I grew up by the seaside and spent all my holidays at the family house close to the Atlantic Coast, a short one-hour drive from Nantes. I can’t remember learning to swim—it came naturally to me, I have been comfortable with water for as long as I can remember.
As a toddler, I spent hours “fishing” small greyish shrimps at low tide. For some reason, I was terrified of crabs and my older friends love throwing them at me. I still have nightmares about the huge sea spider on display at the Natural History Museum in Nantes and I was convinced this species may hide inside the cracks of the rocks—very unlikely but still, I wasn’t going to take a chance. I’d wear my plastic beach sandals when fishing, merci beaucoup.
As a kid, I took up sailing and I would wake up every morning eager to climb into a small boat, along with ten other “students” and a bored twenty-something instructor invariably hangover.
As a teen, I picked up windsurfing. I loved speeding, gliding on the sea, jumping the waves and pretending for a minute that I was in Hawaii or some remote exotic location instead of the “boring” Atlantic Coast.
And then I left home, went travelling and eventually settled in Ottawa—far from the sea and its culture.
I miss living by the seaside. I love the smell of seaweed, the muddy sand when the tide is low and the huge waves when the tide is up. I miss washing my swimsuit in the sink after a day at the beach, I miss the smell of the sticky sunscreen we rarely thought of bringing along with us, I miss brushing my hair and finding sand just about everywhere.
Mark will not grow up by the seaside—well, unless global warming really speeds up and Ottawa’s Parliament is swallowed by a huge wave—but I wanted him to see the sea. So we brought him to Saint Michel Chef Chef, where I had spent all my summers.
I wasn’t sure how he would react to the sand, the water and all the beach things that are so natural to me. Mark doesn’t mind water but he is not a huge fan of it. He didn’t cry when bathed in the sink when he was tiny but getting him used to the baby bathtub at home took some time. At first, he hated the shower hose, and was genuinely scared by the tub—it must have looked huge to him. When we first arrived at my parents’ place, it took a few days for him to get used to a new bathtub—at first, he screamed on top of his lungs.
But he ended up enjoying the beach. Go figure. I stripped him naked—what? This is France!—and let him play with the sand and crawl everywhere. Then I took him to a small puddle of water at low tide. He liked it and played with wet sand. So I moved on to the big ocean. The water was very cold but he loves that (a true Canadian!). I walked in, deeper and deeper, until I had water up to my chest, and we played for about half an hour. He even put his head under the water, briefly, while I was holding him.
Operation beach was a success!