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Girl Meets Ocean

There are many things I’ll remember for a long time about our vacation; it was our first one with a child, after all, and we spent a week in the lap of all-expense-paid luxury.  But I think I’ll remember this vacation most fondly as the time Maddie Met The Ocean.

And almost never spoke to it again.

Our first day in our borrowed beach house, we arrived mid-afternoon, settled in, and went out for a celebratory dinner.  Unable to wait until the next day for our first stroll on the sand, Brian and I decided to hit the beach on our way home and watch the sun set.  Maddie was punch-drunk from a day of not being on a plane the whole time, and happily hopped out of the car at our local boardwalk.  Her shoes came off (always a good thing in Maddie Land) and she joyfully ascended the stairs.  Seeing a whole expanse of wooden sidewalk in front of her, she took off running, screaming with abandon, carefully lowered herself down the ocean-side stairs –

And screeched to a halt at the sand’s edge.  Cue the sound of a needle ripped off the soundtrack to Maddie’s life.

What is this strange, gritty thing that coats your hands and feet?  Why is it constantly shifting?  How the heck is a girl supposed to stand?

While Madeleine adamantly refuses to set foot on the beach – her tentative toe-dip hastily retracted – Daddy takes off demonstrably across the sand, cavorting for all he’s worth.  “Look Maddie!  See how fun it is!  I can stand!  It’s ok!”

Maddie watches dubiously, but decides to trust her daddy.  She puts one foot down and instantly sinks into the sand.  She starts to cry.  Another foot goes down, and the cry becomes a full-blown wail.  Faster than you can say “asphalt-bred City Kid”, Maddie’s clinging ferociously to my legs, one leg of hers lifted high in the air  whith the other standing on tippy toe so as little of herself is touching the ground as possible.

I don’t know why we didn’t see this coming; our kid will plow hands-first into a messy meal of veggie booty and spaghetti, for example, but will stop periodically to hold her hands beseechingly out to us for a cleaning; she can’t stand to have dirt or any kind of weird texture on her body.

Though she has no problem picking up, playing with, and eating a dust bunny.  But that’s a different blog.

At any rate, I ended up carrying Maddie to the water’s edge, where she happily splashed her hands and feet in the ocean as long as I held her.  I thought at first she was simply enjoying this bit of nature, but soon realized she was simply trying to wash the sand off her body.

Back safely at the other end of the boardwalk, Maddie ran around cavorting happily on turf she understood – a cement parking lot.  We fired up the fresh-water faucet to rinse off, which was of course a big hit.

Water safely contained in a rubber hose!  Just as it was meant to be!

And that was our first trip to the beach.

Day 2, our first full day there, we go a bit further.  Maddie climbed the boardwalk, jogged amenably to the edge, and climbed back down, chattering the whole time.  At first she didn’t notice she had walked on the sand, so involved was she in her conversation.  But after a few steps she realized she was no longer on solid ground, started whimpering, and had to be carried to our beach spot.  We’ve got a double tatami mat – those woven beach mats – and Maddie was happy as a clam as long as she was sitting or standing on it.  With a bucket of salt water at the edge of the mat and a shovel in one hand, Maddie went to town, poking fastidiously at the sand then immediately rinsing it off her digits in the water bucket – a trick Daddy showed her when he got tired of her howling and holding the offending appendage out to him to clean off.  She did go in the ocean, but clung to Daddy the whole time.

On our return trip that afternoon, we think we witness a breakthrough – Maddie gets adventurous and goes for a brief walk off the beach mat.  Getting brave, she begins goosestepping, happily kicking sand up in front of her.

Until she falls, is covered in sand, wails, and is back to square one.

Day 3 was (thankfully) our breakthrough day.  It had rained all morning and the sand was hard-packed.  I walked up and down the beach holding Maddie until she couldn’t stand it any longer and begged to be put down- why be carried when you can walk?  All part of my diabolical plan, my friend.  She discovered the relatively flat rut of a dune buggy’s path and happily walked in it, first holding on to me with two hands, then one, then none.

Look, Ma, I’m walking!

From then on out, each consequent visit made her a little bit braver, a little more adventurous.  The next trip, she stood up on the beach mat, squared her shoulders as if to say, “I can do this!”, and walked towards the ocean.

Up until this point, the ocean had been the background, the window dressing if you will, for her angst.  It had not yet been the focus of either her fears or her longings.  But as she conquered the sand, she became more curious about the ocean.  So she marched close to the water, stared apprehensively for a few minutes, then bravely moved forward into the water’s occasional path.

After a few minutes, she scooched closer and splashed her hand in the surf.  The afternoon ended with Mommy sitting in the surf, Maddie on her lap, for a few gleeful minutes while the waves washed over my lap.

The next day is Maddie’s crowning triumph.  We hit the beach early and the tide’s far out, creating a small river running in a shallow beach gulley between the high water mark and the ocean.  The water’s warm, the waves don’t reach it, and the sand’s nice and firm.  Maddie walks.

And walks.  And walks.  And walks.  A good mile or so of walking and splashing before she can be persuade to turn around and walk and splash in the other direction.

And if that triumph weren’t enough, the three of us hit the ocean and get in some good wave jumping.  With Daddy holding and Mommy encouraging, Maddie relaxes and comes to enjoy the waist-high water.  Her squeals of delight almost but don’t quite go over that edge into panic.

So by the time we packed it up to move on to the second phase of our vacation, Maddie reconciled herself to the ocean and its inherent messiness.  I think the sights and sounds never ceased to be a bit overwhelming, though, and she’d often give us the “finished” sign and simply start marching towards the boardwalk and home.  We’d either scramble to pull everything together and catch up, or get left behind.  She never once looked back to see which one we’d do, and it was the only time she’d stride across the sand without stressing about the “dirty” factor.  So we learned to go several times a day in small doses.

And truthfully, her favorite parts of visiting the ocean were the “other” things:  the red wagon we’d use to haul our beach gear to and from the house, which she loved to either help push or ride in; the wash—off faucet that she never tired of at the end of the boardwalk; and the outdoor shower back at the house.  Honestly, she’d walk the ¾ mile home from the beach, stride up the driveway, walk into the shower and start barking orders: “Turn on the fountain!  Someone take my swimsuit off!  Move it people!”

I know it was partly her love of water to play in, but partly a desire to get the sand out of her swimsuit.


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