My girls are sun-kissed from playing on the beach in Honolulu, the same beaches I used to play on when I was their age. Their curly hair is full of new, salty, blonde streaks and their skin is bronzed. As a kid I remember digging and digging and digging down into the sand, convinced I would eventually reach China. I could dig for hours it seemed, and the rising tide would threaten to flood my hole at the edge of the waterline until finally, with one perfect waves, it would be washed away, rearranged by rushing water and shifting sand. I remember jumping off the pier, no longer there, into water so clear you could see fish, and seaweed, and bright white coral at the sandy bottom. Once I spied a ten dollar bill at the bottom of the ocean and dove off the pier to retrieve it.
It's important to me to continue the tradition of "beach love" with my girls. Oceans are for swimming, fish are beautiful, surfers are the coolest of cool. My mom lives in Hawaii, and growing up in there, the beach is part of everyone's life. Almost from the time they can walk Hawaii-born kids swim or Boogie board or surf or snorkel or canoe. As soon as we touch down in Honolulu, we scramble into our swim suits, the very last items to make it into our suitcases so they are readily available for just such an occasion.
Here in Northern California, I avoid the beach as much as possible. Even if it's hot where we live, the weather at the beach is usually too cold, windy, and unpredictable for me to enjoy it. The water is too cold for floating, too murky to see the bottom. I want to feel the sun on my shoulders not the sting of wind-blown sand. I want the clouds to sprinkle just a little bit when the sun gets too hot; I don't want to get soaked from sitting in a fog bank. I want to smell coconuty, tropical sunscreen not some unfortunate sea creature decaying in the tide pools. I want to reach into my beach bag for Spam musubi, salty rice crackers, sliced mango, and ice-cold passion-orange-guava juice, not sweatpants, wool hats, and jackets. For me The Beach is in Hawaii and always will be, and I feel my deep and abiding love of the ocean transferring one happy beach experience at a time to my girls.
My daughters, now six and three, haven't always been such willing participants. Having spent most of their lives living in a big city, the beach used to be a frustrating experience. Blankets were spread out quickly so my delicate city girls wouldn't have to touch their bare feet to the sand (the horror!) and we'd end up carrying them to and fro so their precious feet wouldn't get dirty. When they were old enough to be distracted by water play, around age two I suppose, it was then that I could carry them into the bath-tub-warm water so they could dog-paddle and splish-splash along side me.
Teaching swimming is much easier in the ocean where salt water helps to keep kids buoyant and the gentle current of my favorite beach always carries you toward the shore. Ocean swimming requires a different kind of confidence. And vigilance. Waves can splash. The tide can raise you up until you no longer feel sand under your feet. The bottom of the ocean isn't tiled over. It's sometimes rocky, and there are no lane lines or walls to cling to when little arms and legs get tired. My girls swim best when they are given just a little bit space to see where the ocean will take them. It's in a pool that my three-year-old especially, is clingier and less confident of the skills we've worked on every summer and winter vacation since she was born. "You can swim," I whisper to her, "You know how. It's in your blood. Your mama is an island girl and so are you." And, slowly, her arm unwraps itself from my neck, slides down my arm to my hand until finally she releases her grip and kicks away.
When it's time to leave Honolulu, my girls are desperate for beachy mementos, shells, sand, lava rocks, coral, sea glass, anything they can take home. I let them collect as much as they can carry with each beach visit, but then I remind them of local island legend. Pele, our Volcano goddess, frowns upon lava rock especially being taken off the island. Understanding that their souvenirs must stay in Hawaii is another rite of passage for them. My mom babysits their shell collection while we are on the mainland, and we have to satisfied with looking at pictures of our vacation and dreaming of the heady scent of plumeria carried by gentle tradewinds...warm blue-green water...and soft, white sand.
Until next time.
Stefania Pomponi Butler is a professional blogger/writer/editor/producer who covers parenting, politics, food, pop culture, and green issues with a cheeky twist. In addition to writing her personal blog, the popular, long-running parenting blog CityMama, Stefania is one of the Founding Editors of Kimchi Mamas (her culture and identity site) andMOMocrats.com (a progressive political blog).
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