The mind of a two-year old boy is a clean, untouched piece of paper. No memories or scribble marks are colored yet into his existence. He had never seen a wave, or felt the ocean’s current dragging at his feet. He didn’t know what the expansive sea was capable of doing, but I knew.
My childhood memories revolve around one central location, Myrtle Beach in South Carolina. I can vividly recall and still feel how a wave crushed me from behind and swept me backwards. I remember how calm the ocean looked from the shore, but as I was being sucked away into a gasping drowning abyss, my limbs did not have any peace. My body was scared and frightened, it was one of the only few times in my life I thought I would be swept away and never be seen or heard from again.
Knocked down then brought back to the surface, I was rolled over and over again under the crushing mighty Atlantic. When death is upon you, you don’t even care that your swimsuit top is being ripped from you. The scrapes were the least of my concerns. Air, I needed to get to a place where I could stand and catch my breath. I was finally spit out of that ocean, and I coughed and choked as I took in large swallows of fresh saltwater holy air.
I was a little girl then, today I am mother. I watched closely as my son went running toward a different beach, always staying only a few feet behind him. He was use to the rippling waves at Sullivan’s Island. He had never seen the real waves until that day; the day he walked upon the shore at Folly Beach. As I once ran with all unknowing gusto unto a South Carolina beach, my little boy would do the same.
The blank mind doesn’t know danger until it has felt fear. The brave boy only saw a vast ocean play land. The floor beneath him was a gigantic sandbox. He didn’t know the true fierceness lying beneath the surface in the water.
A wave seemingly harmless grew into something greater. His ‘big boy’ body didn’t want to be held. At two years old, he considers himself capable and ready.
“I do it, down,” he pointed and said as I tried to hold him up away from the waves.
Down he went as the wave broke and he was knocked over. I picked him up, told him to cough and spit. “Get it out, baby.” I begin to pat his back hard trying to help. And he listened.
He begins to spew everything, everywhere. Standing in the ocean, my motherly gut instinct kicks in and I hold out my hands trying to catch his undesired belly full of saltwater. It is too much for my hands to hold, I give up. As the water brought in the waves, it sucked back an obscene amount of puke.
The little boy who didn’t know what a wave was learned how dangerous they could be. As I learned with my memorable journey to Myrtle Beach, he learned with a true folly. Just as the event began, he wanted back down. He wanted to still play and to investigate, although he knew fear now.
He stood facing the beach much closer to the shoreline. His back was turned to what his body had expelled and the ocean drug back to sea. Tiny seashells crept away from under our feet. Sand embedded for only a brief moment in between our toes before it was sucked from our footholds. Nothing is concrete on the ocean floor.
The only permanent fixture on this day was a little boy’s smile; he had seen and felt his first wave. It didn’t matter he was knocked down, or that he hurled the contents in his stomach. He stood up, looked at his father and me, and screamed with high pitched happiness. He unequivocally loved the beach, as do I.
I looked down at his new found awareness shaped around toddler glee and said, “Don’t you ever turn your back on the ocean. There are some things in life we don’t turn our backs on.”