The Beach, Continued:
The next day was calmer. Despite the fact that she’d gone to bed speculating exactly where in her room at home she’d lost her pacifier, June slept through the night and made it until 7:00 without waking us (a first for the trip and in fact it only happened one other time). We visited the Crocs outlet in the morning and everyone got a new pair for summer. Beth took the kids for bike and scooter ride and this time she was on her own bike so she could keep pace with them. I stayed behind to do laundry and then I got myself a café con leche and drank it on the boardwalk, reading The Washington Post Magazine until I looked up and was alarmed to see Noah and June go zipping by, apparently without Beth, but she was actually close behind. We all went home and I made lunch for the kids while Beth got a massage. June and I napped (her first non-pacifier-assisted, non-car-assisted nap). When Beth returned she took June on a scouting mission to see which restaurants were open for dinner during the off-season.
While they were gone, Noah and I started Something Wicked This Way Comes. This is more of an adult book than we usually read but he’ll be reading grown-up books in his English class next fall so I thought it might be a good idea to ease him in with some Bradbury. We’re reading my father’s college copy, a paperback with age-softened pages that cost him 60 cents in 1963. It has his pencil underlining and marginal comments. Reading it to Noah makes me feel like I’m giving him a little piece of Dad.
I went for a walk on the beach once we’d finished reading. I meant to go further but I found the ridge where the kids had played two days before and it was such a nice place to sit I stayed there. It was still long, but not as tall now and closer to the water. The tides and children with shovels had carved coves and channels all over it. I settled right above the biggest cove, a shallow crescent big enough to park two cars. It was alternately a flat expanse of wet sand and a whirling mass of water. It was mesmerizing to watch, so I stayed a half hour as the late afternoon light grew golden and the damp sand into which I’d sunk my bare feet grew cold.
I met up with everyone back at the house. We’d told June she could pick a restaurant for dinner because she was doing such a great job sleeping without a pacifier. And so it was that in a town known for its fine dining, we ended up at IHOP.
After dinner, we played four rounds of Splash. June won the second round and announced she was keeping the scorecard. Later I found her winning Rat-a-Tat-Cat scorecard in her bed. She’s not a sore loser, but she is an enthusiastic winner.
It was time for another day trip. We took the 9:15 ferry from Lewes, Delaware to Cape May, New Jersey. Noah hadn’t been on a ferryboat in years and it’s possible June never has so this was the better part of the adventure. We experienced it largely separately, however, because I am prone to motion sickness and wanted to stay out on the deck, breathing fresh air, watching the seabirds soar and admiring the beauty of the Delaware Bay on a mild, sunny day. The kids wanted to sit inside, eat snacks from the café and cruise the gift shop instead. June made her big purchase of the trip, a set of plastic mermaids with accessories; she chose it over a model lighthouse embedded with shells and a sparkly dolphin magnet.
Our first stop in Cape May was the lighthouse. When Noah was little (around three to six years old) he loved lighthouses so we were constantly visiting them. We haven’t climbed one in years; in fact this was June’s first lighthouse. She took the challenge very seriously, charging up the stairs, not wanting to stop at the landings where her mothers wanted to rest and examine the historical photographs and illustrations of Cape May. Once we got to the top, however, she was very nervous on the observation deck and wanted to go right back down.
We went to see the shipwreck on Sunset Beach next. Noah read the informational sign about the sunken concrete ship and gave us the highlights, but the big attraction was the jetty. It was a perfect jetty, made of big black rocks, just challenging enough for climbing, with only a few off-limits algae-covered rocks at the end, and a “secret hideout” where you could climb down between the rocks, and watch the waves through a window-like gap. There were barnacles on the rocks and June found a sand crab when she dug in the sand near the water’s edge. June made friends with a girl her age and that girl’s mother found a jellyfish and everyone had a lovely time. Noah made a game of racing down the jetty, bounding from rock to rock with Beth timing him and then June wanted in on the action to see if she could beat his times (she couldn’t).
