My Water Baby: The Therapeutic Power of Blue Space

Emily Sutton by Emily Sutton Additional Needs

Emily Sutton

Emily Sutton

I was launched into the world of special needs on New Year's Eve 2012, on the birth of my son, Jenson. He is fabulous, sprightly and loving, and ha...

My Water Baby: The Therapeutic Power of Blue Space

The beach has been my backyard for the past 20 years, but it was only when my son was born nine years ago that I really started to make an ally of the ocean.

Having had many sorrowful experiences at soft play sessions, baby groups, and library sing-songs, I soon realised that our true sanctuary was the beach.

My baby, still undiagnosed, was struggling to find his way in the world, inexplicably not conforming to societal expectations.

But through his blue space, he found his safe-haven, unchallenged by cultural expectation.

In his primal state of infantile exploration, the beach became his chosen playground.

Unwatched by his peers, who had achieved it far, far sooner, he first learned to roll back-to-front and back again, when lying on the soft forgiving sand, encouraged by the natural cambers that had formed the night before.

His first experience of independent mobilisation was similarly exhilarating, a few months later, down the very same cambers, on his bottom.

He would sit on the water’s edge for hours, the tide tickling his toes and the salty spray decorating his face, such effort taken in propelling himself just a few taxing feet forward and backwards, left and right, rogue waves catching him out and knocking his tiny and unsupported body to the floor as he giggled and gurgled in the water.

He would sleep his best sleeps on those nights, sapped and satiated by his time in the blue.

I loved the lingering taste of sea salt on his nose as I kissed him good night.

I would really enjoy those times alone with him, escaping the pressures of new-motherhood by avoiding the inevitable conversations with fellow mums about milestones and progress and the looks, sighs, words of wisdom and sympathy.

I welcomed its predictability, its consistent terrain, total neutrality, lack of territory or ownership.

Every visitor comes with no greater or less entitlement to its offerings, just to borrow a bit of beach for as long as they choose, no booking system or timeframes to conform to, and no unexpected factors to scupper plans.

In pastimes I had been a nervous visitor of the ocean, feeling like an imposter in a foreign and hostile body of water, anxious of its unpredictable movements and volatile behaviour.

But while my son’s affinity with his blue space was showing no signs of abating, my own trepidation of the sea was swiftly diminishing, through the sheer non-negotiable responsibility placed upon me to facilitate his only true love and connection with nature.

As a family we were happiest on the beach; the non-judgemental landscape was such a reprieve from the everyday challenges we encountered in our urban world.

His love of the waves was indiscriminate and in fact it was the days where the sea was at its iciest, stormiest or angriest, that he would shriek with joy the loudest.

With my firm and protective hands round his waist, he would swim and splash, kicking against me to push farther out towards the blue horizon.

I am unsure at what point I realised that he was swimming on his own, but it was certainly a long, long time before he could walk.

His self-taught writhing, flapping and ungainly movements were somehow propelling him through the water, and alarmingly most of the time in an underwater motion.

It was a challenge to remove him from the sea, as he would happily stay for hours, but the blue of his lips and the wrinkles in his digits indicated he needed reacclimatising.

We would wrap him in his robe and he would shuffle to his same favourite spot and lie on the warm sand, slowly returning his body temperature to its regular state.

At times we were guilty of overstaying our time in the water; the intensity of his enjoyment obscuring the signs of hypothermia, and his inability to self-regulate, identify and respond to, his own needs caught us out now and then.

My boy is now nine and this Spring will see our tenth year of enjoying family time on the beach.

Now a fully mobile, sociable and inquisitive child, he knows no social barriers, usually befriending a dozen families and as many dogs with his charming and convivial personality on any given day.

His inability to grasp the concept of personal space and belongings has left us having to explain and apologise to strangers on numerous occasions about their punctured beach ball or flattened sandcastle structure.

But mainly we find that people are beguiled and captivated by his gregariousness and loving manner and will happily share their borrowed bit of beach with him, and surrender their buckets and spades.

So, I look forward to another season of sea, sand and sanctuary, in the one collective place that we can spend time as a family, unjudged, safe and content, with each of us in our true happy Blue Space.


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