Who can guess the secret of the sea?
Who can guess the secret of the sea?
If you can guess the secret of my love for you
Then we both could know the secret of the sea
From “Secrets of the Sea,” by Billy Bragg and Wilco
On the morning of our first day at the beach, while Beth went for her walk, I corralled people into putting food on the grocery list so she could grocery shop when she got back. While she was shopping, Sara, North, Lily-Mei and I went to the beach. (Noah stayed at home because he was editing the film he’d helped shoot the previous week. He ended up working on it from just after breakfast until dinnertime, when he finished it, so he was free the rest of vacation.)
Sara had decided it was the year for Lily-Mei to learn to dive under waves. Their home ocean is the Pacific, and while they have a vacation house on the coast, the water is so cold neither Sara nor Dave ever want to take her past wading depth, so she’d never done it. Lily-Mei was quite enthusiastic about this project and kept yelling “This is amazing!” after diving under each wave. We were all having a good time jumping in the waves and spotting the occasional dolphin or osprey circling above with fish in their talons.
The waves were moderate-sized for the most part but after Dave came to join us and he was with Lily-Mei a big wave knocked them both over and separated them. From where Sara and I were in the water, too far away to help, we could see the panic on his face. They both got up, though, not much worse for the wear, though Lily-Mei did talk a lot later about the wave that was “like a tsunami.” After a while, everyone got out of the water and Lily-Mei started to dig a hole with my kids’ old shovel I’d brought for her.
After lunch I went into town to get a gift certificate to Browseabout Books for my mom’s birthday, which was the next day. On the way home, I got myself an iced café con leche at Café A-Go-Go, as it’s not really a beach trip without at least one, and I ran into Sara, Dave, and Lily-Mei outside Candy Kitchen. Lily-Mei had a spiral lollipop in her mouth. They’d just rented bikes, so we made our separate ways home.
When I got home, Beth, North, Lily-Mei and I headed to the beach. Beth got her legs wet and then retreated to her towel while the rest of us got in the water. The surf was rougher than it had been in the morning, the waves about the same size but closer together, so there wasn’t much time to rest. Lily-Mei was not as ebullient as she’d been in the morning, instead she looked very serious and focused as we ducked under and jumped into waves. We were getting tugged northward out of the lifeguards’ range, so after the second time we’d gotten out and re-entered the water further south, I told Lily-Mei the next time we got near the red flag, we’d get out of the water for good. In response she started swimming south against the current so we’d never reach the flag. “She’s a problem solver,” I said and North agreed. Around this time, Dave and Mom arrived, so Dave took my place in the water and I went to rest and talk to my mom.
When the lifeguards blew the 5:30 whistle signaling they were going off duty, Dave and Lily-Mei got out of the water. When the guards dragged their chair away Lily-Mei was drawn to the big pile of sand it left behind and decided she wanted to eradicate it by stomping and pouring water on it out of her watering can. This project occupied her and Dave for some time.
Mom and North were on dinner duty that night and they made a nice pasta salad with mozzarella, a tomato-cucumber salad with feta, and corn on the cob. Dave had put on a yacht rock station, partly to rib Sara, I think, but it lead to a spirited discussion of what constitutes yacht rock. Beth had listened to an episode of Hit Parade about this and was particularly well informed.
Noah and I cracked open a new book, The Gods of Jade and Shadow, which is about a young woman who accidentally brings a Mayan god back to life and joins him on a quest. It seemed like it would be a fun read. I just counted on Goodreads and we’ve read twenty-eight books together since he came home in March of 2020. This one won’t be the last, but whenever we start a new one now I wonder how many more we’ll finish. My guess is two or three (counting the current one). It feels strange for this number to be so finite and so small.
Secret of the Sea #1: It’s good to have multiple ways to deal with each wave as it comes at you.
