On the first day of our vacation, I took Noah to the beach. Just us. Jason was putting out one last work fire. Ezra was...well, he was eating, having already figured out that 1) all the food here was delicious, and 2) he could get into the kitchen via an always-open back door, and that there was ALWAYS someone in there cooking something, and they were ALWAYS happy to give him a taste, like an over-eager puppy begging for scraps.
So Noah and I went to the beach. I might as well have taken him to the dentist, because he did not want to go to the beach, because of the ocean. He did not want to go near the ocean. He did not want to look at the ocean or hear the ocean. NO OCEAN. He stood as far back on the sand as he possibly could, practically climbing up a wall of rocks in his bare feet, adamant about the NO OCEAN part.
The ocean in Jamaica is not like the ocean here, which knocked Noah over two summers ago and he has refused to go near since. (He holds a mean grudge, I've learned.) It's calm, shallow. There's no undertow and the breakers barely come above your knees. But he didn't care. NO OCEAN. I went in the water without him. I waved and cajoled and explained. I tried to talk him into sticking just a toe in, or to just come a little closer where we could build a sandcastle.
NO OCEAN. He said he wanted to go back to the house.
And I felt that familiar feeling. I was frustrated and annoyed, even though technically I understood. Technically. But still. COME ON. It was like the end of every birthday party or disastrous outing, the miserable ultimate conclusion of something that was supposed to be fun. I felt that tired old instinct to throw up my hands and say FINE. WHATEVER. WE'LL LEAVE. To give up.
Most of the time at home, I admit: I just give up.
I sat down next to Noah and tried to think of what else I could say. He was throwing sand, something we're always scolding him about at the crowded Maryland beaches, where there's wind and other people to annoy. He looked at me, waiting for the rebuke. Instead, I picked up a clump of sand and hurled at the water's edge.
"YOU DON'T SCARE ME, WATER." I shouted.
Noah looked at me like I'd lost my mind. But he smiled. I did it again.
"YOU DON'T SCARE ME, WATER."
Another smile, this time with dimple. He picked up some sand and threw it at the ocean, repeating my challenge.
We did this for awhile. Then I crept closer and stomped on a wave as it lapped up the beach. "YOU DON'T SCARE ME, WATER." I kicked at it, sending a spray upward. Noah laughed.
And he came over and kicked the next wave. "YOU DON'T SCARE ME EITHER, WATER," he shouted.
After awhile, I picked him up and took the plunge. We waded in. He clung to my neck and howled. The water touched his feet and he screamed.
I smacked at the water, making another huge splash. "YOU DON'T SCARE ME, WATER."
Noah raised his head from where he'd buried it in my shoulder and watched me splash again. I walked in a little deeper and he hesitantly reached his hand out to hit the water's surface. It splashed back over both of us...and he laughed.
"YOU DON'T SCARE ME, WATER."
And from that moment on, it didn't.