When I was pregnant with my first, I spent a week with a friend on one of the Canary Islands. We snoozed on the beach. We ate tapas. We attended mass at an old cathedral where El Greco hung in the alcoves. We spent a day at the local spa, where a Swedish blonde gave me a pregnancy massage. We dined on fresh, grilled fish under a full moon. One day, while visiting a small village covered in canopies of trailing, magenta flowers, I swam out to the buoy line and drifted on my back, my bump turned up toward the sky. I heard the submarine clicking and chirping of wild, distant dolphins. For several, sacred minutes, it was just me, the baby and the sea.
Six years later, I am pregnant again. Summer vacation has broken and the kids are singing songs about going to the beach. Our oldest, the one who’d come with me to Las Palmas, keeps asking us if we can go. She doesn’t remember that I took her to the beach right after she learned to walk. She hasn’t been since, because my husband hates sand. There’s also the small matter of the fact that we now have three little tykes who have yet to learn to swim, and that beaches here, in the Netherlands, are insanely crowded.
Our oldest is now pleading, and her sister is copying her, in chorus.
“You know, we can’t not take them to the beach, ever. They can’t grow up not having gone to the beach because we were scared something would go wrong. Or because you hate sand.”
“I know, I know.”
We bought a beach umbrella at the drug store. After the kids were asleep, we packed a picnic lunch and bags with towels and sand toys. We filled the trunk of the car and went to bed. The next day, we slathered the kids with sunscreen, left early enough to buy beach chairs and headed out.
After parking at the first free space, we hung our baggage on the buggy and walked toward the boardwalk. My husband held hands with the girls and I leaned my bump into the buggy, pushing my way forward. At the stairs, I carried my son on my hip and guided the hand of one daughter. The other followed my husband, who hoisted the buggy, bags, umbrella and chairs down four flights. He lumbered onward over the slight dunes and found a spot on the beachside of a sandbar that guarded a small tide pool. The lifeguard was behind us, as well as an outlying trailer labeled “WC.”
The kids were happy. Our new chairs were comfortable. One grandparent left her granddaughter with us, claiming she sought playmates. Yes, we were daycare in a hand basket. Three kids, two parents and sand toys galore – clever matriarch, that grandmother, who spent the rest of the morning reclining on her husband and fingering her mobile phone.
It was all very relaxing and glorious, so much so, that my husband said he wished we had done this earlier. It was so relaxing and glorious that I should have had the energy to go hauling up the beach to that trailer marked “WC.” But I didn’t. I couldn’t be bothered. I went to pee in the sea.
I didn’t tell my husband why I wanted to take a dip. In principle, sea peeing isn’t something I encourage. Swimming pools are entirely out of the question, and the ocean should have somehow been more consecrated. It was the type of thing I would have told my kids, in vague undertones, was okay to do if there were no bathrooms for miles around. It was the type of thing that I decided I could get away with doing now, because I was eight months pregnant with my fourth.
I moved out, farther than the teenage boys to my left and a lone girl floating on a boogie board to my right. I looked back. My husband was now standing, his red Giants cap visible over the tip of the sandbar. I saw him hold up the camera. Was he taking a picture of me?
I moved farther out again, the cold water lapping against my shoulder blades. I ducked under a few times, catching my breath from the jolt of the cool, salty sea. When I came up, I stood, looked and listened. No people were in view on either side. No ships were on the horizon. It was quiet, except for the metered sound of obsidian waves. The sky was a spotless, blue expanse. The water was a sinewy, unbroken surface of grey, silken glass.
For a few, sacred seconds, it was just me, the baby and the sea.
© 2013 Anastasia Hacopian
For Howie and Renata