The Best Show In Town
The Best Show in Town It was another miraculous day along the gorgeous stretch of ocean just west of Hither Hills State Park. We’ve been coming to this beach since our son was born; first in a pop up beach shelter before he could walk—then later chasing “naked boy” as he ran along the shoreline, fast as his tiny legs could carry him. When we’d first arrive, as soon as our feet touched the sand, he’d launch into his instinctive ritual of racing to the shoreline and yelling with pure abandon at the open sea—as if he had no choice but to announce our presence by adding his youthful exuberance to the raw freedom of the mammoth landscape. Soon, I’d join him at the waters edge and he’d sit on my lap and squeal with delight as the ocean gently caressed our feet and legs beneath the seemingly boundless horizon. “Dovy” is 15 now, (Joseph Dov-Behr, the only grandchild of a Holocaust survivor family-named for his two great uncles who perished) and this is our last day on the beach before he leaves for six weeks of summer camp. We are engaged in a great three hour long card game of WAR—testing whether this card game-or any card game so ill conceived can long endure. How indeed! This has to be the most inane card game ever invented—but, the perfect game to play with a teen. It requires absolutely no thinking or skill whatsoever, and in the distracted mayhem, a clever parent can usually sneak in some small talk. Yes–if you’re wondering—our progeny has successfully made the inevitable transition from beautiful baby boy, to adorable loving youngster, to sullen, non-communicative, mono-syllabic, sometimes remarkably odorous teenager. Mazal Tov. I imagine those early emotional memories still reside somewhere in his rapidly maturing body…but these days, when our son deigns to accompany his parents on a beach walk, he stays so far ahead, that if the Loch Ness Monster suddenly sprang from Montauk Bay and swallowed us both whole, he would most likely travel onward, blissfully unaware. So…What is it? Do teenagers somehow get secret instructions in some chat room when they reach puberty: “Don’t forget, as cool or fair or nice as you think your parents may be; THEY KNOW NOTHING, AND SHOULD BE TREATED ACCORDINGLY”. Yes, I’ve read it all- I know separation is natural, and healthy—and for goodness sake, we all did it–but, God help us parents, because we love them so. To mangle and paraphrase Clark Gable– “That, my dear, is our misfortune.” So, here we are enjoying our beloved beach before he departs for the season. Lisa and I first discovered this beach, along with the Hamptons in the 1990’s after a performance I’d had in Westhampton Beach. It was summer, and we had to drive all the way past Amagansette to find an available room – yes, past “Lunch” and “Clam Bar”- to a lovely oceanfront co-op just across from “Cyrils Fish House”. I knew immediately, as I took my first steps out toward the sea, that this was different from the beaches I’d grown up with in Brooklyn—more untamed than Sheapshead Bay, Manhattan Beach, or Coney Island. We were married in our early forties (first marriages for both–wow), and after some considerable (but not unpleasant) effort, we eked out a precious baby boy. As soon as we could, and as often as possible, we traveled our new family here–to this eastern oasis we would come to love so well. Those treasured memories linger–of sandcastles and cool ocean breezes, afternoon beach naps and soft conversations. But these days, more often than not, we find ourselves by ourselves; sitting on that same beach, wistfully reminiscing about “him” and pitifully pointing out boys of that special unbelievably cute age, as if we had just sighted some formerly thought to be extinct species of bird. To be honest, between the fuzzy navels and headlong dives into the breaking ocean waves, the unforgettable meals and long lazy beach walks, we somehow manage to have more than a little fun. But…we miss him—who he is now, and who he’s been throughout his short life. And then we found it—a way to commune with the all the little boys he’s ever been, and our feelings about them—and all without actually connecting–or hounding–or helicopter parenting. It happened one day–we were on our usual beach walk from our coop (yes, we bought in), through Hither Hills State Park, to the concession stand at the public beach where we eat hot dogs and I drink beer. We found a cozy spot on a bench right beside the area where families rinse off after their day at the beach. Lisa and I have been around the block once or twice, and we quickly realized—we had accidentally stumbled upon the absolutely, undeniably, no holds barred, best show in town. Cirque Du Soleil has nothing on the intricate ballet of a hapless parent attempting to balance the various accoutrements necessary for the family’s outing at the beach. And the pure comic joy of witnessing a parent struggle to shower a 2 year old while the 6 year old twins run wildly back to the sand after they’ve already showered: “Justin, Mathew, come back here right now!”. Or the little girl who simply won’t leave the shower to anyone else—or the little boy clutching his daddy’s swim trunks, tugging them just a bit too far down for anyone’s comfort –and the seagulls who seem to take it all in stride. This indeed has become a much anticipated and cherished outing for us. Of course we adore being parents, but the key to this particular brand of happiness is that, while we benefit vicariously, we are purely and simply onlookers, and in no way responsible for anything at all. We do chime in with moral support from time to time “I remember those days well—so special, enjoy it while it lasts”. Truth be told, we’ve even helped out a time or two, but usually, we’ll just share a smile and a knowing look with an often beleaguered, but usually grateful and joyful parent. Sometimes, if there is an older teenager involved, we’ll add “ours is 15 now”, to which an experienced parent once replied “this too shall pass”. But mostly we just eat our hot dogs, and watch and smile and laugh and reminisce in our hearts about our boy. And we muse about the joy and wonder and universal ways of life, its ups and downs, the lessons learned, life’s holiness, and the reminder to live in gratitude. Then we slowly rise from “our” bench and begin the long ocean walk home- picking up the special stone or shell along the way, me speaking with a Brooklyn accent to the pipers and the plovers and the least terns; Lisa wetting her feet in the water, her silhouette breathtaking as she gazes toward the radiant sunset- and both of us feeling emotionally satisfied; hugely thankful that this amazing place of peace and beauty is part of our ride. In the end, our Hamptons turned out to be quite different from what we had originally imagined—and we are sometimes taxed to explain to our uninitiated friends that the Hamptons are a glorious mix of many worlds and experiences. For our part, we fully expect our journey here to continue–to watch our grandchildren frolic on our beach, and perhaps—if we’re lucky and healthy– to frolic with them– but if anyone is listening, we sincerely hope by then to have found a reasonable shortcut around Route 27.