That Beach

Kari Wagner Hoban essays

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A few Saturdays ago, I had 45 minutes of free time.

This free time was given to me by my youngest daughter's occupational therapist.

Every Saturday for the next six months, she will be getting the help she needs.

We are finally getting answers to so many questions we have had over the past five years and for the first time since her ADHD diagnosis in February, we are participating in her therapy.

We will get tools from the therapist to work on with our Ellie at home.

Already, I am connecting with her in a way that I never thought I could and it is a beautiful thing.

It hasn't always been a beautiful thing.

I am getting ahead of myself.

While getting that free time, I decided to go for a walk down the street as it was a glorious early fall day.

There was a freight train blocking the road I wanted to travel down so I veered left.

Down a path to a beach that I had not been to since 2012.

Before our daughter was diagnosed, I had a lot of rough days.

I still do occasionally but it was much worse from ages 18 months until she was roughly 4-and-a-half.

It was once she got into school that things went a little better.

Maybe because she was away from me more than she was with me.

Don't get me wrong, I love my child more than life itself but there were days where it was really hard being her mom.

Days that would send me to the floor, crying, eating fudge at 8:00 a.m.

Day drinking was such a temptation but since I have an addictive personality, I felt that it was not a good road to head down.

There is a lot of Ellie's early childhood that I have blocked out.

Which is soul crushing to me now, looking back.

It was on a spring day in 2012 that I met a former friend and her daughter at this beach for a play date.

It was early spring, a rare semi-warm day.

There is a playground at this beach.

I thought we were having a picnic and playing at the playground.

It never occurred to me that we would have them swim.

I didn't pack Ellie a swimsuit but rather she was in a shorts outfit.

Because water is very cold in May in northern Illinois.

So when we got to the beach and we saw my friend's daughter in the water splashing around, I was surprised.

When my older daughter was growing up, I went with the flow more.

Which is funny because isn't it usually the opposite?

Your first child, you should be uptight, rigid.

They break you down for the next child.

This wasn't the case for me.

My oldest was the easiest child on the planet.

I got lucky, I now realize.

When my youngest came along, I was that go with the flow parent until she was 1-and-a-half.

Right around the time the terrible two's started.

Then the shit hit the fan and I was sitting there with shit all over my face totally flabbergasted.

The outbursts, tirades and scenes were something I expected out of the toddler years.

But not to the extent to which they happened or how often they occurred.

At times, I would lock myself in my bedroom closet just to get away if only for a few minutes.

My husband works long grueling hours, I weathered most of it alone.

So by the time I had walked onto that beach in 2012, I was beaten down.

By life, loss and my then 4-year-old.

I walked onto that beach exhausted, weary and with shit all over my face.

When my then 4-year-old wanted to play in the cold early May water with her friend who was joyfully splashing around, I was rigid.

I said no.

I held firm.


Old Kari, first time mom Kari, most likely would have let her go into the water with her clothes on.

But this Kari did not and so I was that mom on that spring day at that beach.

Yelling at my daughter for going into the water at a beach.

Get out!


I said NO.

After a few minutes of struggle back and forth with my daughter, the girls finally settled on going to the playground.

I sat on that beach with my friend and with tears streaming down my face that I told her that I was thinking of putting my daughter into behavioral therapy.

That I just couldn't handle her alone any more, that I must be doing something wrong.

She told me that she felt she didn't need it, saying she thought it was me that was the problem, in the nicest way possible.

I was baring my soul to her, exposing myself and my friend judged me for doing so.

So I, with shit on my face, left that beach in 2012.

I dragged my then 4-year-old who “didn't have a problem” down the long lane to the street where we parked our car.

As my daughter yelled, “I HATE YOU MOMMY” for not letting her stay there, I wiped the snot from my nose as I was trying not to let her see me cry.

Juggling the picnic bag, toys and my purse while holding her wriggling hand and pushing up my sunglasses that were covered in snot and tears.


As I looked back and saw the smug look on my friend's face, as her daughter was back to gleefully playing in the water, I felt then and there like a horrible, horrible mom.

For the first time in my 12 years of parenting, I felt like a complete failure.

In the only job I had ever put my heart and soul into, I felt like I had hit rock bottom.

“Please Ella don't make a scene.”

Don't make me look like the failure I already feel.


I know she didn't mean it but it validated my then friend enough to write something on my blog five months later in the comment section.

I didn't see her after that day because I honestly never wanted to see her again.

I was mortified with how I acted, mortified with how Ellie acted, mortified with how my friend reacted to me.

Looking back, I realize that I am at fault for not saying something to her and just letting it go.

That November, when she thought I was referring to her in a blog post about friends who I don't speak to any more, she got angry and left a mean comment.

I don't remember most of it but I do remember this, she wrote, among other words, “You don't like your daughter.”

To outsiders who were there for those years, I am sure it must have looked that way.

Now that I am in a good place, I can now admit that.

I must have looked, to outsiders, as though I hated my job as a parent.

Complaining about my child's behavior, talking about how bad it was, wondering if I was the only one going through it.

I was grabbing at straws, desperately looking for an ally in a fierce battle.

I can look back with clear reflection now and see it.

But I was raw back then, my judgment clouded by emotion and lack of outside support.

I felt alone even when surrounded by people.

I could not force myself to go back to that beach for many years.

It was a reminder of personal failure for a long time.

As hard as that day was for me, I did learn from it.

That it is okay to admit failure as a parent.

That there will be times that we are going to be ashamed of a way we handled a situation.

That I am not perfect and neither are my children.

My then 4-year-old started behavioral therapy two weeks after the beach incident.

Since then we have received so much support from so many amazing professionals.

It is from this support that the clouds parted.

Through this support I have been given the chance to look at Ellie the way I wished I could have the first four years of her life.

With clarity, acceptance and understanding.

My love for Ellie is so deep.

Sometimes when I look into her eyes now, its like we have this connection I can't quite explain.

Like when you go through something terrible with another human and you have this bond in common that no one else has?

She and I have that.It is like we are making up for those, what I like to call, “lost years.”

When things were dark and bad, I had to keep in my heart and soul that it would eventually get better.

I had faith in my girl.

She is so amazing.

And so am I.


About the Author

Kari Wagner Hoban

Kari is a stay at home mom to two girls and writes at .

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