I have been to the shores of New Jersey an uncountable amount of times and my routine is always the same: wake up, eat breakfast, drag our bodies to the beach, head back to the house for lunch, swim in the pool, take a shower, take a nap, eat dinner, go to the boardwalk, go back to the house and drink beer, go to bed, and repeat it all again the next day. The beach is nothing new to me. Honestly, I don’t do much to make it any different, but this year was the first time I actually experienced the beach.
While we were relaxing in the sand, my wife was at home nursing our newborn son. This family vacation had been planned at the time my wife discovered she was pregnant. Simon was born a week prior to the vacation. My wife decided she didn’t want to go. She said she didn’t want to be a burden to anyone. Despite the family’s efforts of convincing her that they’d be a help to her with the baby, my wife decided to stay home. She didn’t want to feel uncomfortable when breast feeding our newly born son, but she also didn’t want to deny our first born son of his time in the sand with his cousins. It was my first time alone overnight with little Arthur, and our first time away from my wife ever.
The two-hour drive was a peaceful one. Little Arthur slept for the whole ride. Despite how many times I’ve taken this ride, I always look forward to the point when I reach the bay, where the air is consistently potent with the odor of shellfish mixed with sea salt.
When we pulled up to the beach house it was close to five o’clock. My brother and brother in-laws greeted us in the driveway. My brother in-laws took our bags, my son ran off with his cousins and my brother gave me a tour of the house. My parents and all the girls took the kids to the boardwalk while the guys and I sat on the balcony, drinking beers and talking bullshit while enjoying the warm summer breeze. When the family returned we ordered pizza and ate. When the kids were asleep we stayed awake and conversed over beers and shots of liquor, nothing out of the norm… with the exception that my son couldn’t sleep. He ended up kicking it with the old heads until I decided to pack it in for the night. I was the first adult to go to bed. This was far from routine. My son and I shared a bed. This memory will be embedded in my mind for the rest of my life. His vocabulary was very limited at the time, but he spoke in his own language for a decent amount of time before falling asleep.
The next morning I woke to a tiny hand tapping on my forehead. This was the first time on a family vacation that I was the first adult to wake up. Arthur and I hit the kitchen. He pushed his toy trains around on the table as I whipped up bacon, eggs, toast and a pot of coffee for the sleeping relatives. One by one the squinty-eyed relatives gathered in the kitchen. Breakfast was served. My son refused to eat. He drank milk for breakfast. Family members were beginning to get things in order for our morning on the sand after they had rushed to my aid with the cleaning of dishes. Kids were thrown in their bathing suits and doused with sunblock. Bags were stuffed with towels, beach toys, snacks, beverages, sunblock, and any other thing you could think of. My sister in-law took the role of beach camp sergeant, ordering the family members around like cadets. I had my hands full, as I wasn’t prepared to do this on my own. I could feel her tension increasing as she was yelling at my brother for help. Everyone was ready to go, except for little Arthur and me. I was packing a few beach toys, that my wife had purchased for my son, in the bag when my sister in-law shrugged her shoulders and started to exit the house. The cadets followed in line. Schedules have never been a part of my ideal vacation experience as my entire life tends to be shackled to a schedule. At this point I started to think back to my wife’s thoughts of being a burden to the rest of the family and how she had said that they’d be no help to her; I wanted nothing more than to be at home with my wife and newborn son.
Arthur and I scurried behind until catching up with my mother. She took Arthur’s hand. I lugged a few beach chairs and a beach bag. I drug the chairs through the sand until we found a spot that we all could agree upon. The kids hit the sand with shovels and pails in hand. Everyone wore sunglasses and sat in silence waiting for the air show to begin as the children played in the sand.
While sitting in the chair I began to reminisce back to when I was a kid. I remembered walking on the beach with my father, just the two of us. I stood up and told Arthur to follow me. We walked away from the family and down the shoreline. He started running frantically, chasing seagulls. We walked under a pier and headed down towards the water. His face lit up in amazement. “WOAH, WOAH, WOAH,” he screamed as he ran toward the sea foam that crashed on the wet sand. The waves bellowed in like linen bedazzled with diamonds as the light refracted created prisms within my tear filled eyes. The air was riddled with the scent of coconut sun tan lotion. The seagulls straightened their wings as they soared over the tops of umbrellas. This was the first time I had ever seen the ocean in all of its magnificence, through the eyes of my child. I scooped him up in my arms and carried him through the wet sand, leaving only one set of footprints behind us. The beach was something that was always there, something I had never recognized as anything out of the realm of normality… Not until I experienced someone else experiencing it for the first time.