Reflections on the water

The perfect spot on the beach.
The perfect spot on the beach.

At fifteen I wrote a poem about the beach that hangs framed in my Dad’s bedroom.

This is the place I want to live. To run fast and free beside the sea. To be forever the best I can be.
And I would love for you to come with me.
To look at the heavens, dark and far, reflected in the water,
and count the stars…

It’s our first summer vacation getaway and we came to New Smyrna Beach. School just ended Friday and we loaded up the car. Surfboard? Check. Bathing suits? Check. Cooler? Check. Not much else needed. We rented a little townhouse that allows dogs. It looked great in pictures. But when we walked in, I actually gasped.

It’s spectacular. This is what people who love the beach and architecture imagine as the perfect beach retreat.

The deck alone is worth the rental fee. Big and deep, wrapping around the ocean-facing rear of the house, creating a secluded, romantic retreat nestled into the dunes.

Pictures can’t do it justice. Four adirondack chairs face the water with an enormous umbrella offering shade. Just behind them is another seating area with a big comfy sofa and more chairs. This is the place to hang out all day. There’s a gas grill and an outdoor shower surrounded by lush sea grape, pampas grass and wildflowers. Wildflowers!

Wow. Just wow.

Oh, and the interior is beautiful too. The walls and ceilings are covered in Pecky Cypress stained the color of driftwood. There’s a loft with two beds that H has claimed, laying out all her books. We’ve hardly seen her in three days.

All this and we were able to bring our two dogs, no questions asked. Life is sometimes perfect.

And then…not so perfect.

The raw intensity of the ocean where it meets the land can be serene…or ferocious.

On Sunday afternoon helicopters and rescue boats interrupted the bucolic scene searching for a 17-year-old boy who had been swimming with friends and then was suddenly gone. We watched them go up and down the beach looking for him. I thought about his mother. I prayed.

I sat on our beautiful deck with the late afternoon sunlight shimmering on the waves, watching rescue crews look for that boy underneath those waves for hours.

…This is the place I want to die.
To watch my soul take wings and fly.

I don’t remember the rest of the poem. His body washed up on shore this morning. For his mom, the world has stopped. Yet on this same beach, people are swimming. Kids are giggling. Surfers are running headlong into the waves.

I made my children breakfast and quietly gave thanks that it was not my tragedy. Not my son. I hugged him a long time until he squirmed free, laughing.

I set aside the horror of it all for a moment to try and renew my vow to savor every second of this day, this life, this beautiful spot on earth.

Why I make my teenagers’ beds.

Since I stopped working, I have a new daily routine. After dropping my kids off at school, I come back home and turn into the Ritz Carlton housekeeping staff.

Beds get made with the top sheets folded back and tucked tightly under the mattress. Pillows are fluffed. Bath towels are picked up off the floor, washed, folded and hung on their respective towel bars. I wipe away dried toothpaste in the bathroom sinks and snap open the blinds.

All the laundry gets sorted for each child, washed, folded neatly and put away.  My goal is an empty laundry hamper every single day. I figure that if I stay on top of it during the week, there will be no laundry to do on weekends for a change. No more frantic search for Wednesday’s mandatory “dress” uniform. It’s right where it should be, hanging in the closet.

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Then the kitchen is cleaned up from breakfast, the dishwasher is emptied and the dogs are fed. It takes most of the morning.

And I enjoy it. It’s really very satisfying. Don’t judge me.

I went from making Power Point presentations that help trustees make strategic decisions to folding practice jerseys that make getting out the door easier for two teenagers.

Is it as important? No. It’s more important. I love these two people. They have one mom, one home…one escape of their own.

Now, I did none of this while I was working, of course. I rushed out the door right alongside them each morning, no time to care about what was left behind except to wonder if I’d turned off the flat iron.

By the way, we have a signed contract with our kids that specifies if clothes are found on the bathroom floor, the culprit loses cell phone privileges for a day. So I spent a lot of evenings announcing, I’m about to go upstairs! There are no clothes on the bathroom floors right? Followed by the sound of footsteps racing to beat me to the scene of the crime.

I used to get ticked off at the idea of making the beds for perfectly able-bodied 14-year-olds. No way should we take their laundered clothes upstairs, much less put it away or pick it up from the bathroom floor. How will they learn? More typically, I would get annoyed at the messes that seem to trail them through the house, yelling at them that they were slobs and needed to do their part.

Can you guys please take your clothes upstairs already…and your shoes?

But here’s the thing: I’ve started to really see what their days are like these past few weeks. I mean I can feel the pressure and stress they are under. These kids are so over-scheduled and overworked that if I can give them a backdrop of comfort and ease…even of beauty, it seems to me they will become accustomed to that kind of order and do it for themselves as adults. Maybe it will irritate them to see ugly messes and they’ll be compelled to tidy up their dorm rooms. Maybe not.

I do it for them anyway. I do it out of love.

I didn’t make a big deal about it. I just did it. I curbed my complaining too. I heard my daughter squeal in surprised delight one night when she went to her room, Look at my closet!

Last night that sweet girl came home from softball practice close to 7 p.m., hungry and exhausted after a very long school day. She quickly showered, ate dinner and started on her nightly homework marathon.

First she tackled a five-minute speech on the end of World War II which she is delivering as though it were a news broadcast. The BBC didn’t put that much thinking into the actual coverage. It was ten minutes too long. She rehearsed it in a British accent. Then she tried it in the clipped, formal style of American news reels of the era.

It’s enough baby. It’s great. Stop. 

When I went to bed after 11 she was still working at the kitchen table, bleary-eyed and close to tears, finishing Algebra. Her brother had wrapped it up only moments earlier. I could barely keep my own eyes open and she still had to find x.

I went upstairs, turned down the sheets on her bed, layered in her favorite Camp Seafarer blanket and placed a chocolate on her pillow.