In the wake of the tropical storm, daycare was canceled and the sun was shining after a spate of afternoon showers. I took the boys to the beach to kill the last of the hours before supper. After eight years in Florida, we don't visit the ocean as often as we could or should, but the luxury of being able to take a quick trip to the Atlantic is one I always appreciate. I grabbed one towel and let the boys each carry a single bucket and shovel and seven miles later, there we were.
The surf was rough, or at least seemed so to me, and I told the boys to stay on the edge of the tide. They raced the waves and tested their limits, wading into the foamy water and laughing when a swell knocked them down. They made the waves the bad guy and pretended to be super heroes, shouting and shooting their super powers. Beastie stood so long in one place, sand came up almost to his knees and he looked as if he were doing the splits.
While I stood there watching my boys to make sure the ocean didn't suck them out to sea, another group of boys arrived. They were 16 or 17, maybe 18, carrying skimboards and accompanied by a single bikini-clad girl. They tossed their things in the sand near our towel -- the girl settling in to work on her tan -- and ran into the waves, surfing along the shore. The Boy, who had plopped himself down in the wet sand to build a castle, looked up at me with a gigantic grin after the first teenager barreled past him to catch a little wave. My boy obviously had new heroes.
Fifteen summers ago, I was the girl hanging out with the gaggle of boys as we pretended to be adults. Twelve summers from now, my boys will be part of a group of gangly adolescents testing their independence. But it's not just the years that put those teenagers closer to my boys than to me.
I grew up with maple trees outside my window. Palm trees shade my boys' bedroom. I grew up having to visit someone in town to go trick-or-treating. My boys are growing up on a quarter-acre lot in suburbia. I didn't see the ocean til I was 19. I stuck my boys' toes into the ocean before they were three months old.
The boys I knew growing up liked sports and cars and hunting. They knew they were getting to be a big kid when they got a pocket knife for Christmas. They rode four-wheelers and dirt bikes. They stacked wood for the stove and mucked out the barns. They learned how to drive a tractor well before they could drive a car legally. Their first job was baling hay and that's where the baby fat got burned off them.
These are the boys I know, and I've wondered what my boys are going to be because the life they're growing up in is so different from my childhood.
That day at the beach, watching those tall boys with the baby fat still on their bellies and the sun on their shoulders, I felt like I saw a possibility. I herded my boys off the beach and rinsed the sand from their toes and bottoms, grateful to have still a few years left of chubby thighs and public nudity that's simply the most expedient way of cleaning up.