It’s 3 o’clock in the morning and I’m sitting in the beach condo awake, trying to let everyone else sleep, thinking about how my mom would have never let me get this sunburned. I put on sunscreen, I sat under an umbrella that we paid too much to rent (pretty sure not having the forethought to overcharge people for renting beach chairs and umbrellas will be one of my greatest financial regrets from here on out), and I made sure that 2 hours later I put on the sunscreen again, and I still look and feel like someone attacked me with fine grit sandpaper.
When we used to come to the beach, we would bring mom. My dad doesn’t love it. He burns as easily as I do, and so it has never been his favorite. He much prefers the mountains. I never realized before how much she helped with the kids while she was down here. If they had to choose, they preferred time spent with her on the beach. She was way better at this vacation thing than me. Her motto was, “Well it’s their vacation too.” That’s how a 2 year old Benjamin Button ended up propped up in bed at 2 in the morning watching TV, eating snacks– Mom’s rule.
For one, she knew to bring a snack bag for the car trip. Other Half has this unspoken rule that we don’t stop unless not stopping means someone has peed themselves in the backseat. You don’t know me, DVT, you can’t scare me. We’re not getting out of this car until we get where we’re going. So snack bags are sort of a matter of survival. A good snack bag should have sweet, salty, chocolate, bubble gum, and Chico sticks. Our snack bag this trip was not as impressive— it was gold fish crackers. Benjamin Button ate 3 packs before we hit the South Carolina state line, I think.
For two, she tried to make sure the kids had something to do to pass the time, or that we left early enough in the morning that we could sleep on the way down there. When I was a kid, we left for vacation at 6 in the morning. Mom and dad didn’t want to waste a day of our vacation on travel, so they tried to make sure we got to wherever we were going by lunch time and had the rest of the day to enjoy. Other Half and I aren’t what you would call morning people, so we usually leave in the evening the night before. I used to make sure the kids had portable DVD players so they wouldn’t drive me nuts all the way down to the beach. Now they’re old enough to plan ahead on their own. Mary Ann downloaded every episode of Outer Banks onto her laptop before we left and Benjamin Button charged up his Nintendo Switch, so they had that base covered.
The beach rule with mom was that we had a big breakfast, went out on the beach for the morning, came in for lunch which we would eat at the beach house we rented, and then dinner we would either cook or go out. I got the breakfast part right. Every day this vacation we either went out to eat a decent breakfast or I hit up 3 drive-thrus— Starbucks (because my mental health needs it), McDonalds for Benjamin Button’s gravy biscuit, and Chick-Fil-A for the rest of us. Lunch I sort of goofed up.
Since we’re late sleepers and Mary Ann and I have to have our morning walks before breakfast, it was usually nearly 11 before we got on the beach anyway, so I would skip it. This meant that we would be on the beach for maybe 1 or 2 hours before kids were starving like they hadn’t eaten in days. We compromised and had ice cream for lunch. Then by the time we came in for dinner, we all thought we might die of hunger. Today, we were trying to find a place to eat and everywhere had a 2 hour wait, Between the COVID restrictions and peak summer vacation time, there were no easy answers. After trying 3 different places and coming up empty, we were at each other’s throats. We finally found a burger place, Thank God, because otherwise The Hunger Games was about to begin.
By the time we got back from dinner yesterday, it was abundantly clear that I had underestimated the summer sun. You know how southern girls are always supposed to have this glow? That skipped me. I don’t tan. I go from nearly translucent to bright red, to peeling, to translucent again. The beach is always my favorite place, so I’m pretty sure we’re star-crossed lovers. I keep coming down here and the sun keeps punishing me for trying to pretend I belong.
When Mary Ann and I made our Target run, I bought the kind of sunscreen she picked because “This was the one Mamaw Faye always bought and it worked good.” I sprayed all of us with it, ignoring Benjamin Button’s protestations that “the cream works better” because the cream is gross and gets stuck under my rings and I refuse to take them off like a normal person. We go play in the water a little as I mentally replay every shark attack movie I’ve ever seen, then we sit under the umbrella we overpaid for, we go get the ice cream that wanted to be lunch, and I re-spray us all with sunscreen. By 4 in the afternoon, the kids have had all the fun they can stand and we come back inside.
That’s when I notice the sharp demarcation of “tan line” which is not so much a tan line as a testament to my stupidity. Everything hurts and itches and when I get in the shower I’m pretty sure the fires of hell must pale in comparison to what this feels like. And then I see Mary Ann’s face which doesn’t look as bad as my shoulders but is still too red, and then Benjamin Button starts bemoaning his own shoulders. Thankfully Other Half brought aloe, Sunburn Relief Spray, and silvadene so we’re covered on remedies, but all I can think is, “If mom was here this never would have happened.”
She always made me put on a shirt after an hour or two in the sun, even if I did have a tent or umbrella. When I was in my early teens it was because we were pentecostal and everyone knows mixed bathing sends you to hell, so you have to wear a shirt over your bathing suit like you’re trying to win a Church of God wet t-shirt contest. But as I got older, I eventually had to accept that, at least on beach trips, she made me wear the shirt because without it, I would roast. I looked at Mary Ann and thought, “She would be so mad if she knew Mary Ann was this burnt.” And I think maybe I’ll text her a photo. And then I remember that I can’t. I spent the rest of the night sulking and going to bed early.
I know grief takes time, and supposedly life gets easier to manage after a while, but when has knowing those things ever helped any person who was grieving? Right now, all I know is I have a terrible sunburn, my mom never would have let it happen, and she should be here. Miss you mom. I’ll wear the shirt next time.