I wish I could say "Here's a picture of Liam frolicking on the beach in New Hampshire! See the joy? See the sheer abandon? Oh, he's so happy here! Happy, happy, joy, joy!" What you see to the left is actually a picture of Liam on the beach in Venice, California where he spent hours playing with the surf. Where he raced his shadow until he collapsed on the sand, spent. Where he found a new family that included an architect and built a surprisingly sound and reliably constructed sand castle. It's clear that he loves the beach.
But I don't have any pictures like this one from our new home because Liam won't go to the beach. Says he doesn't like the beach. Cries and sets to whining when we mention going to the beach. When his summer camp spent the day at the beach, the other kids jumped out of their cars before they came to a complete stop; moms shouted goodbyes and have funs to kids who were no longer within earshot. I sat in the parking lot, nose to nose with Liam, offering solutions like "just stay for an hour," "you don't have to go in the water," and "there's ice cream just across the street!" The counselors were baffled - this was a first. They finally won him over with the promise of whiffle ball. He reluctantly went with them, holding his nose. "The beach smells bad," he says.
As I have said in previous posts, living next door to the Atlantic Ocean was one of the reasons we gulped and made this move. So this is a big deal. This really grinds my gears. For a couple of reasons:
#1 The mind games! We think we're providing a once-in-a-lifetime experience for which he'll thank us over and over again for years to come.......we'll reminisce over cups of hot cocoa and say "Remember when we lived by the ocean?" and then recount all of our priceless adventures (perhaps a salve for the guilt of ripping him from the only home he's ever known?). But instead, we've only ripped him from the only home he's ever known. No salve.
#2 I WANT TO GO TO THE BEACH! I've managed to make it a lovely and much needed solitary treat for myself but I have to sneak it in like a dirty habit. After drop-off, before pick-up, when he's at a friend's house. I have even LIED in order to sneak in a visit; I'll look for something we need (bread....milk.....NO! Toilet paper! We can't wait a minute longer!) and, instead of driving west to the grocery store, I drive east to the ocean - just for a few minutes - before getting back in the car and completing my ruse. So it's not a total lie. But, in my mind, there were 3 of us in this picture. My happy images of family picnics by the seashore are fading as we speak. So disappointing.
Sometimes we force the issue. As in "Get in the car right now! Don't you ruin this for me! We are going to have a GOOD time - do you hear me? And if you say one word to rain on my parade there will be no TV tomorrow! NO TV!" Which is a BRILLIANT parenting move and always puts everyone in such a good mood for our family outing.
So one night, we try a softer approach. Mike and I look at each other like "Be cool. BE COOL!" We're just going to get some ice cream. No, we don't have to go to the beach. Oh.....hmmmm......there's no place to sit. Let's just cross the street and sit on the sea wall. No, we don't have to go down to the beach, we'll just look at it. And even just looking at the beach, I'm struck by how lucky we are to have this opportunity. And I let it slip...."Can you believe we live here? By these big, beautiful waves?"
And Liam whispers, almost to himself, "I like Lake Harriet better."
Bingo. The lake that lies just 2 blocks from our old house.
I said, "I know," and let it lie there.
As darkness falls, we finish our ice cream, and people start to leave. But our quiet moment isn't over and I want to sit in it a while longer. Liam asks Mike if he wants to play tag and I make eyes at him like "Don't you dare say no!" I can barely see them down there in the sand, running in the dark, but I can hear the squeals of laughter and I know we have opened up his heart just a little.
When they come back, all happy and sweaty and pink and glowy, I ask Liam "Now do you like the beach?"
And he says "Yes.......but only at night."
Baby steps, friends. Baby steps.
A year later, Liam still "hates" the beach. He still begs not to go, even crying in protest. He still rolls up the windows as we drive along the ocean road - holding his nose for effect.
But we persevere, bribing him with visits to the ice cream stand and extra TV time. And when that doesn't persuade him (seriously, he sacrifices ice cream to keep up with this charade) , we cram him in the car and go anyway. He always asks if he can sit in the car and wait for us. And we always say no.
And he always, ALWAYS finds his groove when he gets there. Throwing rocks and digging and running away from waves. Just like normal children. Here's a picture of him hating the beach:
Each time he protests, I remind him of how much fun he had the last time. And he always looks at me like he wants to remember but can't. Like maybe he wants to break out of this, too.........but doesn't know how.