In the morning I hung around the house talking with people and then went to the boardwalk where I settled into the shade of one of the gazebos and starting blogging until it was time to go pick up my mom’s birthday cake at the bakery. When we got back North was teaching Sara, Dave, and Lily-Mei to play Sleeping Queens, a card game my kids loved in elementary school (and that we played a lot last summer when North was in the hospital, maybe for its comforting nostalgia factor).
I took my mom out for a birthday lunch at a boardwalk restaurant where we often go. We were seated inside at the back of the restaurant, where the tables are on a platform so you can look right out over the rest of the tables out to the sea. I got steamed clams in one of my very occasional beachside departures from vegetarianism and she got a crab cake sandwich and we had a nice conversation.
After lunch we met up with the rest of our party on the boardwalk and got ice cream because Beth had mentioned several times in a casual sort of way that Sunday was National Ice Cream Day and I got the idea she’d like to celebrate this fine holiday. She did an excellent job herding six people to the boardwalk on short notice when I texted her. Beth told me I was living dangerously eating ice cream in a white polo and sure enough it soon had a pistachio green stain on the front. While we were eating our ice cream I remembered I’d forgotten to give my mom her birthday card and the gift certificate at lunch, so I gave it to her then.
Sara, Noah, and Lily-Mei went to the beach straight from the boardwalk, changing in the restrooms near Funland. Mom and I went back to the house to change and eventually joined them. When we arrived they were on the sand after a swim and Lily-Mei was making repairs to a pool she’d dug in the sand and was hoping the ocean would fill, but she’d dug it when the tide was going out and she was glum that no waves were reaching it, until suddenly a rogue wave did and she was jubilant.
Everyone but Mom went (back) into the water. The waves were breaking closer to shore than the day before, which made for a rough entry, but overall the water was calmer than the day before. While we were in the water, Lily-Mei started to experience a stinging sensation Sara had noticed the day before and they found tiny gray creatures on her skin. Research revealed they were jellyfish larvae, which can get caught in tight-fitting bathing suits and sting when that happens. (Later Sara and Dave got Lily-Mei a rash guard and some board shorts, which mostly solved the problem.)
I stayed longer than anyone else and I only got out of the water because I thought the lifeguards had blown the 5:30 whistle, but it was just for someone out of bounds. It was 5:20 by then and I didn’t want to get in just to have to get out again in ten minutes so I stayed on my towel. Sara, Noah, and Lily-Mei were packing up to leave, but Mom and I stayed almost another hour. It was that beautiful golden early evening time at the beach when the light is just lovely and the day was warm but not hot and it was actually kind of hard to convince ourselves to leave, but we did.
Sara and Dave made tofu and veggie-filled lettuce wraps for dinner and they were a big hit, as was the chocolate cake with raspberry puree and custard between the layers. That night my kids and Lily-Mei had a sleepover in the room with two bunk beds. They stayed up late (for Lily-Mei) and watched a movie and played Truth or Dare. In Lily-Mei’s version of this game, if you chose truth, instead of having to answer a question, someone tells you a truth about yourself.
Meanwhile, all the adults except Beth and me watched a different movie, while we elected to take a walk on the boardwalk and beach and watch the heat lighting. It felt like a little date.
Secret of the Sea #2: The celebrations you plan are important, but the little, spontaneous ones are, too.
I slept in the next morning, which for me means I was asleep until almost eight. North was still asleep but Noah and Lily-Mei were snuggled on the couch, playing Truth or Dare. He chose truth every time but from the bedroom I couldn’t quite hear what truths he was receiving, so I asked him later and he said that his nails are long, his arms are big, his pajama top is funny looking, and that if he shaved off all his hair it would be enough to cover his face. Next Lily-Mei wanted to look at his phone and they had the following exchange:
“What’s the bird?”
“People talking to each other.”
“Also people taking to each other.”
“Your phone is boring.”
So he found her some cat videos and she was happy.
The kids wanted Grandpa Mac for lunch, but the original, walkable location is closed, so we ordered it to the house from the location up on Route 1. While we were waiting for the food to arrive, I went to the boardwalk gazebo closest to our house to read The Secret to Superhuman Strength.
