Work Samples

Creating Jersey Shore memories


The ride home from the hospital with my newborn daughter was quiet 10 years ago. She was sleeping. My husband and I were too tired and too scared we'd wake her to speak to each other, so we opted for a little music, keeping it low. A few minutes before we arrived home, "Jersey Girl" began to play.

"Oh, no," my husband said with mock horror. "Now I live with two Jersey Girls."

He was likely trying to ease the tension and distract from the fear we both felt as we brought home an infant with no idea what to do next. But he had struck a bit of a nerve, accidentally unearthed a different imposter syndrome than the one suffocating me in the back seat with this new baby.

The truth is, as a Jersey Girl, I'd always been something of a fraud. Born in D.C., growing up in Maryland and Pennsylvania before moving to North Jersey in the middle of the fourth grade, I wasn't raised on Taylor ham, egg and cheese, I didn't worship Bruce Springsteen, and I did not spend my summers Down the Shore. That last one always made me feel most out of place. I liked Taylor ham, egg and cheese and could learn the songs of Springsteen, but you can't make up for years missed growing up on the beaches and boardwalks of the Jersey Shore.

At that moment, though, I knew I could give that to my daughter. She could belong. The Shore could be a part of her, as it eventually became a part of me.

Honestly, from as early as I can remember, I was afraid of the ocean and got hot and bored sitting in the sand. The Shore never really appealed to me, which made it even worse. Not only did I not go — I didn't want to.

By the time we moved to New Jersey when I was 9, my family already had a summer tradition — driving to a lake in Ontario for a week each August. I didn't know LBI from the LIE. I didn't have a Shore exit. I didn't have that seemingly vital connection to my new home state.

My mother did, though. She had spent her teen summers in Belmar. She could pop her gum with the best of them while telling (appropriate) tales about her times at the Shore. For whatever reason, she never pushed to pass along the tradition. As my sister and I got older, my father's business travel allowed us to have free hotels and flights that made bigger trips part of many of our summers. I left for college without ever really experiencing the Shore aside from the weekend after the prom and the rare day trip, including one accidental trip to Sandy Hook's nude beach with my sister. (We played it cool, kept our clothes on and stayed just long enough that we didn't look freaked out but not long enough to know who won the volleyball game.)

The few times I went to a friend's place on Long Beach Island for the day hadn't changed my mind either. The ride was long, the payoff not enough. It just wasn't my thing. My most lasting memory, in fact, was driving down the summer after my senior year in high school to meet a friend at her family's house. In the days before cellphones, I had set out before she could tell me that she wasn't going to the house that weekend because her father and his girlfriend had decided to go there. I discovered that, much to my embarrassment even all these years later, after I arrived. (Let's just say that until then, I never knew couples actually wore matching short silk robes — and now, I can never forget.)

The Shore, I had definitely decided, wasn't so great. The songs, the beach movies, it was all myth. The epic romance wasn't coming. I wasn't going to spend my college summers working on the boardwalk during the day and partying with friends on the beach each night.

Then in my mid-20s I got a job at the Asbury Park Press. I fought the move down as long as I could, commuting from an apartment in Weehawken. But that was a hike when working nights, and I gave in to give up the 2 a.m. trip back up the parkway.

It was then that I finally learned what everyone had been talking about, why so many people felt so attached to a place. The Shore is a feeling. Truly. It exists near all water, I think. Towns near rivers or houses on lakes just have a different vibe than their inland counterparts. It is especially true of the ocean. There is just something to being near the ocean, the sound of the waves, the salt in the air. But all things are not equal. The West Coast beach towns feel different from the East's, and Ocean City in Maryland is not the same as Ocean City in New Jersey, which feels different from Ocean Grove. The Shore — and each town on it — creates a unique atmosphere that draws you in and makes you feel like you are part of it. That was what I wanted to give my daughter.

My husband from Long Island didn't see the appeal. He knew neither of us was one to sit and sun all day, so what would we do? Besides, he didn't see the fun of a vacation where you bring your own sheets and towels and have to go grocery shopping. To his credit, though, he was willing to give it a try. At almost 14-months-old, my daughter first put her feet in the Jersey Shore sand and her toes in the Atlantic Ocean.

When that first house was infested with ants and my husband stepped on a bee by the garbage cans, which sat next to the rusty and unusable grill, I was pretty sure our Shore tradition was doomed before it began. Surprisingly, he agreed to a house the next year in a new location and an annual pilgrimage was born. We went from Manasquan to Bradley Beach before settling in Ocean Grove, of all places, the little town I rolled my eyes at when I lived there in my mid-20s. But it is also the streets and stretch of beach that taught me to love being at the Shore, and where, early in our relationship, my husband and I sat and watched Fourth of July fireworks reflected in the ocean.

My daughter has grown up noting the town's different beach-badge colors and designs each summer and carefully combing the sand for the best shells to bring home and add to a vase full of them. She dutifully measured herself for years, waiting for the day she could ride the bumper cars at Jenkinson's in Point Pleasant (the big moment finally arrived last year) and gets a receipt for her tickets won in the arcade, waiting until she collects enough for a big prize (that day will never come).

We eat at the same places and fall into a peaceful and familiar rhythm. We do not necessarily leave behind the stresses of our North Jersey lives, but they become somehow more manageable with an ocean view. There is clarity in the salty air or, perhaps, just a different perspective.

Most summers my nephew joins us. It wouldn't be the same without him. And to give it a real multigenerational Shore family feel, at the end of the week each year, my mother and her husband come for a couple of days, too. She will reminisce a bit at least once during each visit. Then we continue our next-generation traditions. We go to the Circus Drive-In (which she did years ago as well) and Days Ice Cream. We take the same photos in the same places. We are home, no matter what house we rent or that we have to be out the following Saturday by noon.

My daughter wants to try a week at Long Beach Island soon, and maybe we will. Most New Jersey families are rooted in a particular Shore town, but we can be wanderers for a while and allow her to find the stretch of sand that feels right to her — our one true Jersey Girl.