I Married a Surf Rat, Then Had His Baby

My husband and I met one weekend eight years ago. I was in Amagansett visiting a friend, and he was out east surfing. Ever since, our life as a couple has been governed by good swells, low pressure, and light, offshore winds.

Early in our courtship, I strove to appear adventurous, letting him give me a surf lesson in the cold, September Atlantic. He complimented my balance when I attempted to stand, but by the end, I limped and coughed my way out of the water, my inner thigh scraped by the board, my lungs filled with saltwater. I grew up in the Midwest; my husband was raised on the coast. I’m lake; he’s ocean. I tread; he swims. [expand]

In hindsight, I was naïve to treat his passion for surfing as a hobby like bowling or racquetball. I now understand that riding waves is less pastime, more mindset-turned-obsession-turned-addiction. There’s a self-inflicted dependency on outside factors—weather, jetties, other surfers—that is unlike most other recreational sports. Surfers, I’ve learned, are in perpetual search of clean conditions, but will frequently take what they can get just to get in the water. My husband is the type of person who perks up at the mention of an approaching hurricane.

Our first year together, I accommodated him. Sometimes I would go out east with him, other times I would stay in the city. At first, I didn’t object to the arrangement. I love time to myself. But soon, I grew resentful, as it became impossible to make plans for the weekend or see friends. He would tell me that he would know the forecast by Thursday, but then it was no use, people had made plans by then. Sometimes, he would concede and come back Saturday for a late movie or dinner. Years passed in this fashion. When we got married, I pledged my allegiance to this lifestyle officially. But then we decide to have a kid.

At first, we attempted to conceive casually, but soon it became a timed and calculated endeavor. Each morning I would assess ovulation, praying that the pink line on the strip wouldn’t darken as the weekend approached. “I may need you to stay in this weekend,” I said offhandedly one Wednesday morning.

“I can be back on Saturday afternoon,” he offered, negotiating. “Or why don’t you just come out with me?” He was suddenly exasperated. On the weekends when I did join him, I would take the train out after work on Friday since he was able to jet out by car in the afternoon. I liked the time and transition that the railroad afforded me, but it soon began to feel like a chase. I imagined myself disembarking the LIRR, spotting his surfboard atop the roof of the car, resting inches above his head. He was content and serene, just off a sunset wave, while I, still riled from the city and elevated hormones, ran towards him waving my wet pink wand madly, but with purpose. “We will make a baby this weekend, damn it!!!”

A year passed, and I became pregnant. I relaxed. Certainly, conception would change our dynamic on this issue. Now I would be catered to, doted upon, even revered. Past requests met with rejection would now be granted without argument. I soon learned that this would not be so. We spent those 40 weeks the same way we had spent the past 364 in our relationship. But as my due date approached, I informed him that this was it, he must get the surf out of his system, we’d be staying in the city for the remainder of my pregnancy. “Remember, mommies and daddies, your first labor takes a while,” he rebutted, imitating our prenatal class instructor. “Don’t worry, Babe, we’ll have plenty of time to get to the hospital.”

“Forgive me,” I said, trying out my gentlest, most maternal voice, “if I don’t want to have contractions while stuck in traffic on the L.I.E.!!!!”

“I would never let that happen, Sweetie,” he said, placing his hand on mine. “We will be in the HOV lane.”

Our son was born during one of New York’s coldest, snowiest winters in a while. My husband treasures our new addition while simultaneously mourning the interruption of his weekend surfing trips. “I don’t see why we can’t go out east,” he whined when our newborn was but four weeks old. “You can do the same stuff out there with him that you do here,” he said innocently/provokingly (you decide). I glared at him through sleep-deprived eyes as I flapped my spit-up soaked shirt. “I. Am. Not. Going. Anywhere,” I seethed, “and neither are you.”

On our first trip out east with our baby, my husband declared that it was time for a new car. He researched options, comparing gas mileage, safety ratings and price. He was looking for the perfect vehicle to transport our family to and from the end of Long Island. He also wanted a car with four-wheel drive so come next winter, he could plow onto the beach, slip into his wetsuit and return hours later to a toasty truck. He decided on a big 4×4.

“It’s a great ride, right?” he asked as we bounced along the cracked pavement and potholes of the Grand Central Parkway. I was in the backseat with our infant, making faces, humming songs, and trying not to throw up. “It’s ree-allly bum-pee,” I said, eyeing the car seat jiggling in its cradle. “And it smells.” As SUV drivers, we no longer have a trunk, and though his wetsuit was not on board at the moment, its scent lingered in the air.

“The car has a rigid suspension and bigger wheels,” he explained, “so thay it can go over all terrains.” Terrific choice, I thought.

Surfing takes a lot of time and energy. There’s not just the pre-ritual of waxing the board and strapping it to the roof of the car, there’s the time it takes to assess whether it’s even worth going in. Driving out, we passed a flag on Montauk Highway, snapping and waving wildly. “Terrible winds,” he mumbled, shaking his head, his body hunched and dispirited like that of a man viewing a flag at half-mast after a national catastrophe. But he doesn’t dismiss the day yet. There’s still surfline.com and the webcams at Main Beach to check, and the surf shop hotlines to call. When those sources prove unsatisfactory, he dials one of four local surfing buddies for an oral report, then drives to the water to converse with the waves.

On recent weekend mornings at 6 a.m., I have woken up to the stir of two males—one baby boy, one man. The first can be lulled back to sleep with a feeding, the other remains alert, moving swiftly out the door to paddle into the sunrise, returning just as our son and I are waking up for the final sleep-eat cycle. For now, these early excursions seem acceptable, but I’m aware that toddlers, unlike infants, do not return to sleep after waking up. My husband does not like to be reminded of his friend with a two and a five-year-old who must ask his wife’s permission to surf.

On Mother’s Day, my first, my husband declared that he’d like to take our mothers and me out for dinner the Saturday night before. “We’ll beat the crowds and avoid mediocre brunch food,” he said. Translation: He wants to surf Montauk at dawn on Sunday; there’s no telling when he’ll be back. “Alright,” I said, a new mom unsure of how to defend her designated day.

At dinner, I bit into a mussel shell and lost half of my front tooth. Our son’s new giggle turned to a screech at my now witchy grin. Happy Mother’s Day to me.

There’s an old proverb that commands a father to teach his child to swim. Without knowing it, my husband has amended this sentiment to reflect his own paternal, aquatic instincts. “I cannot wait to teach you to surf,” I overhear him saying to our son, who is not yet six months old. “But first, you’ll learn ballet and yoga, like your mom,” he says, glancing at me. “Cause I promise you, little guy, those moves will do wonders for your balance. They are what will make you not just a good, but a great surfer.” [/expand]


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