Beach Bonding

By Jeremy G. Schneider, MFT

When I was kid some of my most favorite things to do were to go to the beach. My family would go every summer for two weeks – until we bought a house and then we stopped going at all (see, to pay for the house we had to rent it out to strangers so we couldn’t use it during the summer, if that gives you any insight into my family growing up).

I don’t remember an enormous amount from my childhood, but I remember many things from going to the beach. Riding my bike in the early morning to pick up a New York Times for my grandfather so he could read it at breakfast. I remember meeting a kid there, don’t remember his name, but we became fast friends. We would build these complicated houses made out of cards. He was also one of the first people I remember boogie boarding with (before they were called boogie boards, but I’m not old….no, no, no). I would spend hours every day out in the ocean, riding waves. A good day at the beach was one where I spent most of my time on the ocean and the time I wasn’t on the ocean, digging a hole (“Did you reach China, yet?” people would always ask me) in the sand. I don’t mean a little hole, I mean a hole where I could stand in and be completely unseen by the outside world because I was so deep, where the sound of the ocean became muted and soft). I would make myself a little bench out of the sand and hang out there when I wasn’t on the water.

I can remember the thrill of catching a wave and riding it all the way to the shore, then picking up my board, tucking it under my arm (awkwardly because it was bigger than I was) and heading back out beaming with pride, hoping people were noticing how cool I was (though there just was no way I was cool). I can remember surviving some of the nastiest spills, the swirling under water, not being able to breathe, not sure which way was up. Once I even came out of the water after a particularly impactful crash where I smashed straight into the ground from the force of the wave. My head hurt, but I was so proud of myself that I survived, and I was walking out of the water for a little break when my mother asked me if I was okay. Even though I went with my family, I have no real memories of them. None of my dad at the beach (did he really go with us? Did he just sleep?) and the only ones of my mother were her at the beach, reading. Rarely did they notice anything I did there and everything I learned to do at the beach, I learned by myself and did with myself or with my sister. When I told her my head hurt, she said my mouth was bleeding. I checked my mouth and realized the impact into the ground had knocked out one of my teeth. I thought that was awesome.

The beach has always been a special place for me. After several semesters at college, before the summer started and strangers took over our beach house, I would go down and spend about a week by myself. No phone, no TV. Just me, myself and I, some books and the beach. I would watch the sunset every night and play all day – even moved the couch outside once to sleep on the deck. I learned an incredible amount about myself during those periods. Looking back, I can’t imagine it is possible to be that relaxed.

This weekend was the first weekend of the summer where we got to take our Okapis to the beach (they’ve gone a couple of times, but without me). I bought them boogie boards and started teaching them about it (started off very small – just sitting on it where the waves hit the beach and feeling it move underneath them). Dorit seemed to like it, but the waves were very strong and it scared them both a little. But they love the beach, the sand, the water too much and as they get older, I think we’ll have a lot of incredible moments together at the beach. I really enjoyed watching Dorit’s face when she realized the board was moving under her and she was moving with it. She will enjoy the rush from the movement, the speed of riding a wave just like I did. I can’t wait to ride with them (assuming I even remember how to do it *sigh*), the three of us, floating in the vast ocean, Gem just a dot on the shore, studying the waves to see which one is the best to catch and riding it all the way in while Gem watches and claps for our little Okapis (who probably won’t be so little).

Sometimes, there are moments in being a parent that completes the circle of life. Teaching my children about boogie boarding, playing with them in the sand, envisioning how it will only get better, I am reminded of what I never had growing up. But more importantly, I am bursting with the sensation that this is what family is all about. Maybe I never had it, but Gem and I are creating it for our Okapis and their special memories of the beach won’t be tinged with sadness the way mine are. Their memories will be clearer, more robust, full of the fun, the excitement, the thrill and, probably most important, the connection to their Daddy.

Yeah, we had a lovely weekend. The beginning of a lovely summer, I think.

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