Every year we go to the beach for a weekend in early to mid-December, to Christmas shop and for me to get an off-season beach fix. When I wrote my speech about our family traditions for our wedding last January, this one was prominently mentioned. It’s right up there with going a little crazy with Halloween decorations and always going to see the cherry blossoms even if they bloom at an inconvenient time. It’s part of our family culture, so much so that both of my children have believed (and one still may) that the Santa in the little house on the boardwalk is the real Santa and any others they might see in the weeks leading up to Christmas are fakes.
So a week ago, on Thursday morning I was in the kitchen with June singing a Christmas song—I don’t remember which one—except I kept substituting “Beachmas” for “Christmas.” This was because we were leaving for the beach the next day. I’d been cheerful all week contemplating this trip, but I also had some trepidation.
Last year we considered not going on this trip, to save money, but in the end we went because I couldn’t bear the idea of not going. This year I was more worried about time, Noah’s time that is. It was the second to last weekend before IDRP is due and I didn’t know if going away was a good idea. But I knew if we cancelled a long-standing tradition on account of his workload we’d all be sad, including, maybe especially him—Noah thrives on tradition—so I didn’t even tell Beth I wasn’t sure if we should go, and we went.
We got a late start Friday afternoon, largely because Noah had not had time to pack beforehand and it was past four-thirty before he was ready to go. We ended up in rush hour traffic on a rainy afternoon, and our progress was excruciatingly slow. I told Beth I wasn’t going to worry about getting the kids to bed on time, and she said that was good, because there was no chance of it.
We had an audiobook (one of the ones we couldn’t listen to over Thanksgiving because there’s a CD stuck in the drive) downloaded onto a device, but we decided rather than listen to it we’d all be quiet so Noah could read and take notes on the Holocaust memoir he had to re-read because he (along with half the class) failed the test on it. This was less fun than listening to a book together or singing along with Christmas music would have been, especially for June who can’t read in the car without getting sick and was bored and restless. We decided it was best for Noah, though, and because of his workload and his learning challenges (his ADHD-NOS and his slow processing speed being most relevant here) often what’s best for Noah determines what we all do.
We arrived at the hotel around 9:15, June having slept around a half hour in the car. After we unpacked and June was tucked into bed, I slipped out for a walk on the beach. It was misting and 43 degrees according to the big thermometer on Rehoboth Avenue, with a fierce wind blowing. I wore my raincoat, rather than the warmer fleece jacket I’d brought, largely to keep myself from yielding to the temptation to stay on the beach too long. When I came back to the room fifteen minutes later my boots were sandy, my cheeks were tingling with the cold and I felt lighter, more alive, the way I always do after my first trip to the beach in any given visit. Noah still wasn’t in bed and June was awake, too. It was probably ten-thirty before we all fell asleep.
We didn’t sleep well. The room was over-heated and Beth and I both woke several times during the night and then the kids were up and whispering to each other by five-thirty. I stayed in bed until seven, hoping for more sleep, but I didn’t get any.
The kids and I got dressed and went down to play on the beach while we waited for Galleria Espresso, our favorite breakfast spot, to open at eight. It was colder than the night before, 38 degrees, but it felt a little warmer because it wasn’t raining and it wasn’t as windy. June dug in the sand a bit and the kids made a perfunctory sand castle—June filled the bucket with sand and Noah turned it over carefully and then immediately stomped on it because that’s what he does with all his sand castles.
We met Beth at the restaurant and were met with the unwelcome sight of it dark and bare inside. There was a sign saying it was re-locating to Route 1, which meant it would no longer be accessible by foot, and we’d be unlikely to go there much anymore. We were all disappointed (no pumpkin crepes for breakfast!) and with the nearby Café-A-Go-Go closed for the season, it was unclear where we should eat. We are creatures of habit, all of us (except maybe June). As it was we were already staying it a different hotel than we usually do because our preferred hotel was partially under renovation and full of runners for a marathon being held that day. We were quite discombobulated. Beth had the idea to eat in the restaurant of the fanciest hotel on the boardwalk, The Boardwalk Plaza, and knowing it has an ocean view, I readily assented.
After breakfast I was ready to get started on my Christmas shopping mission with June while Noah stayed in the room working on homework. But June wanted to swim in the hotel pool. She was actually the only one of us happy to be in a new hotel, because of the pool, so I said okay. We had it to ourselves, possibly because it was raining in there. No, really. They seemed to be having a problem with condensation all over the hotel. There was water pooling on the windowsill of our room and water dripped from the glass ceiling of the pool area. I covered our clothes with our jackets so they wouldn’t get too wet while we swam.
By the time June and I had finished and had showers it was almost time for lunch, but we made a quick stop at the tea and spice shop. June was a shopping dynamo, focused and decisive as she picked gifts for immediate and extended family. We had lunch at a boardwalk restaurant, which I chose again mainly for the view because we’ve had bad service and mediocre food there in the past. I knew Beth and Noah were unlikely to set foot in there again so it seemed like my best chance to eat a salad and sweet potato fries while I watched the gray waves crash against the shore. June ordered fried pickles for an appetizer, and they were about what you’d expect fried pickles to be like. As we were leaving I thought I’d lost my phone and they were really nice about pulling the booth apart into its component parts to look for it and then I discovered it was in my shirt pocket all along.
