Sunday, August 17, 2014

Do you want to build a sandcastle?

The other question that I've often answered the wrong way is, "Are you coming in with us, Mom?"

 My usual answer is, "No thanks.  Not today.  You guys go ahead, though.  I'll be right here."

 And you can see why, right?  I've got the chair (slightly in the shade, as my Irish-pale skin just doesn't do full sun very well), plus the picnic cooler, the extra sunscreen, the towels, the big blanket for all the drippy, sand-caked, shell-sorting, seaweed-fighting post-swim creatures to sprawl on, once it's lunchtime: the perfect place to hold down the fort.

 And then there's my thighs, and other things that jiggle...  and what my hair will look like once it's wet, and the part about getting all sandy all over after swimming...

Yup.  I have all the right reasons for opting out, right? I mean, I even brought a book.  And there's always my phone to check, and knitting and... well, you get the idea.

But the other day, listening to someone talk about their childhood,  I heard this, as tears ran down the person's face,

"I never built a sandcastle with my mom. And she never came in swimming with us.  She pretty much missed my whole childhood."  

Yes, it's a leap from "no sandcastles" and "no swimming" to "she missed my whole childhood", but to that person, at that moment, that's how it FELT.  Someone's mom just couldn't or wouldn't allow herself to get all covered in mud and sand, to march that imperfect figure right down to the water's edge and plunge in, turning her 'do into a wet mop. 

And I totally get it.  How many times since I entered motherhood have I sat by the side of the pool, or in the beach chair, never once getting in the water?   I mean, it's cold, and it's gritty, and it gets everywhere, and everybody can see me... and what if I got all ugly, and then we had to go somewhere on the way home, like the grocery store?

When my kids were tiny, I somehow managed to get wet and sandy even on days when we *weren't* at the beach... But then the kids all got potty trained, and learned to walk steadily, and talk, and swim, and dig holes in the sand, and they seemed really ok with just my supervision from a short distance away.  And it was so nice to just sit there and watch, or knit, or gab on the phone.  It's nice.  It's relaxing, like a vacation.

But I almost missed someone's whole childhood.  Maybe.  So, today, on the 8th birthday of my youngest child, I arrived at the beach with my kids;  me wearing my comfy swimsuit (yes, I have a comfy swimsuit... they exist--that's a whole 'nother blog post)  slathered with sunscreen, equipped with a rash-guard shirt that would keep my chest, arms, and shoulders from getting all lobster-y.  And I got in that chilly water, dodged the bits of seaweed, laughed at the kids' homemade floating toy: a t-shirt wrapped around a beachball and dubbed, "Bob" (middle school humor), and I acted like a watery goofball until I got cold enough to need a dry-land break.

What a great day.  What was I afraid of?  I got all ugly and sticky and sandy, and there was no place to shower, blow-dry and re-coif... but who cares?  On the way home, in total disregard of my unsuitable appearance, we even stopped off to visit some elder friends of ours who live not far from the beach. These wonderful, wise folks are facing a pile of serious challenges right now.  The one tiny thing we could do for them was to walk their dog, as neither of them currently has the energy to do it.   My perspective got yet another dose of "get real, please".  When I am that age, and facing the kinds of things they're facing, I hope I won't also be regretting that I missed some of life's delights, like playing in my kids' world, for fear of getting messy and looking ugly.

Oh, and today, after my first swim of the day, and then lunch, and before my last swim of the day, my youngest kiddo and I did some great sand-digging, and built "Castle R" entirely of Silly Sand.
( I wonder if Silly Sand Construction Techniques could be worked into the Common Core for the elementary school years... This kid had never heard of it before. )
We model for our kids what happy adults look like.  It's clearly time I got more interested in being that kind of "model", rather than beating myself over the head that I'll never be the *other* kind of model, the one that involves airbrushed, suntanned, lipo-suctioned perfection in public places.  My kids don't give a flip about my fat rolls and squirrel's nest hair, but they sure get enthusiastic about my getting down in the sand and the surf, getting messy, and sharing in their fun.

Should there maybe be a chapter in "What to Expect... " entitled, "Get Dirty, Get Wet; Wash, Rinse, Repeat UNTIL THE CHILD LEAVES HOME"  ?

Life's messy... Last one in the water's a rotten egg.