Mom and I went to the beach in the mid-afternoon. The ocean was very calm. I swam twice and in between Mom and I had a long talk and read and ate plums and watched a school of bluefish swim up the coast. They made a dark band in the water and you could see the fish jump out of the water occasionally and the seagulls following the school. The lifeguards cleared the water to let it pass.
We got Japanese for dinner, again ordered to the house. We’d hoped to go and eat on the beautiful rooftop deck of the Cultured Pearl, but we couldn’t get a reservation. We needed to eat in the house or outdoors because Lily-Mei is not vaccinated yet and I guess a lot of people with under twelves are in the same boat because outdoor reservations are tough to get.
Secret of the Sea #3: If you seek the truth, you must accept it.
The much anticipated kayak trip was Tuesday morning. Sara, Dave, Lily-Mei, Beth, and I all got up early. My kids were going to come, but opted out when they found out we were leaving the house at 7:30. Something went wrong with our reservations for the dolphin tour, so we ended up renting kayaks and going out on the Bay without a guide. There were small waves, so small Sara called them “undulations,” so it was almost as calm as kayaking in a lake, and I’d learned enough on my two practice trips not to embarrass myself. Sara said, “I wouldn’t call your kayaking bad,” but she went overboard at one point, so I’m not sure how high her bar was.
We paddled toward a lighthouse on a seawall because the young man who rented us the kayaks thought that was our best bet if we wanted to see dolphins. He was hesitant for us to go around the wall because no one from shore would be able to see us, but Sara convinced him we’d be okay. The Bay was very pretty and we saw horseshoe crabs in the shallows, and jellyfish and a variety of sea birds nesting on the seawall. We did see dolphin fins near a fishing boat (I imagine they were after the same fish), but it was pretty far in the distance, no closer than I saw from the ocean most days. It was still a nice excursion, though I think Lily-Mei liked the ice cream she got at the snack bar afterward best.
In the early afternoon, Noah, Lily-Mei and I went to the beach. We swam and then we took a walk up the beach. Lily-Mei was stamping her footprints into the damp sand, circling them and adding her initials all the way from lifeguard stand 15 to 19. She was hoping to see some of them on the way back but the ocean had erased them all, much to her dismay. When we got back to our towel she started to build an elaborate village of sand castles, crisscrossed and surrounded by moats and walls. She’d been working on this for about forty minutes, while I alternately read and watched her, when a boy a little older than her accidentally trampled part of it and then he and his mother helped repair it. Soon, the kids were deep in conversation about how to improve the village. It’s so interesting the way kids will lose themselves in a project like this. They played together a long time and I don’t think they even introduced themselves. (They did establish their ages, however. He’s nine and she’s eight.)
Sara worked at least a little every day and when she finished for the day, she came down to the beach, and Noah and I left to make a quick stop at Candy Kitchen to get fudge for the house. Then we went home. I needed to get back early to help Beth make her signature beach dinner—gazpacho, salt-crusted potatoes with cilantro-garlic sauce, bread, a plate of fancy cheese, and olives. She makes it every year and all the adults, including me, look forward to it. We were cooking in pairs all week and in addition to anticipating the meal, I was also glad not to have to plan any meals and to just have a set of discrete tasks like picking cilantro leaves off the stems, cutting slices of cheese, etc.
Shortly before dinner Sara, Dave, and Lily-Mei came back from Funland and Lily-Mei was saying she’d seen Frankenstein and it took me a while to put two and two together to and realize she’d been in the Haunted Mansion. It was her first time.
