Asbury Park

We went to the beach with V for the first time this summer. It took a while to get there this season given that it’s already well into August. But V usually has sessions with his behavior technician J on Saturday and Sunday morning, and he’s had camp on weekdays, and I like to leave early in the morning to avoid traffic. So while J is in Haiti visiting his family and the weather forecast was for an oppressive 95 it seemed like the right day to give it a try.

I wake up at 630, drink coffee and meditate/pray that it will go well. V hasn’t gone to the ocean in a while and we worry about how he will do. V is very fickle – he’ll love doing something, like being in the water, for a few years, and then change his mind, so we didn’t know what to expect. I want him to go and do typical summer things but the fact is I’m going as much for myself. The Jersey shore is my happy place and I miss it, and I admit I’m filled with envy at everyone else I know going to the beach, although I wish I didn’t have that feeling so much. The truth is it hasn’t been a very happy summer; It’s been tolerable but I long for joy in this season when so many get away to beaches or mountains, for day trips or weeks off, and given that we don’t have family vacation a day will do.

With anything new or that we haven’t done in a while I worry: how will he do? I have V’s lifetime to remind me of meltdowns or refusal to participate in an activity or of not being cooperative, so while I work hard to have a good attitude I know from experience that shit can happen and worry is my unskillful way of being prepared for the worst. I named this blog Grace and Dirt because I longed for one and had too much of the other and I wanted to explore that interplay between the two. I have to admit that cultivating grace is still a challenge. No time more than in August, when I’m hot and weary.

Fortunately, everything goes relatively smoothly: we’re early enough on the road that there aren’t any traffic jams; we get and pay for parking, and buy our beach passes, although V refuses to put on his wristband. I tell the guy checking the gate that he has autism and won’t wear it so I’ll wear two and he says that’s fine. I wonder what people think of that explanation. What does that mean to someone unfamiliar with those on the spectrum? How can he possibly understand all the sensory issues and idiosyncrasies and how forcing the issue – V became visibly upset when I tried to put the tag around his wrist – can quickly wreck a good mood?

At 9:30 the beach is already crowded. V takes off his shoes but leaves his socks on and races down to the ocean, and I go running after him. Okay, he still likes the water. That’s great to see.
He doesn’t want to submerge himself completely but he jumps up and down and squeals with delight at the gentle waves on his legs and acts the same as he did years ago. He’s 21 but acts so much younger; but that’s the beauty of the beach: no one is judging or staring as often happens when we are out in public. It’s the least judgemental environment I know and so I am grateful and delighted. We’re just like everyone else in this big diverse world at the edge of the water. And there are so many different types of people, it’s not all wholesome families smiling in adorable bathing suits. There is a girl with one leg having just as much fun as her peers. There are women with so many tattoos it’s hard to see any skin. There are people who are buff and thin and overweight and all sizes in between. There’s no one wearing their underwear like in Brighton Beach – mostly older Russian people – I always liked seeing that. No matter how different you feel the shore takes that away. We’re all just people out enjoying the day, facing a sultry weekend the smartest way we can.

For a few hours we play in the water which is great, but then the other concern protrudes. What if he doesn’t want to leave? T and I say to each other. We have too many bad memories of having to forcibly pull him away when it’s time to go and that just won’t work now that he is grown.  Fortunately he runs back to our towels and says the magic words. French fries. Food is usually how we lure him away so we quickly pack our bags and go up to the boardwalk until we find Pucker, my favorite spot for fresh lemonade and the best fries – Belgian frites really – on the boardwalk. V happily devours them, there’s enough for all of us and the lemonade is refreshing. 

Then we get back in the car and leave before the afternoon rush. 

I feel elated on the way home. Success. We got to the beach. I’m no longer landlocked and a bit forlorn at being stuck home all the time, or taking the same walk over and over.  As always with the shore it’s as much work to prepare and then clean up afterwards: showers, and a bath for V and a load of laundry and snacks and no longer cold water to unload from the bags. I am a good packer after all these years.

It’s only 2 pm when we get home. Maybe we should have stayed longer but it didn’t seem worth the anxiety of waiting to see how he would do leaving or how bad the traffic would be. I find my old feelings slipping back in, back home when we are no longer anonymous beachcombers enjoying our day out.  By 3 pm, all cleaned up V is restless already. T offers to take him out for a walk around the lake – I’m feeling burnt out from all our walks in 90 degree weather. I’m grateful. I come upstairs to write, to try to untangle all my feelings, how I can plummet so quickly.

This is why I try to edit myself because I wish it would just start and end like this:

I want to go to the beach and to do something different with V. I prepare and pack and everything goes as planned. It’s fun. Success! The end. But the thing is, there is no end.  I appreciate the small victories and then have to face what comes next.  

I just finished watching the Bear, which has been a big summer hit (it’s on Hulu and I recommend it.) It’s about a fine dining chef who comes back to run his family’s sandwich shop in Chicago. It’s about going home, and it’s about working in restaurants. It’s also about anxiety. Unpaid bills and broken equipment and bad plumbing and missing ingredients and stress between co-workers – all called Chef – and grief. It’s got a lot of dark humor because how else would you get through all of that? There’s something oddly comforting about it, that shit happens and you deal with it.  The acting and writing is generally stellar and so well depicts knots in your stomach stress.  It’s very specific to and accurate about restaurant work but that level of anxiety is something a lot of people can relate to. I know I can.  It helps that it has food close-ups and a lead that is easy on the eyes. It helps that each episode is only about a half hour and then the anxiety is over. Until the next episode. 

And so with life.  There’s stress with doing anything different and yet the possibility for joy is there.  It’s worth trying new things.  We’ll probably stick to our familiar walks around the lake this weekend, but that’s okay too. There’s something to be said for the predictable routine, free of stress of the unknown and the need for hypervigilance. Still I’m pleased and relieved that we finally made it the beach on a hot summer’s day.

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