I’m not a person who places any significant value in nostalgia. That’s not to say that memories don’t fill me with the same warmth that they do everyone else, I just don’t tend to connect things with experiences. I don’t keep things for posterity or engage in endless storytelling about the past, though I don’t mind at all when others do. So, I surprised myself yesterday when I did something so completely out of character, yet it felt necessary for me to do.
I kept shells. I kept the shells that calmed my son from his angst on his first visit to the beach and arguably, his first venture into the world as a pandemic baby. This moment felt too important to commemorate with anything less than something tangible.
When we arrived at the beach, and the four of us looked out onto the ocean for the first time for Benny and Bella, and for the first time in a couple of years, for Aly and I, we took it in with wonder. For Aly and I, at how we went so long without that familiar scent of salt water kissing our lungs, and for the babies, presumably, at how anything could be so vast. The ocean, is far vaster than their playroom, or the four walls of our home, or the few parks we’ve travailed. And as we got closer, the look of wonder did not dim, in any of us.
As sand crept through our toes while we found the perfect, socially distanced spot on our little piece of beach, we filled our lungs and dusted the cobwebs off the places only salty air once reached with healing mist. It was nothing short of cleansing after what has felt like a tumultuous couple of years.
Barely done popping our tent, no swim suits, or cares to be had, Aly and I took hold of the babies and approached the sea. Hearts fluttering, sand dampening, the ocean finally reached our toes and the cold didn’t even bother us. Bella wanted more, immediately. She wanted to be closer. And we knew from that moment that, a water baby, she would be. She’s always the brave one. Benny showed far more restraint, as he clung to Aly but felt the water go through his legs. His curiosity not quite peaked enough, when she let go of his hand for a second so that he could get a closer look, it became too much and too big and all of the things it probably always was to our pandemic babies.
So, Aly and I switched and I handed a very excited Bella over to her and she gave me a whimpering Benny to try to gently befriend the ocean from afar. And so we did, through its shells. I sat with him on my lap just out of reach of the tide and picked shells from around us to show him and focus his attention on something smaller than everything else that was so big. Gentle reminders were necessary that shells were to touch and not to eat, but otherwise, they worked like a charm. We explored the colors and the textures and talked about how animals once lived in them. And then he looked up at Mommy and Bella with their feet in the water and he was less scared. He and the ocean could at least be acquaintances. For now. We’ll work on it.
But on the shoreline, on our first trip to the beach, on their first experience in the world, watching my wife and daughter play in the water while I calmed my son with shells, I needed something to touch that connected me to that moment. And so, I saved something. I saved the shells.
I’ve acknowledged before that becoming a mama has changed me. It astounds me constantly, the many ways it has. I know the growing doesn’t stop for any of us but I’ve already seen parts of them come and go and it’s absolutely heartbreaking and terrifying to feel how real time is now that I’m a parent. Perhaps that’s why I kept the shells. Because, if we do things right, he won’t always be afraid of the ocean. He will be a braver version of himself the next time we go and then I’ll have to find something else to save because I guess that’s who I am now.