Noah and I read for forty-five minutes after dinner and then there was an expedition to the boardwalk for ice cream and frozen custard. We left while Sara and Dave were putting Lily-Mei to bed, and I thought Sara, who tries not to eat much sugar, would be glad to be spared the temptation, but it turned out she was disappointed to miss the outing. On the way home we saw several boys in the street riding contraptions they had rigged up by attaching beach chairs to skateboards. I ended up seeing them several times during the week and they always drew a lot of attention. (One day I saw a police officer direct them off the boardwalk—where skateboards are not allowed—and then as soon as she was out of sight they went right back.) I also saw a little frog in the grass by the sidewalk and when I got too close it jumped into the street and then I had to catch it and return it to the grass because I was afraid it would get hit by a car. The eventually successful rescue effort also drew an audience.
When we got back everyone hung out in the living room and talked until late in the night. Well, late for us. I went to bed around eleven and it was past twelve before Beth came to bed.
Secret of the Sea #4: Lose yourself in exploration and play.
Wednesday morning my mom went to have coffee with my stepfather’s cousin who lives nearby and Beth and Dave took my kids and Lily-Mei to the water park. I headed out to a boardwalk gazebo to blog again.
When Lily-Mei asked if I was going to Jungle Jim’s, I told her it was against my religion. “She likes the real water,” Lily-Mei concluded, correctly, and Sara said yes, that was it, and Lily-Mei, said, “Well, she’s missing out.” Maybe I was, but before we all went our separate ways I didn’t miss out on seeing Sara, Noah, and Lily-Mei play zoo. Sara played the zookeeper, Lily-Mei’s ever-growing collection of stuffed animals from Funland were zoo animals, Lily-Mei was a vicious cheetah who was prone to escape from her cage and Noah was a series of five hapless zoo visitors slaughtered by the cheetah. (The cheetah also captured and devoured many of the other zoo animals.)
While I was at the gazebo, my mom passed by on her way home from the coffeeshop. Jim’s cousin hadn’t showed (she wasn’t sure he was going to because their communication had been confusing). She stopped for a while to sit with me and then went back to the house. I followed eventually and had lunch.
In the afternoon while I was at the beach, swimming and finishing The Secret to Superhuman Strength, the annual beach week puzzle was finished, only a day after it was started. This one had a design of postage stamps. YaYa fitted in the last piece, though it was Noah and Dave who had put most of it together, with some assists from YaYa, North, and Lily-Mei.
YaYa and Noah made linguine for dinner, but it was a small crowd because North was in bed with a headache (they came down and ate later) and Sara and Dave were out on a dinner date. Right before they left Lily-Mei was begging to go to the Haunted Mansion while they were gone and her wish was granted. Sara said yes and North and I took her.
The whole walk there she was chanting, “Haunted Mansion,” alternating with “Frankenstein,” which was clearly the monster that resonated most with her. I’d heard her say to Sara earlier in the day, “Mama, Frankenstein doesn’t have a square head. You know how our heads have no corners? His has two at the top, but not four.” When North was that age, it was the zombie that impressed them most, and Noah has always been fond of the room full of tiny floating skulls because he realized early that the trick was done with mirrors and he liked that idea. As you can see, the Mansion is an important rite of passage in our family and I was glad to be there for Lily-Mei’s second trip through it.
Funland was crowded and we had to wait in line for tickets and then for the mansion itself, but finally it was time to board. I wasn’t sure if the three of us (plus North’s crutch) would fit into one car, but we did. It was the same as it always is, the room of spiders, the skeletons holding a hose that seems like it will spray you but doesn’t, the devil launching into a real estate pitch for hell, the truck that suddenly appears, horn blaring. (Lily-Mei said later she didn’t like that.)
The doors that sometimes open to let you see out of the ride and onto the boardwalk opened this time. Lily-Mei was uncharacteristically quiet for most of the ride, but every now and then she’d squeak when something spooked her. Afterward she was on that joyful and proud post-Mansion high I remember well from when my kids were eight to ten or so.
Secret of the Sea #5: Face your fears.
Mom and Sara’s family were leaving a day early because they had an early afternoon flight out of Philadelphia on Friday (all except Sara who was driving up to Northeastern Pennsylvania to visit our cousin) and they were worried about getting caught in traffic on the way there. I realized I hadn’t had any time alone with Sara all week, so I invited her out for coffee, and even though she was busy with packing and hoping to get some work time in, she said yes. We went to Café-a-Go-Go and had a long talk, mostly about parenting.
