“Carlos, look at Mommy so I know you’re listening to me.”
He pushed wet hair out of his eyes and turned to listen. “Mommy and Daddy are right here with you, but if you ever think you’re lost, look for that big red chair. See the red umbrella? That woman is the lifeguard–she’s like the teacher in charge of the beach.”
I’m sure all he heard was “Blah blah blah BEACH!” but I do my best to prepare the kids for worst case scenarios. Well, Sharknado is probably worse but the forecast didn’t call for sharks or nados.
By the end of a half way rainy day, all that hovering over my kids had really started to wear me out. We enjoyed a delightful morning of cinnamon rolls and playing in the waves, but after the rainy afternoon with no naps, then the disappointing “let’s go wander around” car trip, and the mediocre $75 dinner, followed by a rousing contest of “who can scream loudest in the minivan?”…this mama was shot. All that wonderful Relaxation and Family Time had solidified into a tightness in my chest that felt a lot like Shut the Hell Up and Here, Have Some More Screen Time.
So G suggested I take a walk by myself. Well, not technically by myself because I took my friend, Mr. Wine Sippy Cup with me. I left my Tevas on the steps and walked south, into the wind. I walked past couples holding hands, boys throwing a glow in the dark frisbee, moms trying to keep kids who were still dressed for dinner out of the waves. I walked past one, two, three lifeguard chairs. The wind blew so hard that tufts of sea foam from the waves scurried up the sand and into the dunes, like little white mice. I walked past a party on the verANDahhhh of the fancy hotel.
I didn’t want to turn back yet, but the daylight had gone. At the first lifeguard chair that I passed on the return, four feet swung against the wooden steps and two heads leaned close for a kiss. I walked on, alone. At the next lifeguard chair, a teenage boy with long golden hair struggled to light a cigarette in the wind. Another ways down the beach, and I found the third lifeguard chair–the one I had pointed out to Carlos in the morning–standing empty under the dark night clouds.
Mr. Sippy Cup and I didn’t think twice. We scaled up the wide wooden slats of the chair and faced into the wind. The breeze actually smelled different up there, saltier and clean. Even after the walking, my chest sat tight, filled with anxiety. Second day of vacation and my kids were already bat shit crazy. I breathed in three parts–belly, chest, collar bones–and felt the wind move into me.
I remembered the first time I had climbed into the lifeguard chair, 25 or 26 years ago. I had gone for a beach weekend with some friends. Late at night, we went for a walk on the beach and discovered an empty lifeguard chair. Feeling bold, I climbed into it and a guy I had known for years climbed in beside me. He was good-looking and smart and kind and suddenly there beside me, up above the rest of the world. I “technically” had a boyfriend and this fellow wasn’t him. I didn’t love my boyfriend anymore yet was too confused to know how to end a relationship without the next one lined up. So when my friend climbed up there with me, I remember being hit with a strong feeling. I wanted him, this guy, to love me. To decide things for me. To find me where I was lost and pull me onto a path. Any path. I just wanted him to love me.
Nothing came of it, that first time I climbed into a lifeguard’s chair. Tonight while I sat up in the wind for a second time, 25 years later, I thought about love and how for so many years, I thought it was something that would come to me, not from me. That my feeling lost could be fixed by someone else.
No. The woman in the lifeguard chair, the one to search for if I think I might be lost? It was me all along.