I have a theory that whatever natural feature, resource, phenomenon surrounds you when you are young embeds itself into your psyche. It forms a part of who you are. If you grew up by mountains, you are going to crave mountains. If you grew up near fields, you’re going to need open space.
There was a beach at the bottom of the hill, a fifteen minute walk, from where I grew up. Mum says I was one of those children that wasn’t graced with modesty early and was still lolling about in the sand, buck-naked, at a time when most kids were concerned about such things (I’m talking six years old or so, in case you were worrying). I remember afternoons at that beach, with neighbouring families and primary school friends, efforts to dig the deepest hole and doing “supermans” on the waves. There were rock pools to paddle in and sea anemones to prod fingers in. Once a month or so, the Bird Rescue lady would come down with boxes of injured blue penguins, to let them splash in the rock pools. Bruised and broken, missing eyes or bits of flippers, I thought they were the sweetest things I had ever seen.
In my teens I’d regularly escape to that beach to whisper dreams and confessions to the waves. It seemed less weird than talking to myself in other places. It didn’t need to be warm; I was happy to be at the beach when the weather was rotten and sulky, much like my mood. I still remember the time I rushed out of the house bound for the sea, guilty / heartbroken / angry, and it was pouring down rain. A good few hundred metres on and my Dad appeared at my side with an umbrella. He didn’t ask what was wrong and he didn’t ask if he could join me, he just passed me the umbrella, and turned back home, himself empty-handed and getting a soaking. It is still one the kindest things anyone has ever done for me.
In adulthood I craved the sea every place I moved to. I always put it down to homesickness in general, but the lack of salty air and sound of waves crashing in got to me after a while. In Hamilton, in Melbourne, in London, even in Macau, where the sea all around was silty and flat, a faux-sea for me, not nearly good enough for soothing the particular sea-space in my soul. Every now and then in my travels there’d be an escape to somewhere beachside – Raglan, Great Ocean Road, Cornwall, Brittany, Lamma island – and I’d suddenly feel revived, Mia Wallace in Pulp Fiction style, not knowing I had been requiring such a shot to the heart.
Today I walked down the first beach I walked on with Matt by my side. It’s a beach I’ve escaped to during arguments with him too. My mother-in-law has shells from this beach framed and hanging in her bathroom in Sydney. My kids are obsessed with the rock pools down one end and the stupendously good ice cream shop down the other end. There is a library positioned halfway between. When B2 was born we were living close by in a rental unit and I would pop her in the carrier to tread the sand and clear my head (whilst hoping for a miracle cure for sleep deprivation). It was a time of upheaval and uncertainty for our little family, when we weren’t sure of anything, least of all the country we would next be living in or what shape our lives would take. The only certain things were the baby strapped to my front, snoozing at last, Matt and B1 waiting for me back in the unit with the carpet older than I was, and the mineral, sweet scent of the sea. It had to be enough.
It’s hard for me to walk this beach without feeling nostalgic and reflective; to assess how much we have changed and be reminded of the things that have always been true. Today I watched B1, previously unable to totter the full length of the beach, skipping through the shallow water with legs so long I almost had to pause and take breath and B2, the tiny one who’d been in the carrier on my front, collecting a starfish on the sand and earnestly taking him down to the water so he could “be with his family”. Soon, very soon, we will be welcoming someone new to our family. It’s our third baby and it’s our last; a pregnancy and journey that took much frank discussion and considered deliberation before embarking upon it. After so much thought and conversation I imagined I’d savour this pregnancy more than the previous two, knowing it would be my final one, and kept it private for this long so it would be our experience and our precious secret. But time has slipped through my fingers faster than water and suddenly we are almost at the end. I’m still bewildered by this baby-carrying business even though I’m not a novice. Still stunned at the power of hormones, the adaptability of bone and muscle, the thinning of skin (physically, sure, but emotionally…woah) and the incredible, trickster way the mind forgets all the unpleasant things from pregnancies past. I still walk past my reflection in shop windows and do a double-take at the round person.
I wonder: who is this person we will bring home to our house by the sea? We don’t know anything about him / her other than : he / she kicks and punches fiercer than the others, makes me crave green apples and has gifted new and nasty veins and swellings. There’s a personality there for sure, but it’s still so amorphous with so much yet to be known. I wonder what gender, what hair colour, the shape of his / her eyes and whether I will finally get a sleepy baby. I wonder if we will settle on a name before arrival. Or whether I will be able to complete my manuscript and get through washing all the baby clothes. I wonder how he / she will fit into and change the dynamics of our family. I wish for health and I wish the time wasn’t evaporating so quickly. I wonder if this child will doze in the carrier, like his / her sister did, while we walk on sand and listen to waves and contemplate what next.
Maybe, one day, this one will be standing on a shore somewhere far away. Perhaps being near the ocean will make him / her feel alive and whole and tingling and also at peace in a way that cannot be described or made sense of. The smell of it, the sound of it, even without having to be in it, filling him / her up and making everything suddenly okay and possible. The sea, the salt, the waves, twisted and plaited into his / her DNA like a silvery, shimmery thread. Just like it is for Mum.