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Bye bye, vacation.
I took the family to Cape May on vacation recently. After a week of baking in the sun, eating seven meals a day including multiple courses of ice cream and candy, and playing with friends his age, my four year old son became so attached to the beach that he was running into the ocean naked on our last night there.
The morning of our departure we took a short excursion up further into a residential coastline, stepping into a miniature beach with a shore depth of about six feet like it was a kind of exit baptism. We observed horseshoe crabs dying or mating. Not sure which. When we returned to the car and headed toward Philadelphia, my son started to blurt directions at me. “That way, mama!” accurately navigating us to the vacation rental where we were not going to return. I’d acknowledge he was giving me accurate directions (which was honestly pretty impressive), but I kept going straight.
“We’re going back home, potato,” I said using my most endearing nickname so as to assuage him. Because I knew he would…
He started screaming. For the following twenty minutes he lashed out, flailing his arms and legs screaming for us to go back to “the other house, not Bean’s house.” (Bean is our cat.) Finally he said through sobs:
I can’t change, mama.
He repeated this several times and my heart sank. Now, I know it’s in a parent’s propensity to find profound allegory in the awkward phrasing of their kids, but charge me guilty of being impressed, because I loved that he said he couldn’t change, that I knew what he meant.
Transitions are hard and I wish I could shepherd him through this one in a way that made clear the before and the after would always be there for his pleasure and comfort. I’d take him back to the beach as soon as it made sense, and Bean’s home would be there as long as that made sense.
I can’t change either. I have left the beach. I am an adult so this action is of my own accord, in a vehicle of my own making and maintenance. The ocean was powerful and the beach town is a dangerous subterfuge of platonic operas and social mores. I need to leave, am capable of it. I am fit for much longer travel, but I need only to get as far as the sound of these incessant waves. Worse still was that I was as if an unchanged religion waiting to be discovered by historians. The story must end with the simplest departure. A disappearance. We turn this way, son. The other home is going to be occupied by others by the time we return. This way. We have to become ok with being forgotten in order to forget. So the shell becomes sand. So the belief becomes an artifact.