It was hard to tear them away for lunch, but we did and after lunch we went to an old-fashioned soda fountain for milkshakes. We strolled through the streets of Cape May, admiring the Victorian architectural confections—all the turrets and fancy woodwork and intricately painted trim. We had to hurry back to the ferry terminal to catch the 2:30 ferry back to Delaware where reading and bath and dinner awaited us. That night June went to sleep sucking on an ice cube so she could have something in her mouth.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that my day started at 5:05 a.m., with June informing me that her ice had melted. Later in the day she mentioned in casual, matter-of-fact tone that she could choke on an ice cube, or on the melting water, but people couldn’t choke on pacifiers because they’re made for sucking. Then she resumed wondering where hers might be, under the toy box perhaps? Beth patted her arm, told her she was doing great, and said she thought she was all done with pacifiers. June chose not to acknowledge this remark.
Cape May was our last big adventure. We went out to breakfast and then Beth and June biked to the playground. Noah wanted to go with them but he and Beth misunderstood each other so they left without him and was put out. He had his helmet on and was insisting he was going to find them even though I wasn’t sure where they’d gone and Beth wasn’t answering her phone. He was looking at maps of Rehoboth and various playground locations as I tried to dissuade him. Sometimes when we travel and he’s out of his routine, it brings out the Asperger-like qualities of his personality. (Note: we had Noah tested for Aspergers a couple years back. He doesn’t have it but he faces some of the same challenges as kids who do, albeit in a milder form.)
I finally convinced him to come to the beach with me instead. We packed a picnic lunch of an apple, carrot rounds, cheese and water and supplemented it with boardwalk fries. Next we visited one of the ridges. This one was down to a few mounds of sand, a short cliff and a shallow cove. Noah and I made the cliff crumble by standing at the very edge, thus demonstrating the effect of human activity on erosion, he said. He leapt off the edge, soaking his pants around the knees (he was wearing rubber boots). He found something that looked like a rain gutter and a few feet away a narrow metal pipe with bolts at the end sticking out of the sand. He tried to dig the pipe out, but the sand rushed back into the hole with each wave.
Later that afternoon while Beth and the kids went in search of turtles in a nearby pond, I went back to the beach by myself. I walked north for forty-five minutes until I came to a jetty and found a rock flat and high enough to stand without fear of getting drenched, even as water swirled around me on three sides. It was cold and windy, but I stayed about twenty minutes, until I saw a wave of such size and power and perfect proportions that I knew it was time to leave—it wasn’t going to get better than that—and then I saw a rainbow in its retreating spray.
I wanted the kids to come to the beach with me the next morning because I’d seen pools of water perfect for wading around that time the morning before, but they didn’t want to come, so I went alone. The pools didn’t appear that day, though, and it was cold and windy; the wind was plucking bits of sea foam off the water and sending them flying through the air.
Later that morning the kids and I met a realtor and toured houses we were considering renting for our beach week in July. (Beth elected to stay home.) Looking at properties online, we’d narrowed it down to two. Both were further from the beach than I’d like but one was close to downtown shops and restaurants. We were leaning toward that one, but when we saw them in person, both kids fell head over heels in love with the more remote house. Interestingly, they both said right away it reminded them of YaYa’s house, even though they meant different houses (current and former–houses that have very little in common in my mind). Anyway, the house is a charming, old-fashioned beach cottage, with a deck that made Noah say, “A stage!” and white, painted wrought iron patio furniture that made June say, “A place for tea parties!” and two attic bedrooms with sloping ceilings and a walk-through closet that connects them. The kids’ enthusiasm swayed me and we booked it.
I took June to the beach in the afternoon. It was still cool and windy but it was sunny so we were warm enough for shell hunting and sand castle making. She enjoyed jumping off the sand cliff without her persnickety older brother yelling at her for climbing in the designated jumping area and jumping in the climbing area.
That night we made our final pilgrimage to Candy Kitchen and had pizza at Grotto’s and our last full day at the beach came to a close.
The next morning we packed up the house and went to the realty to turn in our keys and sign papers for the next house. Then we returned to town, Beth got coffee and ran some Easter-Bunny related errands, while I took the kids to the beach. The kite shop on the boardwalk was having a customer appreciation day and there were giant fabric balloons on the beach, a caterpillar the size of a school bus and a puffer fish about half that big, tethered to the sand and inflated solely by the wind. A few kids were diving into the sand under the balloons as they bobbed around and soon Noah and June joined in. There was some kind of narrative about the caterpillar exerting evil power over June and Noah trying to save her, but I wasn’t paying very close attention, preferring to watch the waves. The Easter Bunny was strolling around the boardwalk, and I pointed him out to June but she wasn’t interested. Beth said earlier in the week June had been showing her toys she might like in her Easter basket “in case the Easter Bunny is listening.” This made Beth think June has the Bunny’s number, or at least suspects the truth.
