“Don’t Forget to Wear Sunscreen”
It was her first trip out East. Was the traffic worth it? YES.
The air was different on the East End of LI. It always was my antidote to the concrete and smog, and I wanted to share it.
I wasn’t lucky enough to have a house but I was lucky enough to have an Uncle with a house, and a pool, right off of Stephen Hands Path.
She was only 3 days old when she sat at the bar at Sam’s restaurant-not on a bar stool, in her car seat. It had taken a long time to master the car seat-the beacon of safety and security for our newborn daughter. My husband, an orthopedic surgeon who could assemble a hip joint, struggled to remove it from the car and gingerly asked if we could put it on the bar, next to us.
We had many drinks at Sam’s, but this was special. Sam’s is a family restaurant, and we were now a family-the three of us, where there had only been two. It was actually our first meal dining out. She had Similac, I had a white wine which I sipped slowly in-between gulps of water because I was breast-feeding. My husband, Tyler, had one light beer, he was driving, with a baby in the car now.
Tyler and I had spent so many summers at my Uncle’s house, that when our daughter was born, he invited us up to recuperate, and find our normal again after the baby. The East End air could do that.
Packing the car was hilarious.
In the past we could fit our luggage in a carry on bag between the two of us. Now, this 8-pound new family member had more luggage than we ever did: breast pump, bouncy chair, diapers, formula, a pack and play. It took hours to load the car, and we had to turn around right as we were pulling out of the city because we had forgotten the extra pacifiers. (I’m sure they sold pacifiers at White’s Pharmacy, even though I had only purchased tampons there before: the carefree days of worrying about my white bathing suit…now I was worried about a human.)
We ordered the baked clams at Sam, the spaghetti with white wine and clam sauce, and a pizza. It was so loud and happy at that bar, and it was the first time since I had experienced nausea from my pregnancy, growing so huge, having a C-section, that I actually felt so normal. Sitting at the bar eating a baked clam with a glass of chilled white wine, it could have been like any other of our summer meals at Sam’s except there was a baby, my baby, on the bar now.
She fell fast asleep after her bottle, and as the bar grew louder and more crowded she continued to sleep soundly. The patrons at Sam’s were amazed-someone even thought she was a fake baby because she didn’t wake up.
She caused quite a stir and some gawking.
“Wow, how old is that baby? You brought her to a bar?”
“My kid can’t even sleep when it is silent-boy are you lucky!”
When she turned four days old the next day, I changed her diaper in the car outside Dreesen’s market, while I was waiting for a cinnamon doughnut.
A few days later, about to turn one week old, it rained hard. My husband had an idea how to celebrate her first week on earth. He wanted to take her to Main Beach to see the ocean.
“But it is raining, she will get wet!” I worried about her and dressed her in long onesies in the heat of the summer in case there was air conditioning.
We pulled up to the beach, rain pelting the windshield, the sky so gray, uncertain and dark.
“Let’s just stay in the car, please, I don’t want her to catch a cold.”
“I don’t want her to be scared of anything in life, not the rain, not the ocean. I want her to experience things in life.”
My husband unhooked her from the car seat in the back. The rain was picking up. He opened up his jacket and tucked her under his arm as a gust of wind blew by and they were gone.
I worried in the car. It felt so nice to be dry and safe and I was angry he was taking an infant into the rain without an umbrella.
After about 20 minutes there was a bang on the window.
“Open the door!”
I had locked the buttons and drifted off to sleep.
“She touched the ocean! Her feet touched the ocean! I dipped her in.”
I had never seen my husband so excited. She was already safe asleep again, seat belted back in her car seat.
“““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““We have returned to the East End with her over the years, as swimmy diapers gave way to string bikinis.
This was our last trip out, 18 years later, before she would go off to college. So many things I wanted to say to her that I had been practicing all summer. I had hoped the ocean air would give me some clarity on all the dizzy thoughts that polluted my brain: Do your homework, eat your vegetables. So clichéd, I worried as I realized I needed to be more specific.
What piece of advice, what wisdom could I impart before she was starting her new life?
What I really wanted to tell her was to never forget me, to please remember how she had lived inside of me, how we had shared everything.
I remembered our first date at Sam’s. She didn’t hang out with her parents for dinner anymore. She had a new boyfriend, and had been travelling out East to visit him almost every weekend. When we gave them a ride from the city, I peaked at her in the back seat, and I couldn’t help for a moment seeing that 3-day-old baby sleeping in her car seat.
We dropped her at her boyfriend’s house, and as we were pulling away, I asked my husband to stop the car, urgently. I rolled down the window. There were so many things I had to say to her before she was gone:
Would our relationship change?
Would she ever want to come home again?
Would we share another summer out East?
Yet, all I could sputter to this beautiful, young and impatient woman standing there, waiting was…
“Don’t forget to wear sunscreen!”
She had fair Irish skin like her father, and there had been many summers of sunburn despite the constant lathering of sunscreen and the sunhats.
She tossed her hair, rolled her eyes, and grabbed her boyfriend’s hand.
I was mortified. She was annoyed. I had so much more to say.
As I stared out at Main Beach that weekend without her, I realized that nothing had changed about the water, the sky, the sand, the smell, yet everything was different in my life and hers.
I hoped that salt and water surf and constant motion she had felt 18 short years ago at this beach would be the imprint of fearlessness as she found her own way. I was happy now that her dad had dipped her tiny feet in that big ocean.
The undertow of growing up was pulling her away from me, and I prayed she would return to me like the waves at high tide.
As I stared out at the water, my one question was how the sand, the smell, the waves, had stayed the same, but she had changed so much, so fast.
“Be unafraid” is what I wish I said to her, too.