Whether it was pouring cold from the garden hose, stagnating in a blow up pool, or sparkling blue below the high dive at the community park, when I was a kid I tried to be in water all summer long. Especially on our summer beach vacations, where my brother and I spent the vast majority of our waking hours in the Atlantic Ocean.
Despite my portly frame, I had a certain natural grace in the water, slicing through waves with effortless fluidity. I dove, hands outstretched, head tucked, toes pointed, into oncoming waves, and with one dolphin kick burst through to the surface, unscathed, hair slicked. On calm days, I explored the depths weightlessly, hands at my sides, eyes open, propelling myself with “Man from Atlantis” undulations.
Before Boogie boards were invented, we rode the waves on inflatable canvas rafts. Paddling “Hawaii Five-0” style, I flew high on the crest in an exhilarating rush toward the towels and umbrellas. If I got dumped, I tumbled helplessly like a rag doll in a washing machine, over and over, head over heels, until I was released, choking, with a snoot full of water, grit in my teeth, and a scrape on the end of my nose.
I’d wait a minute for that sneezy tickle in my sinuses to subside, and run back to the water, swimming, slicing, flying.
Thirty years later, I find myself at the beach with my brother again. But now, we watch our own kids, six in all, romping in the waves, from the comfort of our beach chairs. An hour goes by and I have an unflattering moustache of beaded sweat under my nose. The cold beverages from the cooler have been going down quite nicely, but now my bladder is full. Walking back to the cottage just to go to the bathroom seems such a waste of relaxation time.
I resolve to go for a swim. Why not. I used to spend the entire day in the ocean, 10am to 4pm, with one stop for a quick lunch – usually a cheese sandwich and some Tang. I swam like a fish, and rode waves like a dolphin. Nothin’ to it.
I try to stand up but lurch forward only a couple inches before falling back into the chair. The low center of gravity, along with my middle aged stomach muscles, forces me to try a new approach. Gripping the armrests, I swing my head forward, hoping my torso’s momentum will lift my rear high enough out of the seat for my legs to take over.
It works, and I march into the water, smiling and waving to the kids. Knee deep, I see a formidable trough where waves are thudding solidly onto the sand. I realize that I have to somehow get through a ditch of spinning, sandblasting current without making a total idiot out of myself.
I want to turn back, but nature calls. Miraculously, the churning roll of water and sand in the ditch doesn’t suck me in, and I struggle through without getting my hair wet. Ha! I’ve still got it, I think, and swim toward the kids triumphantly.
“Watch out, Mom!” my daughter yells, as a huge breaker barrels in. So much for keeping my hair dry. I dive under the wave, and it feels as though my body has just been fed through the wringer of an old Horton washing machine. I pop up looking like a drowned rat, but feeling somewhat athletic, as another beautiful teal green wave rises up ahead of me.
“Let’s ride this one!” I yell to the kids. No sooner do I experience the thrill of being carried on the top of the wave, than my face hits the sandy bottom. I hear a tiny crunch as my legs are thrown over my head. I’m not sure how many times I tumble, but I eventually struggle to my feet in the foamy surf, with my suit cocked sideways and drooping with ten pounds of sand.
Staggering back to find a towel, I realize that I’m not a kid anymore. Like years, the waves keep rolling by, and although the water still calls to me, I’m perfectly happy to sit back and watch from the comfort of my beach chair.