At the Ocean
Originally Published June 2018
At the age of 37, I experienced another first. A couple of weeks ago, our family went to the beach. This wasn’t just standing by the sea and watching the waves or dipping my toes in the ocean, but walking barefoot in the sand, wading waist-deep in the water, and searching for seashells.
As part of our family vacation to visit my husband’s family in North Carolina, we decided to spend a couple of days in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. We rented an ocean-view room in an oceanfront hotel, where we could see the waves when we weren’t in them. From sunrise to twilight to darkness of night, the constancy of the waves was calming and refreshing.
I loved the experience of stepping into the Atlantic. The just-right temperature of the water felt refreshing on my feet. I was amazed by the sensation of the sand being eroded from underneath me as I stood still and the strength of the water against my legs. Watching the waves roll was soothing, while seeing the water flow back out, swirling the sand as it moved, made me feel off-balance and dizzy.
I also discovered a new interest: looking for seashells. It started with Brunhilda. She went down to the water with her grandma and came back with a shell that she had picked up and didn’t want to let go. It was worn and broken—definitely not beautiful, but she had found it and it was hers. Later, I found one similar to Brunhilda’s, worn and broken, too, but interesting in its own way. When I walked to and from the ocean after that, I looked down at the sand, searching. And then I found it, a shell that showed me why others find this to be such a fulfilling pastime—a small but unbroken clam shell. It was exciting. But I didn’t expect to find anything more than that. I quickly realized that it’s easier to find broken shells than complete shells.
The next day, standing in the shallow water with Wolfie, I saw something beige near my feet, coming in and out of view among the seafoam. I hoped that as the water subsided it wouldn’t be buried in the sand. As the water cleared, it was still there. I reached into the ocean and pulled it out. An olive shell, whole and intact. Even my mother-in-law, who has been to the beach many times and doubtless seen many beautiful shells, was impressed. After that, I made up my mind to find two more perfect shells, one for each member of our family. Within a couple of hours, I met my goal with two small clam shells.
Brett has been swimming since he was a boy and is very comfortable in the ocean. I only learned to swim about ten years ago and am uncomfortable with the depth of the ocean. Our children are somewhere in between. Wolfie learned to be brave by following his cousins into the water. The first day, he was only willing to get his legs wet, sometimes allowing his cousin to drag him a little further in before rushing back to the beach. By the second day, he was lying on his stomach, floating on the water as the ocean pushed and pulled him. He wore a broad smile the whole time, enjoying every minute.
Brunhilda was brave from the beginning. She immediately let her grandma take her by the hand and lead her to the ocean, then stood in the water. She enjoyed being hit by the waves, as long as they didn’t knock her off her feet or hit her in the face. It took me some time, but I learned to hold her hands and stand her in front of me so that the waves pushed her into my legs instead of pushing her down.
Most important of all, without the distraction of the stresses of everyday life, this trip reminded me to appreciate something I love, but can too easily forget. I have always enjoyed watching Brett do things that he loves to do, seeing the smile on his face and the calm he doesn’t always feel. And he loves swimming in the ocean and riding on the waves. Seeing the happiness on his face makes me want to do everything I can to make sure it’s there more often. I treasure the new experiences of this trip and that I was able to share them with my family, but what matters most to me is that I was able to grow closer to Brett, to fall even more in love with him. Talking with him, laughing with him, seeing him smile even more than usual, it reminds me why we chose each other, why we’re together, and that we need these experiences more often.