We took the boys to the beach this morning.
They picked up these flags at the Florida state line welcome center.
Since this weekend is the Hangout Fest in Alabama, we headed east to the lovely gulf shoreline along the Florida panhandle – less than an hour from home.
Crushing a sand castle with his mighty strength
I’m sort of in this picture, too
We packed light – a couple of juice boxes, some toys. I packed a backpack for each boy with a towel, some fruit snacks, a water bottle, and their swimsuit. I wore my new Popina Swimwear suit (not a paid ad – I linked to it on purpose to share it with all of you. Retro suits, super comfortable, no tugging to keep it in place . . . love it, highly recommend it, will put some pix of me in it below). We threw a few other items in a beach bag and were off down the highway, wind in our hair.
Speaking of hair . . .
The neon sunnies are from the Color Run, and I sorta love ‘em.
Side view. In case you’d like it modeled by a non-model.
We spread out a double-wide beach towel – a gift from The Professor’s aunt, given to us many years ago – and anchored the corners with our bags, shoes. I put the boys in their swimsuits and rash guards, we all applied copious sunscreen, and then waded through the deep, powdery white sand to dip our toes in the surprisingly rough Gulf waters.
The boys were satellites, sometimes letting go of my hand and braving the waves solo, wandering further and further away, then hurling themselves at my legs and grabbing on, nervously giggling. They tumbled a few times. We tried to let them find their own feet.
We took breaks from being in the water to build sandcastles – me fetching water in buckets, to and fro, to and fro, while The Professor showed them how to fill a bucket with wet sand and then flip it over on a flat spot, lifting the bucket carefully, carefully. We adorned the castles with the two mini-American flags they’d picked up at a rest stop. They knocked them all down, making monster sounds, RAWWWRRRR, filling their clothes with sand, their hair with sand.
Today I was in the waves, up to my knees or more, holding Liam’s hand. We caught a piece of kelp, and I showed it to him, told him what it was called. Suddenly I was spun back into my high school days, when I used to live in Northern California. We would go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, look at the otters and sea lions, walk along Cannery Row and eat at Domenico’s on the pier. Sometimes we would go to Santa Cruz, watch the surfers. When we drove over the mountains (who is “we?” friends, faceless friends), we would buy cherries from a roadside stand, warmed from the sun, and eat them and spit the pits out the window as we drove, the wind in our hair.
I remembered also the beach trip I took with my family four years ago, in Pensacola. Jack was just one year old. We stayed on the Navy base in special military beach housing. I went for long walks at night with my sisters, watching others with flashlights and nets, crabbing by moonlight. We went to an air and space museum. My brother’s girlfriend was there. The Blue Angels flew overhead, practicing for an air show, and we watched. The next year, when Liam was just a few months old, we went to Sandestin with The Professor’s family. It was a period of high seaweed, the one week out of every year when the entire first few feet of water is blanketed in the stuff, and wading out into the water was like moving through stewed collard greens. Slimy, warm, green, and smelly. We played games in the evenings on the table in the family room, left the balcony door open, sea wind drifting in. My mother-in-law made jokes about chucking in a ham hock and calling it dinner.
Today, holding Liam’s hand as he was thrown around roughly by waves, I was in the here and now and also in all of those other places at once. I’m struggling to write this in a non-ridiculous way, but I began to feel as if all of my beach vacations were little stars, pinpricks of light on a vast black expanse, and that together they formed a constellation that means Beach Vacation to me, in my life. Like they were separate stories themselves, but also together drew a bigger, more nuanced picture. And then I pondered that everything we do, every experience or memory or minute is a star in our sky, and the way you string them together in your own mind and heart is your own little set of constellations. I thought of beach memories, but I could just as easily have recalled every time Liam had held my hand, or each time I had played in sand with my boys, or each time I’d spent a Saturday morning in fun with them. You connect your stars in different ways and you read different constellations, and thus do you stand back and behold the expanse of your life, summarized in a meaningful way, but with individual moments still clear to you.
And back when neither of us had jobs, and money was tight and seemed like it always would be tight, and it felt like we would never get out – my constellations were more ominous patterns, looming, bright but frightening. Now when I look at the expanse of my life and the pinprick star experiences scattered across it, I see only beauty . . . luck . . . love and happiness.
Anyway. Perhaps in time I’ll learn to express how this image came to me in a better way, but at one point I looked down at the seaweed clutched in my son’s little chubby hand and I saw galaxies, nebulae, a whole field of stars splashed across my mind’s eye, a translucent film laid across the knobbly spreading pattern of an ordinary piece of kelp.
Then he tumbled, was caught in the pull of a wave, and I dragged him up by the hand, both of us a bit startled, laughing out loud. ”Do it again! Do it again!”
We did it again.
The little man himself, in profile