Around 10:55 a woman with a microphone announced there would be races and an egg toss for kids starting at eleven and June wanted to participate but we were supposed to meet Beth at a gazebo about two blocks away right then so I told June we’d come back. Beth still had some more errands to complete, so I took the kids back to the kite store but when we got there I didn’t see Noah. June accepted a piece of candy from the Easter Bunny and we turned back to find her brother, who had just taken such a long time to get his shoes on he was lagging far behind us. We returned and June decided she wanted one of the free bagels so I got one for her and when I came back, Noah was gone again. I was more exasperated than scared. He and I had just been discussing the fact that he’d left his bike lock at the gazebo so I figured he’d gone back for it. I dragged June away from the games for the third time, but when I got to the pavilion, I found Noah’s lock, but not Noah. I was more concerned now and asked the man who was now at the microphone at the kite store to page him. He did, with no result. By the third time Noah was paged, this time with a more detailed physical description, I was crying. Apparently, I can only lose my kids once in a week without losing my cool. A little while later, Beth and Noah came riding and scooting up to the kite store.
“Where were you?” I yelled at him.
“It was my fault,” Beth said, putting her arms around me as I started to cry harder. She’d found him while I was in the bagel line and taken him for a bike and scooter ride out to the summer house, so she could see it. This had been the plan all along so she thought I’d know where he’d gone, but it didn’t occur to me she’d take him when I wasn’t looking so I had no idea. Beth guessed what had happened, though, as soon as a stranger approached them and asked, “Are you Noah?”
By this time, the games were over and June never got to play, so we strolled down the boardwalk, had lunch and drove back to Takoma, even managing to dye our Easter eggs after the unpacking and laundry and dinner and before bedtime. That night June went to bed without asking for her pacifier. We never even looked for it.
Coda: Sunday and Monday
The kids hunted for their Easter baskets in the morning and found them full of chocolate and jellybeans. June got stuffed red monkey that looks like one she once lost (and mourned for years) and Noah got a t-shirt from Grotto’s. Beth went grocery shopping and I did mounds of laundry. Beth and June started flower, vegetable and watermelon seeds in pots and then Beth raised the training wheels on June’s bike and we stood in the driveway watching her make her wobbly way around it. It was a pleasant way to ease back into our home routine, without the pressures of work or school.
Going to bed, I had no idea what awaited us. June wandered into our room around 10:15, sleepy and disoriented, saying she couldn’t sleep. I’d sent her back to her room two or three times by 10:40 when I heard her sobbing and Beth and I both went into her room. Even when I got into bed with her and held her she couldn’t stop crying. I asked her if she wanted me to sing the songs I used to sing to put her to sleep when she was younger and she said yes so I sang them for an hour until she finally drifted to sleep. At one point while she was in the bathroom I pried up her mattress and found two pacifiers in between the bed and the wall. I took them to Beth and we quietly discussed whether or not to give her one. We didn’t, but I came pretty close.
Beth took the kids to Round House in the morning. It was June’s first-ever experience with a full-day camp and she was excited, and a little nervous, to be joining Noah in the fun. When I picked them up, after a day of trying to write about memory and cognition through a brain-fog of fatigue, I learned the theme of the day had been the ocean. The kids were divided into younger and older groups and they performed for each other at the end of the day. June was a crab being interviewed on a talk show. Noah was full of praise for her performance and one of the counselors told me she was “a good little actress.” Noah was the Carpenter in a puppet show version of “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” and another counselor said it was always good to see him. Noah said he couldn’t wait for summer vacation so he could go back to Round House, and June said it was fun, but after lunch and the play period, she’d been tired and wanted to go home. On the bus, I wondered why the kids had fallen silent and looked back to see June asleep, leaning against Noah.
We’ve made the crossing out of the territory of Spring Break. Beth went back to work on Monday and the kids returned to school yesterday. I’m not making any predictions about how long it will take June to go to sleep easily and consistently without her pacifier but the last two nights have gone well so I’m crossing my fingers for tonight.