Lydia and I can’t resist the sand and the sea. On our first morning at the beach, despite the chilly wind and overcast sky, we hear the waves calling, so we pull on our hoodies and leave the boys behind in the house.
My daughter squeals in delight as her bare feet hit the sand. I do the same as I take a deep breath of ocean air. We begin walking down the beach to look for seashells. However, Lydia can’t contain her excitement, and before I know it, she is flying down the beach racing with the wind. Her blonde hair whips behind her as she raises her hands up to the sky.
This is exactly how I feel inside, so I do the same. We pause and climb over rocks that have washed up on the beach, collect a few sea shells, and investigate a jellyfish that has been washed up on the sand. We poke the dead jellyfish with a stick, and she jumps back. I laugh and remember doing the same thing as a child.
Lydia again can’t seem to slow down, so I let her run ahead. Walking behind her, I notice the beach is quite empty. Empty, morning beaches remind me of family vacations as a child in Ocean City, Maryland.
While my siblings and I groggily ate our cereal, my mother would slip down to the beach and stake our claim by planting our umbrella in the sand. An ocean-front spot on the beach was a hot commodity in mid-summer, and she always wanted to make sure she “reserved” a good location to be able to sit and watch the waves and her children. From the deck of our rented condominium, I could see her lone figure under the orange, flowered umbrella waving to me, inviting me to join her morning celebration of the sea.
Most memories of my mom at the beach include her seated in a beach chair, book in hand but not open, as she watched her children perform for her. We called, “Look, Mom! See what I built?” and “Mom, watch this!” just like my own children call for me now.
I take a moment to mourn the fact that my daughter will never know her beach-loving grandmother; my mother will never be able to sit under an umbrella and watch her granddaughter play in the sand.
I let the sadness wash over me but then let it fly away on the breeze. There are too many happy beach memories from my childhood and too many memories waiting to be made to dwell on my grief.
Lydia is just a tiny pink speck now. I am amazed that my girl – the one who used to hold my hand wherever we went, cling to my leg for dear life at parties, and beg me to rock her to sleep every night – is so far from me. I appreciate this moment and all it entails: her independence, her joy in the beach, and her strong legs that carry her so far from me.
But then, of course, I panic and start to run toward her. Seconds later, she turns, as if sensing my distress and waves to me. I gesture for her to come back, and those strong legs start kicking up sand.
When she gets close, I open my arms and she flies into them.
I watch as my son slowly pulls up the string inch by inch. His little fingers are steady and slow; two qualities I usually don’t associate with my fast-moving boy. He looks up at me occasionally for approval, and I nod my head and smile. Finally, we see a shadow beneath the water, but it is just the bait. “No crab,” he says simply as he drops it back into the water.
It is mid-morning, and as the tide rolls in, we sit on a sunny dock along the Intracoastal Waterway trying to catch some crabs. During the past few summers, my dad has patiently started to teach my son how to crab. Now, he carefully shows Sawyer how to tie string around the bait, tie the string to the dock, throw in the bait, and then wait. The waiting is the hard part.
I appreciate his willingness to show my son how to crab, as I really don’t like to touch the chicken necks we use as bait. I also lack the patience that is necessary for teaching such things.
As a child, my dad taught me how to crab during our trips to Ocean City, Maryland. We mainly crabbed from docks and rocky areas, but once a year we rented a small motor boat to take out onto the bay. I distinctly remember the feeling of excitement fluttering in my stomach as we traveled the empty, pre-dawn roads toward the marina; as a child, there is something magical about waking before the sun to go on an adventure. Some years, we came home with only a few crabs to show for our hours of work; other years, we dragged home coolers full of crabs to steam and eat.
Now, my dad calls from the other side of the dock, “We’ve got a crab over here!” and my son shoots across the dock to take a look. Sawyer carefully watches as my dad shows him how to slowly lower the net and then quickly scoop up the crab from behind.
Once the crab is above water my son backs up slowly; he wants nothing to do with it. He screams and jumps up onto a bench when my dad brings it close. He likes his crabs still and steamed.
As my dad places the crab in the cooler, I am filled with a sense of happiness. I am pleased that we will have some crabs to take home to steam and eat, but on a deeper level, I am delighted to see this tradition being passed down to my son.
Later, while my dad steams the crabs, my son dances his way through the house in anticipation. As a child, I remember singing silly songs about crabs and doing the same exact thing, but now I linger in the kitchen and watch my father cook the crabs.
I watch as he takes time to lift the lid off of the pot to show my son the crabs that are now red and ready to eat. In this moment, I have a new appreciation for my father’s patience. I think of all of the crabs he might have caught over the years if he hadn’t been spending time guiding smaller hands to pull up the strings, slowly and steadily.
I try to remember this later as I sit down to eat the crabs with Sawyer. I take a deep breath, slow down, and patiently show him how to pick meat out of the crabs. I try not to get annoyed when he does it all wrong and smashes the crabs to bits while sending pieces flying everywhere. Instead, I guide his hand while showing him the correct way. My dad did this for me; now, I will do the same for my son.