Our next stop was going to be the bookstore, but we needed to go back to the hotel first because I had a gift certificate I’d forgotten to bring with me. I came into the room and greeted Beth and Noah cheerfully, but it was soon apparent something was wrong. Noah had started his homework with Spanish and algebra because those are two of his easier classes and he wanted to get them out of the way, but he got unexpectedly snagged on both assignments. He was frustrated and tearful and he didn’t want to stop working and go out for lunch because he just wanted to break through the impasse.
I was pretty sure his difficulties stemmed in part from the fact that he hadn’t slept well and it was two o’clock and he hadn’t had lunch. I felt a stab of guilt for coming to Rehoboth at all, when he might have been able to work better at home. Meanwhile June said she was going to pretend Noah was laughing and not crying because she didn’t like to hear him cry.
In the end Beth coaxed him to the cheesemonger’s for a lunch of fancy cheese and crackers, while June and I continued our shopping until it was time to see Santa. Noah has not believed in Santa since he was six, but up until this year he has gone for June’s sake (and for many years when she was too shy to speak to Santa he conveyed her wishes for her). This year, though, he declined. We didn’t push it. He’s twelve and that is a bit old for sitting on Santa’s lap.
The three of us watched as June went into the little house and whispered to Santa and just so all her bases were covered, she left a note in his mailbox. She’d composed and sealed the note several days earlier. Uncharacteristically, Beth decided to pry open the envelope and read it, largely because being Santa, she wanted to know what June was expecting of Santa. The note was cryptic saying June knew Santa already knew what she wanted but even if he didn’t provide it she would still believe in him.
After Santa we switched kids and Beth and June went shopping while I stayed in the room with Noah. I thought maybe if I read the Holocaust memoir to him it would go more quickly but he was stopping me so often and taking such detailed notes I soon realized the notes were what was making the reading take so long and I wasn’t helping much. This was frustrating because I had proposed this as a way he could finish something and feel better about the day and we ended up giving up on it and on working any more that day.
We had dinner at Grotto Pizza, his favorite, and as always Beth gave the kids money to donate to whatever charity they thought had the best Christmas tree in the restaurant. Noah seemed in better spirits. Earlier in the day Beth had seen a sign outside a locked public restroom that said, “Restroom closed. Use Rehoboth Ave,” and we were all joking when I needed to go use the restroom that as the restaurant was on Rehoboth Avenue, perhaps I should just go outside and pee on the street. We’d been making this joke all day in various forms, but it had not gotten old. That’s how it is with family sometimes.
We went back to the hotel room and watched Frosty the Snowman, which we’d brought with us, and after June was in bed, Noah drummed quietly on the side of our bed with his drumsticks for an hour or so until it was time for him to go to bed. This helps him decompress sometimes and I thought it was just what he needed.
Meanwhile, I went to the beach again. It was clearer, a beautiful night, and I could see Orion and the Big Dipper. But it was still cold and I didn’t stay long.
The next day an ice storm was due to arrive so we left in the late morning, rather than after lunch as we usually would. I took June to the beach while Noah worked a bit. We found a post in the sand someone had decorated, wrapping it with red tinsel and affixing tiny ornaments and a big bow to it. I was quite taken with it, a little bit of Christmas there on the beach.
Eventually June got too cold to stay on the beach. I can’t complain about her hardiness because although I’d packed snow pants and boots, I’d forgotten to bring any of her winter jackets and she wore a windbreaker all weekend, sometimes over a sweater, sometimes not. We went to the lobby of a nearby hotel as ours didn’t have one and we read until Beth called and said Noah was ready to eat. We had a nice breakfast at Green Man, and Beth and Noah did some shopping while I took June back to the room and packed to go.
The kids and I went down to the beach for one last time before we left, to say goodbye to the ocean. There was a lot of foam on the sand, as there often is when it’s windy, and the kids had fun stomping on it. Then we let the waves run over our feet, thirteen times Noah decided, because it was 2013 but actually waiting for 2,013 waves would take too long. June and I were wearing rain boots and our feet stayed dry, but we discovered Noah’s snow boots were not as waterproof. Also, he tripped over his own feet and fell into a retreating wave and got his pants all wet and sandy. But he was laughing, which was good to hear. Like June, I’d rather hear him laugh than cry.
The ice storm came, as predicted, and it was a tricky drive home for Beth. Noah started editing his paper that evening, having not worked on it all weekend.
Monday and Tuesday
In an extraordinary stroke of luck for Noah the next two days were snow days. He did go out and enjoy the snow, but he spent most of those two days at the computer re-writing his IDRP. He still has a lot of work to do on it this weekend, but by next Thursday it will be done, for better or for worse.
I’m glad we went to the beach, despite the cold and all the time Noah had to spend working. He go to go to Grotto’s and shop a little and play on the beach twice so it wasn’t a total loss for him. It wasn’t my ideal Beachmas, but we were all there together, doing what we always do as a family. That’s what holds us together and helps us laugh in the bad times and makes the good times even better.