On Saturday, while P was furiously writing a history paper, I took the fellows to Lighthouse Point Park here in New Haven. When the boys saw the water gently hitting the small rocky beach, they immediately kicked off their Crocs and headed straight to dip their toes in the sea. It was a true spring day with buds peeking out and the sun shining down in full-force, but a breeze kicked up from the water, chilling me a bit. However, the boys didn't seem to notice the cool air as they were ready to strip down and fully immerse their pale, thin bodies in the harbor waters.
First, the boys flirted with the slight waves, allowing the water to kiss their toes quickly before backing up. Then S, C and F walked in a bit further, their feet now fully covered, and began jumping to the rhythm of the sea. Suddenly their ankles were wet and their long shorts were in danger of a soaking so I called them back. " Just your toes, just your toes," I repeated over and over. However, their delight in the weather and the water far outweighed their mother's commands, and I found myself nagging at them for the next 20 minutes. "Back up. It's cold. Don't get your shorts wet. You can't go in further. I don't have a change of clothes. We're not swimming today. Just your toes. Just your toes!" Suddenly I heard myself as an outsider walking along the coast might. Yes, I should keep them safe, but look what fun they were having. Look how joyous it is to dip one's toes in chilly water after a winter spent indoors. It was time for me to loosen up and let go a little.
I thought back to a time nearly three years before. We had gone down to the Jersey Shore to visit my dad right after school ended in Maine. It was a bright evening and C and S were excited by being so close to the beach so I took them for an after-dinner walk on the boardwalk. Soon shoes were propped up against the railing and little feet hit the steps leading down to the sand. The boys, nearly three years old, ran ahead to the calling ocean as I, heavily pregnant with F, lumbered behind. I saw the boys get closer to the water but was so caught up in their delight and excitement, I was far less cautious than I found myself on the shores of New Haven. Steps behind, I heard one of the guy's giggle as his toes touched the ocean water. The other happily screeched as the waves licked his feet. I laughed along.
Then suddenly another screech--not happy now and not sure if it was one of the boys or mine-- as I watched one of the guys topple over and be pulled out in the salty water. I grabbed his arm, yanking, as his head dipped below the ocean. Stumbling, I tried to hoist him up, only to glance to my side and see his brother similarly swept up and pulled under. Holding the one boy around his middle to my side, I reached frantically for his twin. He, too, was immersed and scared when I managed to catch his arm and pull him up. Their wails told me that that they were actually OK-- cold and wet and frightened, but they were OK. I, too, was feeling incredibly frantic but I tried to soothe them by downplaying the incident, "Silly ocean. Those silly waves. We're all OK now. Yup, we're OK. That silly ocean." I can picture myself in that moment: wearing an orange maternity t-shirt stretched over my burgeoning belly, trying desperately to carry both boys, wailing and wet, on my nearly non-existent hips across the sand, up the stairs, over the boardwalk, across the street to my dad's front porch. All the while, my heart beating more loudly than their sobs.
And so there is one of the great paradoxes of parenthood-- letting your kids explore, discover, and delight, all the while keeping them safe with heads above water. But sometimes they should get wet, and sometimes they will get scared, and no matter how close I walk behind or nag at them to immerse just their toes, the call of the water is powerful and their need to jump the waves great.