Yesterday, we took Nik to the beach. Our wedding anniversary is today and Niksdad has to work, so we made a special day of it. We slept in (hey, 6:45 IS SLEEPING IN in our house, trust me!!), had a leisurely breakfast then packed up the fifty million and one things we need every time we travel with Nik, and off we went. It didn’t matter to us that it was cloudy and overcast or that it wouldn’t be great swimming weather.
Our plan was to take Nik to the beach for the second time in his life. The first, in 2005 when he was 18 months old and didn’t even sit up, was not a rousing success. Nik hated the feel of the sand, the roar of the ocean, the glare of the sun on the beach. In fact, the pictures we have of that occasion —the one and only vacation we’ve ever taken with my family —are funny in a sad little way. Nik making faces as Niksdad holds him —feet flailing wildly, tears running down his soft cheeks.
We decided it was time to try again; Nik’s considerably older and has had so much greater exposure to the world at large now. He’s made tremendous progress in overcoming some of his sensory aversions, too. He is still hesitant to touch grass though he likes to walk on it as long as he’s wearing shoes —but even that is improving. We thought, perhaps, this time the beach might enthrall him.
Let me rephrase that; I HOPED the beach would enthrall him. I hoped it would touch some primeval part of him as it does me. I love the beach at any time of day, any time of year. The sounds of the ocean and the endlessness of the horizon call to me like few other things on this earth do. I longed to share that connection with my son.
The outing began very well; we wandered the boardwalk with Nik in the stroller for a while as his pump delivered an early lunch. Nik was intensely interested in the sights and sounds around us and was content with our wanderings. After “dining,” we took Nik out of the stroller and he walked his little legs off as he held Daddy’s hand. The looks of passers-by warmed my heart nearly as much as the sight of my very tall husband holding the hand of my very small son; in height they are like Laurel and Hardy —so vastly different from one another yet so in sync at the same time.
Clinging to Daddy’s hand, Nik became my intrepid explorer. He tried tastes —licks, really —of a hot pretzel with mustard (too much salt and not enough mustard for his taste, apparently!) and of soft serve ice cream (which got only slightly better reviews). He sat on the boardwalk and examined the rough texture of the boards worn with the steps of the thousands of vacationers each summer. He even let us wander into the Funland arcade! Niksdad and I were ready to leave the moment Nik showed any signs of distress. Nope, not my fearless boy.
As we stood watching the carousel, Niksdad and I debating the merits of trying it with Nik, Nik decided he’d had quite enough of the noise and lights, thank you very much. But instead of throwing himself on the floor and having a hysterical breakdown, Nik simply turned and dragged Daddy away from the offending environment. Just toddled right on out to the sun drenched boardwalk humming and babbling the whole while. Niksdad and I looked at each other —eyebrows raised, trying not to laugh out loud —and smiled in silent communication, “Did what I think just happened happen?” Yup. Our little non-verbal wunderkind made himself crystal clear and without a fuss.
Wow, I could have gone home then and called it a great day!
The time finally came to see how Nik would do on the beach. We took off his orthotics and replaced his shoes with his neon blue and yellow “reef runners.” Before I could say a word or sneak a kiss, Nik propelled his dad forward onto the sandy dune trail. So much for sharing the moment. I watched, camera at the ready, with a lump in my throat. Was it possible that my little miracle boy was ready to embrace the beach and all its glories? He cried and fussed when Niksdad made him turn around and walk back to me. Surely that was a good sign, right? An indication that he wanted more?
Since the beach was so crowded and we couldn’t take Nik’s large stroller on the sand, we piled in the car and headed slightly north to the state park. We knew we could park right by the beach walk and would be able to leave a lot of stuff in the car. So off we went with eager anticipation.
Perhaps it was the advancing hour of the afternoon, the fact that Nik hadn’t napped and, possibly, needed to have a BM. Whatever the cause, Nik was not thrilled with our plans. He had his own agenda which, clearly, did not involve any more time on uneven sandy surfaces that had nothing for him to hold onto to cruise.
We finally got Nik onto the beach and set up the portable play yard —in case Nik really couldn’t handle the sand. Niksdad and I kicked off our shoes and made ready for our grand adventure to the water’s edge with Nik. Picture, if you will, my fierce, fearless child trying to walk on the sand without actually letting his feet touch the surface. Niksdad carried him to the firmer, slightly wet sand closer to the water; Nik did ok there. Maybe it was the unevenness of the drier sand which upset him?
So there we were, a glorious “Nik sandwich” connected by hands, standing just beyond the reach of the foamy waves crashing on the shore. Nik was doing well standing on the wet sand. I got all misty eyed and envisioned Nik frolicking in the ocean one day, just like Charlie. Had my child connected with the beach as I had hoped he would?
A split second later, a wave washed up on the shore submerging our feet under its icy foam. As I felt the back-current shifting the sand beneath our feet, Nik let out a howl of distress. “Mamamamamamama!” He turned and flung himself against my legs and tried to climb up by standing on my feet as he pulled himself up on my shorts. I looked down at my son’s panic-stricken face as I scooped him up and held him tight.
My heart ached.
I felt my elation crumble and my rose-colored glasses slip off the bridge of my nose to reveal glaring expectations I hadn’t even known I harbored. I couldn’t fathom that my boy would not love the sand, the surf, the cry of the gulls every bit as much as I have for my entire life.
As we left the beach, I felt deflated. My enjoyment at what had been a pretty wonderful day evaporated quicker than the tears I had not let myself shed. Niksdad, bless his heart, didn’t say a word as we drove. After a while, he said very quietly, “It really WAS a good day overall.” I knew he was right and I let the tears come as I struggled to explain to him my realization about the unbidden expectations. He just listened and said, “I know, honey. I know.”
So, we came home and had a quiet evening; Nik was sound asleep by 6:00 p.m. —worn out by all the salt air and sunshine. As we sat on the sofa with our after dinner coffee, Niksdad and I talked about the day; it really helped me remember that the glass is half full NOT half empty!
- More and more, Nik is walking with less support and maintaining his balance much better.
- He’s beginning to communicate his needs and desires more clearly by leading us to where he wants to go or what he wants to play with.
- He’s getting better about cooperating with specific routines such as diaper/clothing changes and getting in his chair for meals. He’s even indicated hunger by taking my hand and walking me over to his chair a good 30 minutes before I was planning to offer him dinner!
- He’s exploring new textures lately. This weekend, Nik actually walked on the sand w/Daddy as he wore his wave-runner shoes, and today he SAT on the grass and touched it. (A week ago he would have freaked out!)
- He’s learning to handle some of his sensory overload better every once in a while. (Like the arcade at the beach!)
- Nik’s learning to suck and is finally able to drink from his sippy cup with the valve IN.
- He’s responding well to the sensory input around meal times and has begun eating more. Not a lot, but more.
- He’s making clear choices now when offered two toys to play with.
He follows simple instructions and understands things like “Turn the toy OFF.”
- Nik wants to play with mommy & Daddy every once in a while. 🙂
So, in the scheme of things, will I die if my son never likes the beach? No. Well, maybe just a little…but I’ll get over it.