04 August 2006

"Down the Shore"

Oh, this is going to be a long one. I sure wish I knew how to make pages and set up that {more} thing midway into a post. Maybe I should put it in a text box? Oh fuck...it's just going to be a long one...

If you grew up in the Delaware Valley, you know perfectly well that the title of this post is regionally grammatically proper. As a matter of fact, it's the only proper way to talk about New Jersey's barrier islands from Long Beach Island to Cape May Point. I don't know if New Yorkers and North Jerseyans use the same phrase for places like Seaside Heights, Asbury Park or Point Pleasant Beach. For those of us in South Jersey, anything from Tuckerton south on the Parkway was "down the shore."

I loved the beach when I was a child. I loved the ocean, loved to play in the sand, loved playing with my dad and my Aunt Naomi. I loved the white stuff my grandmother would smear on her nose and how silly she looked with it on. I hated the mile-long trudge from under the boardwalk, where we used to have to put our stuff because of Nan's inability to tolerate the sun, to the water in Wildwood. I loved the long pipeline that ran down to the water every couple of blocks in Wildwood. I wonder if they're still there.

We'd rent a house a few blocks from the beach for the month of August when I was a kid. I loved the beach, the boardwalk, the salt air and salt water taffy. I loved the cold shower outside the house to rinse the sand off. I pretended I didn't like it but, really, I did. I loved the rides, especially the roller coasters which Dad would go on but Mom would not. The only one Mom would go on was The Mouse. I never got to ride The Mouse because Dad would always go with Mom instead of me. (Don't give me that Oedipal shit...I don't do Freud.)

I didn't like the shore as much when I was a teenager. By the time I was fifteen, I was aware of my body and ashamed of the imperfect bumps and rolls on it. Not that I was ever very overweight but you didn't have to be very overweight to hate yourself as a fifteen year-old girl in the early 70's. I have long legs, by not means willowy, though, and a high waist/short torso. I have a rather narrow waist for the rest of my body which makes my hips look large. I hated the way I looked in hip huggers. I was definitely not Mod Squad material.
I got to ride The Mouse when I was a teenager. Thank God the ride was still there when Mike's dad and I were dating. I loved it! It was more violent , with rough curves (it actually had corners) and scarier dives than any of the other coasters Mom was too afraid to go on. WTF...bitch saved the best for herself! ; )

When Mike was a young child, I started taking him to the beach regularly. I would work at night then take him to Ocean City and let him play in the sand while I relaxed with one eye always open. It was very relaxing even if it doesn't sound it. I wish now that I'd played a little more in the water with him. I was not brave like my father was. I couldn't go in to where the breakers would break above my head and hold my son aloft as Dad did for me. Michael was more than happy to content himself with seashells and the occasional marine animal in a tidal pool, seaweed and tiny clams that burrow back into the sand after the wave goes out...silly sand pipers afraid to get their butts wet. And the sand. Mike loved the sand.

Have I mentioned that he's a doctoral student in Mechanical Engineering? I attribute it all to Legos and sand castle building. He built monstrosities and I was allowed to help. Never sand sculpture material, mind you, but large castles and tunnels. He'd create worlds for his He-Man and Transformers and such. My favorite has always been to sit just above the reach of the waves and make "drizzle" castles, where you dig down to wet sand and let that drizzle from the side of your hand higher and higher until it was huge or toppled over.

Once Mike was no longer interested in going to the beach with me, I lost interest in it again for a while. It wasn't until a few years ago that I started going back, this time alone. Usually alone. My friend Tamara will join me down there occasionally but most of my beach days are alone. I go to the beach alone. I take a low beach chair, a small, thin umbrella, a large jug of water and a beach bag. I take books, notebooks or journals, snacks, water, bug spray (greenheads) and sunblock. I have a cooler with lunch in it in the car trunk, usually cheese and tomato sandwich, soda and fruit. I keep cheese sticks in my water jug and nibble them. I read most of The Complete ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) Handbook on the beach a couple of years ago. I read all I needed of it or all I could stand to read of it at the time, I'm not sure which yet.

I read and write. I listen to the ocean and to the other people on the beach. I've always gone to the least populated area on the island. I'm not going to tell you where or you'll just come populate it now, won't you? I might take a cell phone but only check it occasionally. There's something sacrilegious about cell phone chatter on the beach. I don't take music. I hear the waves and their rhythm. I smell the scents of the sea and the sun beating on the sand, the drying kelp. I taste the tang of the ocean on my lips and skin. I feel the quench of thirst in my parched throat after laying with the sun bearing down on my bare back. I place the sweating water bottle against my temples and neck.

I listen to the sounds of the sea, the waves, the sea birds, the advertising planes that still fly overhead, occasionally offering a proposal of marriage or a birthday wish. Maybe I'll hire one next summer to wish me a "Happy 50th Birthday, Cheryl!" I'd love to see that in the sky. Seriously, I wonder how much that costs?... I listen to the people on the beach, particularly the children. I listen to the mothers. Some of them are more cloying than a humid sea breeze that carries sand into unwanted crevices. Some of them are wonderful and encouraging and protecting and fostering and guiding...the way I tried to be with Mike.


Wandering path to family, marriage, love, obligation and raising Mike, if you want to go there:

I tried hard to be a good mother to Michael. In large part I believe this is due to the ambivalence I felt toward childbearing and motherhood. I don't know if I mentioned it before but my decision to become pregnant was very conscious and was, actually, a leap of fundamentalist Christian faith. I had never been convinced I wanted to be a mother. Yet I had, against my truest intuitions, married a man. I didn't understand what my intuitions were saying to me at that time. I didn't figure that out for 15 years.

