My Son and His (Ocean) Stories

21 October 2014

When Jake was about twenty months old, I was in the throes of morning sickness with baby number two and I was not a very fun mother. By the grace of God, Jake started watching TV right around that time. He went from never caring about TV to begging for Diego in a matter of weeks, and I went from being footloose and baby-free to doubling over the toilet right around the same time.

So we watched a lot of Diego, but in an effort to keep things in check I wouldn't let us turn the TV on until 5 o'clock. In the mornings, I would have to get creative.

So one Tuesday, in an effort not to plug into Diego at 10am, I decided to take him to the beach (we still lived in LA). We drove to Santa Monica and trudged right up to the end of America. It was February, so the weather was cool and grey, but still beach-able.

We went to the beach often enough, but two things happened that day, that made it more memorable.

First, I let Jake wander down the beach, and I didn't go with him. I watched him and started after him when he'd gotten a little too far away. I wanted to see how long he'd walk before turning around and looking for me.

And he didn't turn around. Not once. He walked for like a quarter mile. He was heading for the lifeguard jeep, and thus my experiment was pretty much doomed from the beginning.

At the time I just thought Jake liked his mother with a healthy side of chopped liver, but I've since been trying to rebrand it as "healthy independence" that resulted from my excellent attachment parenting. Yes. That sounds just fine.

Then another thing happened. A little later - after I carried him unhappily away from the lifeguard jeep and back to our beach towel - I was letting him play a few steps away from me in the damp sand near the surf when a slightly larger wave came in. It wasn't dangerous, just enough to knock him over and get him soaked and freak him out a little bit. He looked for me instantly, and I ran to grab him. He clutched at me.

Wrapped in a big towel, he was then content to sit in my lap for five minutes and watch the ocean with me. I kissed his soggy head about two dozen times as I blissed out in one of the most peaceful parenting moments I'd ever had with my toddler.

He talked about it all day - and then all week - in his little halting speech: "I fall down ocean. I fall down ocean." And together we would remember it. "And mama came and picked you up, and wrapped you in a towel, and then we watched pelicans." "Uhuh. I fall down ocean."

He told anyone and everyone his ocean story. It was his first story.

Lately I've been reading The Whole-Brain Child, and I think this would qualify as a classic example of a little brain trying to integrate a pretty terrifying experience - trying to understand what happened, giving words to it.

Still to this day, Jake asks us to tell him "Ocean Stories."
Every night when he goes to sleep: "Tell me an Ocean Story!!! ...Umm...Please you may tell me an ocean story?" I wish he would just let us read books, but instead I have to dream up some kind of story, and I'm really bad at it, but I do it, and Jacob does it. We lie our heads next to his on his "fuzzy blanket" and weave epics involving fish birthday parties, and he listens transfixed.


  1. I love those moments where you get to sit in the eye of the storm of toddler insanity and just *enjoy* them... So sweet.

    Diego is at least partly the reason for my daughter's obsession with wild animals. The girl sees them everywhere. Pumas follow her around, she has bats in her pockets, and she to some extent believes that she is a cat named Pepito (although Pepito was a penguin in the series).

  2. That's so sweet! When I was reading this I felt like I was in that moment with you. I bet he was so cuddly.

    My daughter's first story involved a little lovey she called "da-doo" that our dog chewed the foot off of, and then I stitched it up. But it took me awhile to get to, so in the meantime I told her that da-doo hurt his foot and had to go to the doctor. She told the story for months: "da-doo foot sick. he go doctor. then he all better." It was so cute!

  3. Seriously, too sweet. I used to make my parents make up stories, too! I hope that doesn't mean there was some traumatic triggering event that I don't remember.....

  4. Glad I am not the only one who gets annoyed that her kids want my stories instead of just reading something. At the end of the day my brain is fried, and yet they always want my made up ones... Kids...

  5. Ahhhhh! I love this story. I had one of these moments this morning. Davey twisted both of his hands into the fitted sheet on his crib, so that he couldn't extricate them himself (he looked like he had sheets for hands). He was screaming bloody murder at 5:45 am, which promptly woke me up. I then rescued him from the clutches of the bed sheets. He sat on my lap for five minutes (he never does that) while I wiped his sweet little tears away. Is it bad for me to delight in such moments, as the event that caused my delight was so traumatic for my child?

    Also, I love that Jakey's story is so lyrical :) "I fall down ocean." Yea, man, we all fall down ocean.

  6. Beautifully written and a beautiful reminder for me to cherish my own "independent" toddler. Thank you! And now I'm adding The Whole-Brain Child to my library/amazon list. Something about this story and the telling of stories to children as emotionally important strongly reminds me of one my favorite parenting books-- Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne. Have you read that one?

  7. What a sweet memory! I think I need to practice my storytelling abilities. I always requested made up bedtime stories when I was little, too!

  8. Love this memory! So much sweetness from you and your adorable Jake. :)

  9. Wonder if Uncle Scotty is telling him a "Yasmar Goes to the Ocean" story? Or should it be "Sedohr Goes ..." ???

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