Sunday, September 1, 2013

Beached Wail

Heading to Port Dover has been a summer tradition for me for the past several years. Usually I go a few times a year. Of all the local beaches I've been to (Burlington, Rockwood, Crystal Beach, Grand Bend, Wasaga, Sauble, etc) Port Dover is my favourite.  I love the palm trees, the shallow water, the neat little shops, the whole atmosphere. In 2011 I went to Dover several times in the summer and even went back in the fall. Michelle's father and I went there in October 2011. The weather was beautiful. Not warm enough for swimming but perfect for a stroll on the beach and around the little shops. I got photos of us on the beach. I wrote our names in the sand. I couldn't have imagined that a year and a half later I'd be there with our baby. Mike was a lot like summer. Unpredictable. Hot and cold. And disappears suddenly after 4 months. Like his name in the sand, he was washed away by the tide. Though our love was not to be, he did lead me to my true love, my destiny: My little girl. It was kind of eerie posing in the same spot with her that I had stood with him.

This year I think one trip to Port Dover was enough. It was a fun day, but exhausting and stressful. I don't think I could survive it again!

I always worry how Michelle will be during a long car ride. I got lucky when we went to Wasaga. She napped on the way there and on the way home. I didn't get so lucky when we headed to Dover.

My sister had been having some car trouble and didn't want to risk a long trip so I offered to take her, Shannon and Reggie in my car. It was great having them along for the ride. Michelle was fascinated having Shannon and Reggie in the backseat with her. She didn't sleep at all during the ride to the beach (and she hadn't even had her morning nap on the way to my sister's place). Michelle was happy for most of the ride and when she started to fuss the kids and I sang silly songs to keep her entertained. "Found a peanut,
found a peanut, found a peeeeeeeeeanut last night..."

When we got to the beach she was so excited Michelle didn't seem remotely tired. She was wriggling to get out of my arms so she could run around. The only thing harder than carrying a 20 lb baby is carrying one that is twisting, turning, leaning and trying to dive out of your arms. The hardest part was I was also loaded down with bags -- snacks, the cooler, the bag of diapers, towels and clothes, beach toys etc. Normally I would have the stroller to pack everything on but to fit all of us in the car we had to go without strollers and just carry what we could in our arms. Back in the day I could have gotten by with a towel and some sunscreen. There's no such thing as travelling light with a baby. My arms were breaking but luckily we got a parking spot that wasn't too far away.

We set up our tents, I dressed Michelle in her bathing suit, covered her in sunscreen and then let her loose. She was so excited running around the beach and playing in the sand. I couldn't believe how much energy she had on no sleep.

Usually she has two naps a day or at least one. This time she hadn't slept at all. Still there was no stopping her. I could barely keep up. I only got to sit down for a few seconds before I'd have to chase after her again and keep her out of trouble.

Michelle still isn't a fan of the water. It wasn't too cold and I tried to go in with her a little bit but she started to fuss so I gave up after a while. She loved the sand though. She was playing with pails and shovels and running around all over the place. I had to keep her from falling into holes, tripping over branches, getting into stranger's things (she would see a ball or a pail or towel and go to grab it. The world is hers for the taking she figures. She doesn't yet understand that not everything is hers. It figures that one of the words she's able to say now is "Mine!" She even says beach too. She's still saying a new word every day.)

Everything was going great until all of a sudden, exhaustion set in and Michelle crashed. She started to scream. When Michelle is not happy she wants to make sure that everyone within a 300 mile radius can hear her. She screams like I'm torturing or killing her. What I was doing was trying to comfort her, changing her diaper (full of sand. Not fun to change even when your baby isn't shrieking like something unholy), getting her dressed, getting out her milk, offering her a snack, her soother, anything. It was embarrassing. I don't like Michelle crying which is partly why I never sleep trained her because I don't have the heart to let her scream indefinitely, it's bad enough for a minute or two. When we're at home it's bad enough. When we're out in public it's brutal. My sister and her kids were way out in the water having a good time. I thought she'd hear Michelle but it seems she didn't. I finally had to rock Michelle in my arms until she would fall asleep. My sister came back to shore when Michelle was resting in my arms.
"She's been pretty good today!" my sister said. I think I started to twitch. My left arm had gone numb, my ears were still ringing, I was sweating profusely.
"Actually, she just had a complete meltdown screaming her head off. It was a nightmare. You missed it." My sister joked that I must just be making it up/exaggerating.
I tried putting Michelle down on a towel in the sand because I couldn't feel my arm anymore. The instant I put her down she woke up and cried so I had to pick her up again and rock her. It was hard enough carrying her when she was a newborn. Now she's so heavy it feels like my arm is going to fall off.

As if to torment me a woman came to the beach with her newborn and set up right beside where I was standing in the shade, rocking Michelle in my arms. The woman's baby was as quiet as a little doll, sound asleep in her carseat. The woman was able to sit there leisurely and enjoy the weather without doing a thing. I looked around at other people, the childless ones sunbathing luxuriously, not a care in the world; the ones with older kids who were playing nicely in the sand or the water; the ones with babies who were perfectly behaved either sleeping like statues or sitting. It seemed like life was so easy for everyone else. Of course it probably just seems that way. Everyone has their own struggles. But Michelle was the only one wailing on the beach that day.

She is high maintenance but I adore her and I do whatever it takes to make her happy. Some (many actually) have said that I'm spoiling her and it's my own fault because I indulge her every whim and don't let her cry more than a minute (never sleep trained her etc.) Though at her worst it's a lot to take, at her best she's an angel and I wouldn't have her any other way. Her happiness means more to me than my own life. She is my number one priority. My health, sleep, sanity, etc are secondary. (I used to see the logic in "You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of someone else." until I became a Mom and logic is out the window. Now it's just primal. She comes first. End of story.)

