New Castle News

May 7, 2012

Lisa Madras: Life really is a beach — if we allow it to be

Lisa Madras
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — What are the activities that I enjoyed doing as a child that I wish I still did today?

It was Pablo Picasso who said, "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up."

What a true statement! I don't think there's a person alive who, as a child, didn't clutch a crayon in his grubby little fingers, scribble out a barely discernible blob, and believe he was the next Kandinsky.

That is, until someone else came along and questioned his technique, his choice of color, or his lack of conformity; and little by little, the self-doubt crept in, and the Crayola began to lose its once magical allure. Perhaps the crayons were put away so the child didn't spend so much time "in his own little world," or so he could focus more on his studies, or join the football team "like all the other kids."

Maybe it wasn't even drawing that you loved so much as a kid, but reading, or building with Legos, or just digging into a big old mud pile. Chances are, though, whatever it was, you don't do it anymore, and it's probably because, at some point, you had the misfortune to grow up.

I'm not certain I could nail down any one specific activity that defined my childhood. I loved drawing, but also reading, and Legos, and Barbies, and yes — digging into big old mud piles. I don't do any of those things anymore apart from the reading. And I'm sure that I've spent the greater part of my adulthood trying to figure out how to be an artist (of some sort) without much success, mostly because, somewhere along the line, I was made to feel that it just wasn't that important.

Just last summer, I discovered camping. This is one I never saw coming. Camping was OK when I was a kid, but these days I'm really not much of a nature girl, and I'm almost unnaturally fond of modern conveniences. I don't sleep well unless I'm in my own bed, I won't be seen in public without mascara, and I loathe insects and general dampness.

My first night in a tent was on a sandy beach at Lake Erie. We'd sat in our beach chairs and watched lightning moving in across the sky at dusk, wondering if we'd make it through the night. The winds were strong enough to lay the tents out flat, but the light show across the lake was unlike anything I'd ever seen.

In the soft pink dawn, we saw that the less hearty campers had failed to brave the storm. The few remaining tents dotted the beach like wet flags of victory, and those of us who survived combed the water’s edge for Lake Erie glass, offered up by the lake as if she was saying “congratulations.”

I spent hours that morning sifting through the storm’s debris with a plastic shovel and bucket. I didn’t think about going back to work, or how I’d pay my medical bills, or even when I’d get the next meal ready for the kids. It was just me, and the sun and the sand, and bucket full of glass. And if you had asked me at that very moment how old I was, I would have answered you truthfully and eagerly: “I’m eight and a half!”

And if you’d asked me what the most amazing thing in the world was, I would have told you, “This beautiful glass! Look, I have a whole bucketful.”

My friends had to drag my sandy, sunburned, 8-and-half-year-old-going-on-40 self from the beach that day.

What a shame that we so easily let our childhoods disappear under mountains of student loans and responsibilities and whispers of “grow up, act your age, let go of childish things.” Sure, it might seem a little odd to put away the supper dishes and break out the Legos, but it sure does feel good. And what can possibly be wrong with that?

Adulthood is filled with pressure and uncertainty, but there is one thing I know for sure: That morning, on that beach, if you had asked me what else I thought was amazing, I would have said, “Me, of course.”

Because, at that moment, I was still the next Kandinsky.