Afterward, I read to Lily-Mei, about half of a chapter book about a girl who is trying to track down both a vampire and a werewolf in her house, which must be about par for the course when you live in a place called “Spookie House.” It was the fourth book in series and I was reading a big chunk out of the middle, but it was still fun, as it was the kind of book I used to read to my kids, though we hadn’t read this particular series.
Right after that, Beth managed to wrap up some work (I was the only non-retired adult who did not work on this vacation) and we left for a late lunch, a belated anniversary celebration. We went to Green Man and got juice from the juice bar—she got the cantaloupe kiss and I got the love potion (peach-strawberry-orange). She also got a sandwich and I got a piece of quiche and salad. We took it to the boardwalk to eat and then we got ice cream cones from Royal Treat. It was fun to get away with her, even for a short while.
Mom, Sara, Dave, and Lily-Mei hit the road around five-thirty. Noah and I read for about an hour, then we had a makeshift dinner of leftovers, and Beth, YaYa, North, and I went for an evening swim. Well, North and I swam, while Beth and YaYa watched from the sand. When we turned to the shore we could see the sun going down behind Funland and the orange-gold light was really beautiful on the water. There were other people in the ocean but it was less crowded than in the daytime and it felt kind of magical to be swimming at sundown. YaYa went home after we got out of the water, and Beth and I took North to Funland for one last time. They went on the Freefall, the Sea Dragon, and the Graviton. They probably would have gone on the Paratrooper, but the line was insane.
It was quite crowded there, even more so than the night before, and I wished I’d brought a mask, even though I never wear one outside any more. After wearing one to go up to the counter at Dairy Queen on the drive to the beach, I hadn’t even been wearing one inside. I think being on vacation made me relaxed, also there was no visual cue, as hardly anyone was wearing one anywhere, even in line for the Haunted Mansion where there were a lot of under-twelves standing right up next to each other for upwards of twenty minutes. (Lily-Mei was masked.) I’m going to get back in the habit of always wearing a mask inside public places, though, because of the delta variant and because North’s sleepaway camp is urging caution and I want to be a team player.
After Funland, we went to Candy Kitchen and North got a funnel cake with Nutella and strawberries and whipped cream on it. It was something else. I helped them finish it and then Beth and North played Skee-Ball at an arcade, which we chose because there was less of a line there than at Funland, but it was also considerably more expensive, because you have to buy a twenty-five dollar swipe card. With luck, we’ll remember to bring it to the beach next year, though it could take a few years to use up that much arcade money, as no one plays anything but Skee-Ball.
The moon was almost full and very beautiful as we walked home. It was nice to spend some two-mom, one-kid time with North. We haven’t been doing that much, with Noah at home. It was almost ten when we got home, which is quite a late night on the town for us.
Secret of the Sea #6: Be a responsible citizen.
Friday we packed up the house and it seemed to be going more smoothly than usual, with less angst about what food will fit in the cooler and what has to be thrown out, but then the cleaners showed up at ten on the dot while we were still scrambling to get the last few things out of the house, so I didn’t make my last-minute check of all of the rooms for stray items and I ended up leaving my laptop charger in our bedroom.
Beth, YaYa, and Noah went to the Verizon store to go phone shopping for YaYa, while North and I made one last stop at Café a-Go-Go, where we each got a cold drink and split a piece of coffeecake. Then we went for one last swim and met up with the rest of our party on the boardwalk and got our traditional last day lunch of fries, crepes, and orangeade. While Noah was waiting in the crepe line, I made a quick stop at the tea and spice shop to get enough of my two favorite teas to last until Thanksgiving.
We’ll be back then, with a smaller group, to discover more of the secrets of the sea.
Secret of the Sea #7: It’s easier to leave when you’ve made a plan to come back.