Son Of The Beach
Did you spend time in your youth looking for the place you belonged? That one place where you just fit in without any effort and everything made sense? I didn’t. I belonged on a baseball field. From the time I could sit up, my parents didn’t need a babysitter between the months of April and September. They could plop me down in front of a ballgame on television, and I wouldn’t move for the next three hours.
My grandfather helped my dad build a pitcher’s mound in the backyard when I was 2. I rode all over Texas watching my uncle play ball in high school, then college, then semi-pro. My earliest memories are framed by the diamond shape of chain-link fencing. The summer after I turned 5, I finally got to play for real. That’s when it really took hold. I was (am) an up-tight, awkward individual prone to misreading social cues and saying or doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. But give me a pair of cleats and a glove, put me on a field with red dirt and green grass, and I’m home.
It just always made sense to me. Baseball relaxed me more than anything else ever has. It satisfied me, gave me confidence and a sense of accomplishment that I never would have gotten anywhere else. It gave me a goal to focus on and work toward, something I could own; something I could see growing and improving.
Watching Alex grow up, I’ve longed for him to find his place, somewhere he belongs. Something he can throw himself into and focus on. I’ve prayed for it, wished for it, obsessed over it. I’ve just always figured his “place” would be a skill or interest like mine was. It didn’t even have to be something active. I’d have been overjoyed to see him immerse himself in reading or music or art — anything, just some sort of outlet.
I think we finally found it a few weeks ago. Strangely enough, though, Alex’s place is actually a place.
My mom rented a condo on the Gulf coast a couple of weeks ago, and we spent three straight days with her at the beach. I was worried. Alex hadn’t been to the coast since he was about 2, and that trip had been a rough one — sunscreen in the eyes, saltwater in the mouth, too much noise and activity. He didn’t have a very good time. Like so many of the other things we’d tried to do with him, he looked like he wanted to really enjoy it, but the crossed wires in his psyche just wouldn’t cooperate.
Four years later, the wiring gave us no such trouble. It was like he was born in the ocean and had returned for the first time in six years. We spent hours each day wading, sifting sand, “pushing waves” (his term) and just relaxing. We had to force him out of the water to eat, otherwise he’d have gone hungry all weekend.
His favorite thing to do was wade out to a depth that put the water level at his chest when he dropped to his knees. Then he would just sit on his haunches, grab handfuls of wet sand off the bottom and let the waves rock him back and forth as they washed in and receded. This put him in a meditative state. I’ve rarely seen him so relaxed, and certainly not in a public place with a bunch of strangers around.
The runner-up spot on Alex’s list of top beach activities was lying on a boogie board and having me drag him out to a sandbar where the water was chest deep on me. He swims but not nearly well enough to deal with the surf that was breaking that weekend, so I had to keep a tight grip on the board and pay attention to its angle as the waves came in. He loved getting pounded by the surf. Every time a wave knocked him off the board I worried that he would drown from laughing so hard.
He struck up a conversation with everybody who happened by. “Hi. Do you like the salty water? Watch out for those big waves!” He was acting like a lifelong beach bum. What’s more, he looked the part, too. After three days in the sun and surf, Alex’s skin was a deep, golden-brown complexion that a potato-eating, wannabe Mick like myself can only dream about. I was so happy just watching him that I didn’t even mind my sunburn.
It was a joy I’ve rarely experienced as a father. My son was happy. He was content. He was relaxed. He was friendly and compliant. He found his place. It made me wish badly that we lived on the coast. I can’t wait to go back. And I can’t wait to find the next “place” with him.
What a fantastic experience for the both of you! There’s no better feeling than to see your kiddo enjoy himself immensely.