I loved Mike's father, truly I did, but I knew months before we married, months before we even became engaged, that marrying him didn't feel right. I still cannot clearly put my finger on what I was feeling at that moment as we sat by a stream. I think I can claim now that I was feeling that marrying him was not the right thing for me to do...for myself. He cried. He cried because I thought maybe we
shouldn't get married. He cried and I did what I always did, what my family had trained me to do. I relented. I subverted my desires and needs and sacrificed for the good of someone I loved. I betrayed myself and married him anyway.

Fortunately, I found God in the intervening months and, although our every-God-Damned-thing-but-THE-act sex life continued, I found a convenient excuse for submitting my will to another's. It's what God wanted me to do. It was my place in life. I had finally found my place in life. We'd talked about a child. My DH seemed enthusiastic about it. We'd been married two years. It was time. I guess it was part of the plan for "How Things Are Supposed to Go." I wasn't privy to the text or simply didn't understand the fine print. I was genuinely unsure whether I wanted to be a mother. It's a question I'd struggle with since I first got my period. Did I want what this bodily function was designed for?

I finally talked to a girlfriend about it one afternoon. I guess we prayed about it. I went home and welcomed my husband home from work. I invited him. I mentioned that, if we made love, I could likely conceive. (I had been using the basal body temperature method of birth control for the prior three months and knew I had ovulated recently.) He was willing. He was at least willing to make love. I don't really know how he felt about the possibility of a child. I was fertile Myrtle and blinged on the first try. He was conceived in early June 1979. He was supposed to be a Pisces, like his mother. He made up his own mind and was born two weeks early, squarely an Aquarian. I love that he's made up his own mind since his in utero days! Go, Mike!

I loved that baby, even if it was a love tinged with guilt. It was tinged with bitterness and pain when I figured out, when Mike was four months of age, the his father was having an affair. The following two years were emotionally tragic...five reconciliations in just over 18 months. An unexpected pregnancy (despite birth control) and an abortion. Following the abortion, I knew I had to leave. I'd started taking prerequisites for nursing school. I needed to fly away, the way I'd wanted to 6 years prior but hadn't had the courage to do.

I believe that Michael was the will of God and that, believe it or not, submitting to that will has been the biggest blessing I've ever received. I might have not married Mike's father (heretofore referred to as MF)and joined the military, as I'd been considering. I might have gone to the college I'd been accepted to in Louisiana then on to Tulane law. I might be a New Orleanian now, or a Southerner. I might be speaking in a twang and defending people's rights in Jackson or Memphis right now.

But I never would have had the chance to create and meet and help shape and love and enjoy and appreciate the wonderful child that was and man that is my son. I never would have had the chance to craft a plan for making his life much more solid than mine and felt the sense of accomplishment when I bit my tongue and let him make his own decisions. I never would have instilled all the values which are so important in myself...honesty, social responsibility, personal responsibility, human decency, respect, the appreciation of humanity...into this wonderful young mind and watched them bear fruit in his adulthood and marriage and fatherhood. I would never have been able to raise a child who always knew he was loved with a love that could never be taken away even if I was disappointed in him. I would never have had the opportunity to raise a child who was capable of taking risks, in life, emotionally, in ways his mother has still not been able to fully master.

No, God definitely meant for me to be a mother and for Michael to be my son. And it's the greatest thing that's ever happened and the thing I have been most grateful for so far...



When I was in Barbados, I saw wonderful mothers on the beach with their children. There was one couple I saw for a number of days on the beach in front of my villa. They both interacted so positively with their children. The mother played with joy with them. Dad, too. And Mom was always the herder, the lookout, the nurse. She was the more frequent playmate, too. I actually walked down the beach one afternoon and talked with her. They turned out to be British (or "English," as the Bajans call them). I told her I loved the way she interacted with her children, protecting yet encouraging them to stretch the boundaries, playing with them with abandon. I told her good mothers can recognize other good mothers and we should commend them more often. Good mothers should receive real praise, from other adults, from women who've been good mothers. They should be told, "Keep up the great work!"

Anyway, the beach has become a temple of sorts for me. The sights, sounds, smells, tastes, all the senses filled.

This is what started as a comment on CMIB that grew into this homage to motherhood and the sea:
It wasn't until a couple of years ago that I started going to the beach alone and simply adore it now. Me and my beach chair and umbrella, my books and journals, my water jug and boxed lunch...the odd, middle-aged woman working toward cronedom. People to look at, scents to smell, sounds to hear, the sun, the sand, the absolute serenity wrapped up in all that noise. God, I love the seashore.

It's not the boardwalk or the casinos or the crowds. It's not even swimming in the ocean...I've been too afraid of that in recent years. It's the sights and sounds and the nature and the beauty of everything a day on the beach can provide for my insatiable senses. That's what the beach means to me. It's almost spiritual. Hell, I guess it
is spiritual.

That's why I've knocked myself so much for not getting there yet this summer. It feels as if by staying away I'm not feeding my soul. I'm not nurturing myself. I deserve more, better than that. That's another reason I suspect I might be a little more depressed than I've admitted to myself. I'm really not knocking myself now, just being frank is all. I do feel very much better today and have fogriven myself for not paying attention to me.
The beach is my temple, the ocean and her breezes cleanse me and ready me to receive the sacrement. The sand is my altar; the sun, my sacrificial knife. I can reach inside and touch a part of my soul near the ocean at the Jersey shore. God, is it any wonder I love the beach?

Technorati tags: ACOA / beach / childhood / life / ocean / seashore / self-awareness / senses / sexy / spirituality

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