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Will He Love The Sea, Too?

When I was a child, my father, a great swimmer, always chose beach holidays over other geographies. We went to Bombay and Goa to laze on the beaches by the Arabian Sea, or we splashed in the Indian Ocean while in Digha and Puri. While my schoolmates were going to Shimla and Manali, I was off to locales whose only respite from the heat and humidity was a dip in the sea.

It instilled in me such a love that I once waded into the Madh Island waters wearing my favourite black bellies, only to lose them in the muddy waves. When they washed up, they had a creepy-looking Bombay Duck stuck to them, but I didn’t care. To me, a beach lover, being in the water was worth it.

As an adult, it still is. I don’t care if the beach is crowded or dirty – just being near the sea makes me happy. And on my first holiday with my son, I looked forward to introducing him to the ocean, a place where I had found innocent happiness, calm and frolic innumerable times in life.

But Ochoa watched the lashing waves with a tentative expression. When I picked him up and headed toward the ocean, he resisted. In my lap, he fidgeted, staring at the water with cautious eyes. Every time a wave broke near us, he looked at me, face scrunched up, as if to say, “Ma, can we go now?” When I attempted to put him down, he refused to budge from the confines of my arms and squealed when his bare feet touched the wet ground.

I let him be with some amount of sadness, and clung to a glimmer of hope: Ochoa was happy to laze in the hotel swimming pool, splashing for hours.

It might have been the arm floaties. They let him discover the utter lightness of being in water, and he swung his legs, splashed and chuckled in a happy frenzy. When some of the water entered his mouth, he stopped paddling below to duck his head for another and another taste. (This was less exciting to me, as his mother, but I went with it.) And when his motor boat toy floated over the water, he become almost him delirious. After two hours, when we tried to leave the pool, he opposed it with all the strength he could muster.

So, it wasn’t water, or wetness, or even the sting of a splash. I gathered that his fear of the sea – if it was fear, and not (gulp) dislike – came from the vastness, the very thing that made the sea seem mighty and grand to me. My husband, however, thought it was the noise. The beach we were on was a popular one, with plenty of people talking, laughing and playing on top of the waves’ noisy lashing at high tide. We had had the hotel pool to ourselves; there wasn’t even background music.

For three days, I woke up in the morning full of hope, readied him for the beach, and had no luck. Was it possible my child would never like the ocean? Was this my last beach vacation for the rest of my life? Dread of a future spent holidaying in brooding mountains filled me.

Then – on the fourth day, he started playing with the sand. He seemed more comfortable with the sight of mom splashing in the sea. He sat forward and seemed … interested.

With my husband holding him, we walked toward the sea. I kept shooting nervous looks at him. He was smiling. He did a small jig with his hands. But we still held our breath as we set him down.

Ochoa watched, unafraid and fascinated, as the wet sand gathered swiftly over his feet and disappeared just as quickly. In no time, he was soaking wet, giggling at my enthusiasm and not minding any aspect of the ocean, big or small.

As parents, we can only hope our children love what we love. And it feels right in the fuzziest parts of the heart when they do. But our kids are individuals, and it’s up to them what they truly like or dislike. One day, they will exercise that uniqueness, sort out what they really love from what they loved because they love us, and maybe break our hearts.

Only the other day, while watching a Bengali TV soap, Ma said to me, “You watched this show with me till the day you got married. Now you are here for a holiday, yet you don’t lift your head from that laptop.” There was melancholy in her voice. I figure I will sound the same one day as well.

Ochoa won’t always enjoy the same things as I. He may declare that he hates reading books (ouch!) or that he won’t support Germany in the next Football World Cup (despair!). And I dread the day when he says the Harry Potter series is just all right.

Honestly, I don’t know if my love for the sea is my own, or because of my father’s; the love goes so far back that I can’t remember if I ever liked any place else.

So I’ll float forward on that same love, with Ochoa, and quietly hope the pull of the tide lasts forever.

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