Harrington: Beach Moms

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(Host) These hot summer days bring Vermonters out to their favorite rivers, lakes, and swimming holes – in an effort to cool off. College English instructor, former newspaper editor and commentator Elaine Harrington looks at the social opportunities that mothers often create when they bring children to the beach.

(Harrington) When you’re a kid, what is better than going to the beach for a day – whether it’s the wide vistas of the ocean or the clear waters of a Vermont lake?

Mothers bringing children to the beach is the subject of many fine stories of childhood – and of Impressionist art. Women seem to have a special set of rituals and attitudes that they bring to this endeavor.

My sister Marie, who lives on the Connecticut shore, remembers bringing her sons to the beach and chatting with the local women. “It was a very social time,” she says. “We looked after each other’s children, and it really solidified friendships.” Marie now brings her three year old grandson to the same beach.

As a child, Hilary Neroni of South Burlington went to the ocean in Rhode Island with her mother Jane Neroni, an accomplished illustrator and painter. Hilary remembers beach visits that could only begin at 3:30 in the afternoon, when her mother knew the light would be interesting. Jane would poke colored pencils into the sand – ready for her art, as the children played.

My daughter Rachel brings her boys to ten different beaches at the tip of Cape Cod. They’ll go before school on a spring morning to look for migrating whales, or at the end of the day to watch the sunset. They’ve even named their closest bayside access “Wheelbarrow Beach.” Rachel will load small kids, food, and beach toys into a wheelbarrow that she pushes down the road to the water’s edge.

My own beach mothering was at Central Vermont’s rivers – very pebbly, but my daughters still managed to build “sand” castles. With my friend Deborah Messing, we’d bring three little girls to swimming holes in the Mad River or to little dipping spots in Shady Rill. We’d push down steep, shrubby trails to find new riverbed patterns from the previous winter’s storms. I’ll never forget fishing my two-year-old out of an unexpected sinkhole just three feet from the shoreline. Deborah saw her first and alerted me to the danger.

My own childhood beach excursions were on the Jersey Shore at a place called Ideal Beach. Teenagers would be twisting to music from a jukebox near the bathhouses – very enlightening to a twelve-year-old. My mother, Mildred, usually met her friend Janet there for a day of enjoyable chat and child-watching. Nothing odd about that – except that Mildred had eight children and Janet had nine. Two 38 year old women on beach blankets side by side, with their seventeen children having a great time!

I can’t imagine how we must have appeared to onlookers, but I do know that we each had a friend to play with in a beautiful environment of water and sand.

On a recent hot afternoon I swam at quiet Curtis Pond in Calais. Two mothers floated twenty feet offshore, grasping foam “noodles” and talking about life. Between them and the wooded beach, their mutual collection of five children joyfully did underwater handstands and chased minnows in the cool, clear water.

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