Chris Erskine: Milestones bitter and sweet

By Chris Erskine - Los Angeles Times

Chris Erskine is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. (Los Angeles Times/MCT)

I love when this happens … .

We’re at the beach, and three young boys — all in junior high — are surrounding a mysterious creature that washed up, right at the waterline, that milk mustache where sand meets surf.

The creature is round, like a pancake, and folds over a little on itself, still moving. Might be a jellyfish, might be some sort of sea anemone.

“What is that?” one of them asks.

Being boys, they kick at it a little.

“I think … it’s a bra pad,” one of the boys finally suggests.

In unison, they jump back.

Locally, it’s the season for bra pads. I explain to the boys that, at this time of year, they migrate south from their summer breeding grounds in the Gulf of Alaska down to Newport Beach.

“I think they come here to die,” I say.

“Cool,” one of them says.

Another boy pokes it with a toe.

“Yeah, it’s definitely part of a bikini,” he says, and we move on.

Yeah, we’re moving on all right. Summer to fall. Lightness to dark. Boys to men.

To the Pacific we’ve come, a decent enough little puddle.

This day, it is full of friends. You give me anything full of friends — a beach, a bar, an elevator — and I am pretty content. To my mind, whoever finishes with the most friends wins.

Want some? I’m having a sale.

Seriously, I love my friends, wacky and challenging as they can be. I find that friends are like children: If they are happy, you are happy. If they are in crisis, you are in crisis. If something happens to a best friend, it happens to you.

One of our good friends is about to say so long to her firstborn, a boy-man, who is off to Northwestern University soon, a school of some note 2,000 miles away.

No one knows quite what to say of this. There is anticipation in the air, and there is angst.

“I’ve worried about you for 18 years,” Sarah finally tells her son. “You think I’m going to stop now?”

Up and down America, this is happening … this great migration. The freshmen leave, and the parents adapt.

“When mine left, I cried for seven months,” another mother said recently.

Now that’s what I call adapting.

Here’s the thing: Constant as the surf, our kids will come, and our kids will go. Helps to have friends around. Helps to laugh. Or to hear that such departures lead to wonderful freshman years and terrific homecomings.

And to Thanksgivings you’ll never forget.

I also love when this happens … .

Misfits like me don’t read social cues very well, but I know when someone is really thirsty. I can refill a beach drink better than almost any cabana boy you know, with only a pinch of sand. I credit 30 years of experience.

By the end of the day, we are making s’mores for the kids. One dad, a colonel in the Air Force, also sets out gigantic chocolate chip cookies that he baked from scratch.

The American military does some amazing things, and this is just the latest.

To achieve this triumph, Joe says, he leaves out half the usual baking soda and half the usual baking powder. What results is a robust cookie, fat as a heavyweight’s fist. You could break a window with one; you could bomb a dangerous despot.

Or, as I did, you could eat three, putting on a mere 40 pounds.

Eventually, this happens … .

On what many celebrate as the final beach day of the year, amid the mayhem and the margaritas, the stories about yesterday’s soccer games and rumors that the principal might soon quit, I see this: a kid off to the side, reading a book in the shadow of an umbrella.

She is reading on her own, for the simple pleasure of it.

For years now, I have tried to persuade my youngest son to settle with a book like this, to bask in the contentedness of the written word. Yet his brain is still too twitchy, and he is constantly drawn to more active pursuits — like sitting on the couch studying his own elbow.

“See that?,” I ask him, nodding toward the girl with the book.


“Under no circumstances do I ever want to catch you doing that,” I say.

“What, Dad?”



“You heard me, pal,” I say. “If I ever catch you with a book … .”

“Don’t worry, Dad, you won’t,” he assures me.

Boys, huh? Want one? I’m having a sale.

Chris Erskine is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. (Los Angeles Times/MCT) Erskine is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. (Los Angeles Times/MCT)

By Chris Erskine

Los Angeles Times

Chris Erskine is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @erskinetimes.

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