WHITNEY CAIN, PHD

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Let's Go to the Beach

I love the beach.  Beachcombing entertains me for hours and finding a sand dollar just about blows my flip-flops off.  Even seeing parts of them thrills me since they’re reminders whole ones are waiting.  Left to my own devices, I’d lose myself walking a snail’s pace oceanside dawn until dusk.

I did when I was young.  My parents say my beach disappearances began when I was four or five.  After noticing I was missing, they would instruct my sister – atop her tri-fold, plastic-tubing lounge – to scan the ocean.  Meanwhile, my brother and a friend searched the beach in opposite directions.  I don’t know what my parents did after issuing their commands, but it wasn’t handwringing.  I imagine they freshened their cocktails and waited to hear I’d been found, unharmed. 

And I was.  Some distance away, I’d be sprawled on the sand or digging in a tide pool, blistered pink save for my nose with its stripes of zinc oxide.  Around age ten, my parents quit assigning reconnaissance missions, figuring I could find my own way back. 

 

I still love the beach, but I don’t lose myself there the way I did as a child.  Parenting is an obstacle.  It isn’t as reasonable now as when my parents were in the thick of it.  I feel obligated to keep one eye trained on the children and one on potential riptides (which I’m convinced didn’t exist until I had children).

And with this constant observation, my children can’t disappear at the beach like I did – at least not for long.  I see my younger seashore self’s joy and ease in them when they’re digging holes or looking for sharks’ teeth or doing other beachy stuff, but they’re continually interrupted by sunscreen re-application or the beach patrol’s admonishments concerning their holes’ dangers.

I worry about this.  We need to lose ourselves and let ourselves be lost on occasion.  Not lost in despair or sadness or loneliness, but lost in the ease of being.  These times become rarer as we get older and we monkey with our kids’ opportunities to find them.  I probably don’t have it in me to let my children disappear unchaperoned down the beach.  But I might rebel a bit on the sunscreen schedule; one less interruption could do us all some good.

CreativityWhitney Cain