I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville writer with a passion for family travel, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark. Want to get in touch? Use the CONTACT form at the top of the page.
June 20, 2011
Before I had children, the beach was a place for pure, mindless relaxation.
During visits to the seaside, I’d spend hours lazing on a towel in the hot sand. I’d walk along the shore for miles, picking up shells along the way. I’d read frothy novels from under a fluttering blue beach umbrella, pausing to gaze out over the blue horizon and empty my mind of every last worrying thought. I’d paddle on a cheap raft out beyond the surf and lie on it with my eyes closed, rocked gently by the waves, one leg dangling in the water.
In my mind, the beach is still a place to relax and unwind… but with a 4 and 7 year-old now accompanying me there, relaxation is the last thing on my mind… and the only thing unwinding is my fraying sanity.
We had planned all kinds of activities both on the water and off during our week on Hilton Head Island, but my little ones were really only interested in spending as much time on the beach as possible. Unfortunately, their idea of a good time on the sand was very different from mine.
There would be no reading or long walks, and I could forget about lying on a towel and soaking up the sun. Instead, my children had a set of beach games they’d invented, which their father and I were expected to supervise each and every time we put on our swimsuits and headed down to the saltwater.
First, my 4-year-old son would drag me out into the ocean, just to the point where the waves tumbled and broke at his waistline. There, his rules required us to point at each wave as it approached, shouting “Dude!” When an especially massive wave came along, we’d turn and run screaming back to shore. Then, after congratulating each other for our bravery, we’d wade out again, and repeat the game.
As the week progressed, Bruiser grew bolder, constantly attempting to go deeper in the water and giving me brash assurances that he could swim. “See?” he’d say when challenged, swinging his arms in a caveman’s approximation of the butterfly, “You just go like this!”
“You can’t swim yet, Bruiser,” I’d insist, stopping him from going any deeper by hooking my arms under his armpits and around his chest. He’d counter by going limp and I’d drag him like a potato sack back to shore.
Seven-year-old Punky was more interested in planting herself in the sand at the shore and digging for razor clams. Once she tired of that, she’d put Hubs or me in charge of the impossible job of using a net to catch the tiny fish that darted here and there in the surf. Or she’d demand that one of us sit beside her on the shoreline and let the waves crash over our laps. After that, she’d enlist the entire family to take part in a few (dozen) rounds of Ring Around the Rosie. There’s nothing quite like playing Ring Around the Rosie in a bathing suit in front of dozens of parents sitting smugly in their beach chairs and gazing at you over their Pat Conroy novel, you know?
But before any of the made-up beach games began, I was expected to build my children a sandcastle, surrounded by a small pool of water. In that water, we’d store all of the treasures we found in the ocean, from starfish to sea snails to the disgusting lone crab claws that occasionally washed ashore. A lounging Barbie in a skimpy bathing suit gave our moat a Jersey Shore vibe, and an assortment of cheap plastic ocean creatures we had picked up at a marina fishing shop made the scene especially festive. No one could say I didn’t give it my all.
Building the castle and moat was time-consuming, and it could also be frustrating. The kids wanted it to be as close as possible to the water, which meant that more than once all my hard work was destroyed minutes after its creation in the wake of a miscalculated tide.
Surprisingly, though, I found that I enjoyed building the castle for my kids. I learned to smooth the sand walls with a flat plastic shovel, and to decorate them with the tiny clamshells that dotted the sand. I drizzled wet sand in loopy designs over the top, and painstakingly made a ramp so that my son’s treasured plastic monster truck could roll up and circle the moat’s walls. I found myself becoming completely absorbed in the job, carefully shaping and molding and refining and decorating my sand structure long after my children had moved on to other attractions along the water.
And as I worked, it occurred to me that ten years ago, I would never have had the patience to carefully build and rebuild sand walls that would only be knocked down again by the surf. Just as the waves slowly change the shoreline over time, though, being a wife and mother has gradually reshaped me.
Molding the sand wasn’t so different from my duties at home. I spend hours each week washing and drying and folding clothes, scrubbing pots, mopping floors, brushing tiny teeth, washing hair, making breakfasts, lunches and dinners and doing a hundred other household duties, only to repeat it all over again just as soon as I’ve finished. I spent a few years there at the beginning railing at the indignity and unfairness of the fact that so much of my work was unnoticed, undervalued, and ineffective but over time, I have learned to take satisfaction in the act of simply doing it. I have learned that, whether or not any of my family members ever notice or recognize it, making sure their house and clothes are clean, their food is tasty and their lives are comfortable is a wordless, age-old act of caring.
And it goes far beyond household duties. What mother hasn’t put in endless hours molding and shaping her children’s lives, creating as much joy and beauty for them as as she can? Experience and time will erode our castles and in some cases, smash them to bits. We know this, and yet we continue to build. And smooth. And decorate. And when the walls start to crumble, we patiently start building all over again.
And so while a part of me would rather be stretched out on the sand with a good book, I’ll build that sandcastle for my children as often as they let me. The waves will destroy it sooner than I’d like- but for one long, glorious moment, the sun will shine, the water will sparkle, the castle will stand magnificent, and my children and I will laugh in delight.
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[…] dug in the sand for razor clams, went shark fishing, attended puppet shows, blew bubbles, planted a garden, drew pictures, set out teeth for the tooth fairy… […]