager, I would venture alone with friends on the Jones Beach bus.

With my sons, however, it's an outing, a sojourn, planned, scheduled, only attempted when the stars align and circumstances are just right. Like last Sunday.

They want to run headlong into the surf but I hold them back, an old hand at this game.

“Do you want to get trashed by the waves?” I ask them.

“Noooo!” they howl, seeking to be spared this indignity.

“Then wait for my signal, move when I move, and fast!” I instruct.

I stand looking seaward, study the waves as they collapse upon the many small sandbars that carpet the ocean floor here, engendering a complex pattern, difficult to properly time our approach.

I watch the ebb and the flow, making sense of what looks like chaos, and slowly the patterns emerge. There are occasional rogue waves coming in from the right, but basically these big waves come on: one, two, three, and then a little lull, one, two, three and then the lull, the outgoing wave canceling out the incoming one, creating calm, the appearance of stasis on the surface when below there is a swirling pas de deux.

“Now!” I yell, hoping I‘ve got it, that the wave I see beginning to swell out beyond the red ball buoy is going to be small, shallow, cresting once we are well beyond it. And indeed it is.

“Jump” I shout as the wave passes, rising us up with it, nowhere near ready to crash and crush.

(Yes, I’ve called it right.)

We bob and sway with the tide. Our faces split open in joy. You wouldn’t know which twin is autistic out here in the deep, both boys happily treading water, calmly following my instructions.

“Over, over!” I yell, and we rise up together, laughing into the spray. With Ethan tightly gripping my right hand and Jake my left, I am sincerely hoping my nose does not start to itch.

Occasionally a wave rises up and up, curls over us ominously, and our strategy changes. “Under!” I command and we dive below, surfacing to the screams of those being crashed upon, further ashore.

A double wave catches us by surprise, causing me to drop right into its crest, expecting a lull. As I snort some ocean water, I feel my feet starting to cramp and realize I have hit the point where my body is tiring of this constantly alert state. Time to head in.

The boys howl in protest, would stay out here all day, rising and falling in the swells with Mom. But I am the grown-up here, know when I am reaching my limits.

“It’s not safe anymore,” I tell them, “I'm getting too tired to keep you safe.”

“Nooooo!” they wail. But I am the Mom.

I turn my body toward the shore, but my head and gaze swivel back to watch once again the patterning of the waves. I want us to travel with them, to use the waves’ energy to bolster our flagging reserves, riding them shoreward.

I am trying to describe my process to Ethan, trying to teach, to pass on my knowledge; but this is hard, making explicit what is inside me mostly a feeling.

There are so many variables, chaos theory in action. There is my mind, calculating, looking at the swells: how high will they go, how fast are they traveling, how long it has been since the wave before, how fast it is being chased by the next, when and where and how large is the wave returning from shore to meet it?

But what is happening in the ocean at any moment is more than the sum of these parts. There is a gestalt to it, a knowing of the ocean, a sensing of her mood.

I can’t even say how I know what I know, but I know it. I feel it.

I have spent hours, days, years in the ocean and been trashed maybe thrice. Not in years.

And so when I yell to the boys “NOW! Move with THIS wave, let it carry you in!” I know it HAS to be this one; that hesitation will bring disaster, our timing off, the pattern all wrong and a wave will crash at our backs before we are far enough in, possibly throw us down, pull us under into a total sand-face-mash-up.

Not the end of the world, these waves too gentle for real damage; but still, a scary incident, a glimpse into the dark side of the ocean’s magic that I am not ready to invite yet into their sweet lives.

But lo, the boys listen, they move with me and the waves, let themselves be carried in.

And as our feet hit the sand we run, slogging fast towards shore. So the waves catch up with us too low to pull us under, a sandy tickling caress only.

We splash around in the shallows for a while, not quite ready to leave the salty sea. And as we drop onto the sand happily spent, let the receding tide tickle our feet, we look out at the noisy ocean and laugh. How we laugh.

They like to go deep, my sons.

This post was inspired by a prompt at The Red Dress Club. This week's RemembeRED assignment was to write about a time that rhythm, or a lack thereof, played a role in your life. And don’t use the word “rhythm.”
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