We’ve gone to the same beach every year for over a decade. My kids have grown up catching crabs, riding waves, and collecting the ugliest shells known to man.


They’re old enough now to look out the window each morning and announce the flag color. Red or Green. Those colors decide what kind of beach day it’ll be. Boogie boards vs. sand castles.


As most people do, I love the beach. Sun, sand, and that ocean. And those lifeguards. I adore those lifeguards.


Back in the day, I used to be a lifeguard. It was the best job ever. Sun, fun, people.


In all our years coming here, we’ve never seen a guard have to rescue anyone out of the ocean.


This year, our house was close to a lifeguard stand and (like us nurses write pertinent info on whiteboards in the hospital) the lifeguards now write their names, the water temp, wave height and safety information on a blackboard. Our youngest loved watching the guards drive by on their  four wheelers. I loved knowing they were around, in case anyone got in trouble.


Lilly was there one day. She drew a big flower on the blackboard next to her name. Deni had a cross tattoo on his left chest. Tommy and Robb were chatty and let my little guy climb on the four wheeler. One of them wore zinc oxide on half his face. Most of them are seasonal. All of them are young.


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My kids are older now. And although they ride the waves on their own, I still need to keep my eyes up while they are in the water. Those rip currents shift quickly.


On Tuesday of our week at the beach, there were three rescues in one day. The rips were strong, and pretty obvious. (At least to those of us sitting back and watching where the choppy water looked brown and the waves collided in chevrons patterns.)


Two girls got caught in the rip and the guard swam out after radioing in for help. He took his flippers and the buoy. The girls were calm and followed his lead, swimming in slowly and at an angle.


I wanted to hug the guard. I couldn’t believe the girls didn’t hug him! He SAVED them! (Did they even realize they needed saving?)


Our kids are water babies. They ride waves for what seems like hours. I watched them, and called after them only when they went too deep or drifted too far north or south of my comfort level.


Later, the guard swims out after a husband and wife. As they walked onto the shore, their young daughter ran to the mom and collapsed in a tearful hug. We’re safe now. We’re all okay. All together.


My kids keep riding the waves. We’re only a hundred feet from that current.


I cool off in the salty water and lay on my back, letting myself relax completely as I float. I put my feet down, and the receding water leans heavily against my legs. It wants to pull me out.


I didn’t realize how far I had drifted while I was floating. It was just a few seconds. I just let my guard down for a moment. What if my feet weren’t planted firmly right now?


A young teenage boy starts yelling. Flailing. He’s off his boogie board and screaming. Again, the guard radios for backup and then swims out. The lifeguard doesn’t hold onto the swimmer, he just comes along beside him. Encourages him to swim.


No one was close to drowning that day, but each one needed help to get back to shore safely.


Lifeguarding is fun. But it’s a job where you must always be looking out. Many many years of watching may pass, before we ever need to swim out for a rescue.


My kids want me to take video of them. To come closer and watch.


I don’t want to keep them out of the water nor do I want to stand right next to them while they play. I want them to learn how to navigate these waters responsibly. I want them to have fun, to explore, to be independent.


My job is to teach, instruct, and guide them to reach the shore safely. Swimming them in, when they aren’t actually drowning, puts both of us at risk. But I’m watching. Ready to call them in, to give the warning.


We are the ones who need to be ready to swim out and guide them in if they go too far or get caught in a current that wants to suck them away. 


My kids come in and ask for snacks. I smile at their bleached hair and caramelizing skin.


This is our season. Doing the best job ever.

Sonya Spillmann

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