Children’s memories are incredible. As we drive out to the beach today they both tell me about the walks, the bike rides, the times we stopped for a trail hike or ate at a restaurant. I have the same memories, of course; but theirs seem so vivid, and they are obviously so fond retelling these events. Their affection for our beaches and our trails is humbling, too; these are places that Ralph and I selected, in effect building so much of their childhood. We don’t program our children like blank tapes but we do influence them so much.
It is sunny and warm – seventy degrees. We arrive to park and no one is near; we can see a few distant sea-gazers on the far-off overlook tower. The oldest child made and packed our lunch – hoagie sandwiches with red leaf lettuce and pickles and vegan lunchmeats and cheese, a side of chips. The dog is perched back of the Jimmy – excited, his expression absolutely jovial and alert. He can’t believe his luck! Once we lock the car and head to the jetty we are disturbed to discover he is finally too old to leap up the rocks and climp over into the hidden sandy beach. He tries many times, valiantly; but his agility is not there. We walk him a bit, then tie up him with a good deal of water, and leave him for a bit. My heart hurts to leave him behind; I also know it is better to have brought him than not at all.
Today on social media – in a parent support group – I read parents complaining about their teen children, calling teens “assholes”, discussing whether a preteen child was old enough to decide ____ for herself. It hurt my heart; I closed my laptop. I wonder to myself how I avoided this fate, of feeling I was doing my children some kind of favor to care for them.
My children aren’t perfect; just last night one of them had a verbally violent outburst and today tempers are still tender. The child and I have a short conversation in the car today and I tell them that everyone has outbursts; no one in this family is judging, and we need to keep the family safe.
I ask if they know what set them off – were they worried about ___, were they feeling resentment toward ___? They tell me, “I have been asking myself the same thing,” and I am thinking: Job well done. I let them know that sometimes we don’t know why we lash out, and it’s okay not to know for a while. But by the same token, they also need to step back and reflect; it is their responsibility to figure it out. And there is always help available. It’s a conversation we have with our kids; keep it as short as possible, keep it thoughtful. Make sure to center myself first; and if possible discuss the issue after I’ve rested, meditated, and talked with my partner.
Because our dog party member is down for the count, we don’t stay at the beach very long today; long enough to find starfish, and chiton, and little snails and little crabs and large isopods. We stop on our way out of town at a coffee shop for tea lattes, and then home to Ralph who is cleaning the house and preparing dinner.
Before bed my eldest comes to be held and I kiss the top of their fuzzy shaved head; they still smell like the sea. They are soft and warm and content, that we had a day together, playing like children.