Ocean-able (#426)

Our annual ocean vacations are like those growth charts that track how much a child has grown in the past year. We have been taking Charlie to the beach (and to this particular beach) since he was a baby in September of 1997: Every year, there is something new to record. 2003 was when Charlie learned to swim, 2004 when he got his first boogie board rides in the shallows, 2005 when he learned to “go under!” a cresting wave. In this year, 2006, Charlie has been handling his boogie board with much more finesse—kicking, paddling, turning it around so a cresting wave rolls him towards the shore, walking into the waves carrying the board with a pleased smile.

In previous years, Charlie often seemed rather grudging about riding the board when he could just as well swim. Jim patiently velcroed the strap around Charlie’s wrist and tugged a sometimes protest-humming child out into the shallows. Worried that he was too cold in the ocean, we got Charlie a rashguard, but this proved unnervingly uncomfortable to pull over his prominent forehead.

Watching Charlie body-surfing , Jim noted, “He understands that the waves take him back towards the shore.”

We were both standing on the beach, in itself a momentous occasion. Charlie was swimming very close to the shore (it was high tide and the waves, while big, were not rough)—Charlie was swimming alone in the ocean. He was right in front of the lifeguard stand and Jim was soon to run back into the waves when Charlie turned around and was swimming out to sea, after Jim noted that he was fourteen years old before he could do what Charlie at nine can do in the ocean.

(I, in my late thirties and getting rapidly older, will never be able to do what Charlie can in those waves.)

“And in a few years, he’ll go swimming by himself and we’ll say ‘see you at noon for lunch,’” Jim laughed. I noted that I would settle for being able to sit on the sand with a book, while Charlie swam.

“Next year,” said Jim.

“In the next five years would be something,” I replied.

More than the waves and the sand and the salt water, this is the true magic of the beach for us: Seeing Charlie swimming in the ocean is to see him operating to the extent of his best abilities. He does not need “accommodations” or “special supports”; he does not need to be in a “self-contained” space specifically tailored to his educational needs. The entire ocean environment is a place where Charlie is not doing anything particularly different than anyone else does, and where Charlie excels.

And there is a spillover effect, in the form of Charlie being more primed for the social interactions with other children and people in general. He has been practicing piano daily and playing his four songs and the C major scale quite fluently, after reading off the notes. He has been riding a slightly bigger bike (which Kristina’s mother had sighted beside a trash bin).

The tables are turned when we are at the beach: When it comes to swimming in the ocean, I am the most limited of us three. I have been venturing farther and farther out into the waves after Jim and Charlie each day. I do expect to get wiped out by a wave—I try too hard to keep my face dry, fail to notice a wave until it is crashing on me, unlike Charlie who (thanks to some sixth aquatic sense) knows when a new wave is coming, and how to fit himself inside so much moving water.

2 Responses to “Ocean-able (#426)”
  1. Steve says:

    Thanks so much for your daily postings from the beach. Today’s post reminded me so much of my son. That ‘sixth aquatic sense’ is an amazing thing; when my son is in the water w/ my other 2 children, it’s an obvious difference between the 3 of them. Also, I can’t remember Grant ever getting water in his nose or coughing on water. No matter how sudden a wave or splash gets him in the face, he never gets caught unaware.

  2. It’s the same with Charlie! Whereas I am very much a “klutz” in the ocean. Are you able to get to the ocean?

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