When we were packing up to leave, Michelle had another meltdown. AGAIN my sister missed it! She had just taken the kids off to the bathroom and Michelle started screaming. "I think you're making it up!" my sister joked with me again. Why would I make that up?! But my sister did get to see one of Michelle's temper tantrums when we got back to her place. She was running around and a ball of energy at first but then ran out of steam again and was so exhausted she was staggering like a drunk man. She was overtired, overstimulated and was fighting sleep though she was ready to pass out from exhaustion. That's my girl!

I wanted to go to a beach again at least once before the summer was over. A long drive was out of the question after the Dover experience but I thought it couldn't hurt to try somewhere local. We went to Burlington Beach and had an amazing day.

Michelle had a good morning nap and even fell asleep in the afternoon just as we reached the beach so I actually got to go SWIMMING for a minute! I told my Mom to signal me if Michelle woke up and I ran into the water. Usually I have a hard time with cold water and have to work my way in gradually but I knew I may only have a few seconds so I ran straight in and swam a few laps immediately. It's kind of a metaphor for life -- just dive in because you don't know how long you'll have and you might as well enjoy it. The water was so refreshing. I even floated on my back for a bit. It was awesome! I felt so free. I could just barely make out Michelle sleeping in her carseat on the shore next to my Mom. Then my Mom started putting her hands up to her eyes as though she was rubbing her eyes. I thought Michelle must be crying so I hurried back to the shore only to find her still asleep. My Mom was trying to say Michelle was still sleeping. I wish she'd just given me a thumbs up. I was just so grateful to have a couple of minutes to myself. Michelle woke up shortly after but was in good spirits and had a ball playing on the sand and didn't even mind me bringing her into the water.

Michelle was quite a hit on the beach. A group of kids were making a fuss of her. "She's so cute! What's her name? How old is she? Wow she's really smart! Can I pick her up? Can I hold her hand? " It was almost overwhelming. They all wanted to pick her up like she was a little doll. They followed us everywhere around the beach and into the water. Michelle started to get upset and I had to ask them not to try grabbing her. "Why is she crying?" one of them asked. "She's a bit nervous of strangers," I explained. "We're not strangers," the girl said. "But she doesn't know you," I told her (which is of course the definition of a stranger but I guess at that age the girl didn't understand. Or maybe she thought strangers were just adults you didn't know and that other kids were safe.) I couldn't resist getting a couple of photos. It felt like Michelle was a rock star with fans following her around everywhere. I could imagine her as a young starlet ducking to escape the overzealous paparazzi. Of course there is no escape from the MAMARAZZI! I was snapping photos like a fiend.

What's wrong with this picture?!
As I chased Michelle around the beach I happened to glance toward the rocks and noticed a baby ALL BY HIMSELF in the water. He had a life jacket on but was ALONE! He looked awfully small to be unattended in the water. I was in shock. My sister noticed it too. We looked at the baby and then at each other and were like "What the?! Is that really happening?!" The baby's mother finally came over when he was almost at the rocks and picked him up by the lifejacket (like he was an object, a picnic basket or something.) The whole time he seemed content, wasn't crying or anything. It seemed insane to me but maybe I'm the crazy one for being too overprotective. Maybe that baby's parents were looking at me thinking I was too smothering. (Well I doubt they were looking at me. They weren't even watching their own kid.) I guess we represent the opposite ends of the spectrum. I don't let Michelle out of my sight or more than a few inches away from me (unless my Mom or sister are watching her) when there are parents who obviously don't worry at all and leave a baby to fend for itself out in the water without supervision. It's a tough balance to give kids enough freedom to explore without letting them get into trouble, to give them enough structure and safety without stifling them and preventing them from growing. To give them too much freedom is negligence but not enough freedom and they're in a prison where they can never grow. One guy I dated said that his parents put him on a train by himself when he was 4 years old. To me, that's completely insane but it made him more independent. I just couldn't do it. Not in a million years. I worry too much. My Mom was so overprotective with us. I don't want to "bubble wrap" Michelle (like that show) but at the same time I don't want to see her get hurt. So I run after her every second to make sure she's OK. I still let her run and explore (giving me a heart attack about 10 times a day when she comes close to getting hurt) but I'm right there to catch her, stop her before she trots into trouble.

At the end of the day as we were heading to our cars I ran into an old flame by the snack bar. It was like a tiny dagger in my heart seeing him with the new girl in his life. It's selfish and silly of me to expect my former loves to remain suspended in animation, to never move on with their lives but pine for me in perpetuity! Of course they do move on to other relationships, marriages, etc. I moved on too. Life changes.

He admired Michelle. "She has beautiful eyes!" he said. "How old is she?" "A year," I replied, though in retrospect it would have been more accurate to say 13 months minus a day or so. (13 months just sounds strange. I never hear anyone say their baby is 13 months. Maybe it's bad luck.)

It was strange seeing him. It was like meeting the ghost of summers past, reminding me of my former life -- romance, adventure, carefree days lying in the sun, wild nights dancing under the moonlight. But it's OK. I have a new girl in my life too and I love her far more than I've ever loved any man. I used to be afraid of commitment but I'm completely committed to her (I have to be! I'll be her Mom forever!) My life has changed in ways I never imagined but it's a good change. Even on the worst of days. Even when she screams like a siren on the beach. Because the good days with Michelle are the best I've ever had and nothing in my life up to now compares to the joy of having this little girl.

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