I have the habit of referring to things I love as a “day at the beach”—everything from pumpkin muffins and steaming bread pudding to George Clooney and long foot rubs. But the truth is that there is nothing as glorious as an actual day at the beach.
We just returned from a week at the coast; it was the first time that our three daughters were balanced by three male significant others—the first time in 20+ years of beach trips that my husband wasn’t drowning in a sea of estrogen all alone. Given everything going on right now, it was a break we all needed. Of course, when we planned the trip back in March—checked eight peoples’ schedules, located a place large enough—we just knew that COVID would be over by mid-July. We never anticipated we would still be in the midst of the pandemic, still working from home.
Ever since we’ve been a family, our annual summer beach week has been a sacred tradition. How things have changed: Juice boxes have segued to Hydro flasks, goldfish packets to Charcuterie boards. But the ocean’s impact on us remains: Once we’re close enough to smell the sea breeze, our pulses slow and time is suspended. When our feet hit the sand and we hear the Gulf, layers of anxiety and pressure fall from us like the waves washing over the shore. As the mother of young children, our beach trip always offered me a change of perspective, endless ways to entertain the children, time together immune to work and school schedules. As the mother of grown children, a beach week now offers me something different: precious time together when for seven days and seven nights I know where and how each child is. FaceTime, as marvelous an invention as it is, is no substitute for long walks on the beach with the people who mean everything to you.
For me, there is something intangibly powerful about the draw of the ocean—its ability to cleanse me from the worries of the day and restore my faith in the world. Perhaps it’s because when I gaze at the ocean, I feel infinitesimal against it. Ironically, unlike other factors in my life which overpower me, the ocean’s vigor comforts me. I am soothed in the knowledge that the oceans have a rhythm that diminishes the world’s troubles. Waves roll in and out regardless of our ability to ride them. Right now, I need to believe in something bigger than myself.
One day this week we arose to an intense thunderstorm. We rode it out, occupying ourselves with books and games and mind-numbing television. We waited, hopes high that the day would turn around, and it did. Around one in the afternoon, the sun broke through and we hurried down to the beach. The rains had cooled the sand and the strong breeze made it an ideal temperature. It turned into the perfect day at the beach.
Somehow, thankfully, for 99% of the week, peace and harmony reigned over our eclectic household. At one point during a game, I was able to step outside of myself for a moment and examine my grown children and the people they love, and I liked what I saw. Like us, these three brown headed girls are flawed—but yet I can sense their sure-footedness as they embark on the long paths life holds for them. With us, or without us, they have become people you’d want to know. I look back at pictures from beach trips when the girls were little; I remember worrying then about how their educations would fare, whether they’d survive heartbreaks, whether we were endowing them with the confidence to create their own happiness. Now I know.
One new thought, dazzling in its clarity, occurred to me this trip. It dawned on me during a day when the men were all golfing and we girls were all together. The thought was this: that after all is said and done, I missed my one—the one person with whom I built this life, who gave me these rowdy, joyous, imperfectly perfect daughters. I realized what perhaps I had not articulated to myself before: that although times when our family reunites are such gifts, at the end of the day—of every day—I am happy to have my one person who knows my thoughts before I say them, who can communicate with just a glance, and with whom I do the daily dance of life. Before the girls, there was him, and together we are enough. Every year it has been our tradition to stroll the beach and make predictions about what the coming year will hold, big and small. This year we didn’t do that; perhaps we have both come to the age where we are past the point of wondering and making predictions. Maybe we both instinctively know there will be storms to weather— and that, together, the sun will always break through the clouds. Possibly we have learned to live in the present.
Tomorrow we all return to our work, our routines. But somewhere, rains are pelting the starched white sand, and as surely as the majestic oceans roar and relax, the skies will clear. For all of us, waiting for us, sustaining us, there will be that perfect day at the beach… if only in our hearts. Keep the faith.