Once upon a time, many years ago in the magical land of South Carolina, there must have lived an ambitious director of tourism or chamber of commerce member who decided to put together one of the most-beloved lies of all time. He convinced everyone of this: “Taking your children to the beach is the perfect way to spend your summer vacation.”
I’m not sure if this man had children, or if he had even met a child before. Perhaps he just needed to make a profitable business venture and had bought an arcade on the boardwalk somewhere. Whatever his reasons, he was very, very good. For decades now, maybe even centuries, families have flocked to the beach where they had dreams that their sunscreen would be effective, their children would sit and build sandcastles for hours without complaining, parents could go fishing or read their novels, and no one ever needed to poop during the day. This man was the father of lies, and we all fell into his evil plot.
Or maybe it’s just my kids who don’t do well with days at the beach. All over social media I see these photos of women with their infants who are smiling and happy, or their school-aged children building sandcastles and using their boogie boards. Either these people have children who are much better behaved than mine, or they showed off the best 5 minutes of their day. Even I am guilty of this.
I go to the beach every year expecting a storybook type trip that could be narrated by Morgan Freeman, and I come back home convinced that now we would have to hire Samuel L. Jackson instead. I am finally coming to terms with the fact that my kids are not beach people.
Now, first thing in the morning every morning, Mary Ann and I walk on the beach as I’ve told you before. This is the sacred and happy time of day. But later, when we go back as a family of 4, the drama begins. Things start out happy enough, with the excitement and anticipation of seeing the ocean and running down to the waves, walking in the sand and spreading out chairs and towels and drinks under an umbrella. We even rented the nice, overpriced chairs. Benjamin Button is happily splashing in the water, and Mary Ann is making sure he doesn’t walk farther than knee deep. Even I am with them, ignoring my irrational but deep-seated fear that I will be one of the unlucky beachgoers who is eaten by a shark, maybe even The Meg.
But about the time I tell the kids I’m going to sit in my chair while they play, that’s when it falls apart. I bring a book every year, convinced that this might be the summer I actually get to finish a whole book outside (this year it was “On the Bright Side” by Melanie Shankle which I loved). I get maybe 3 pages in before both kids are right beside me. “I need a snack,” Benjamin says. “How long are we staying out here today?” Mary Ann asks, “It’s kind of hot, you know.”
I point out the sand buckets and shovels I got from Target. Mary Ann makes a half-hearted attempt to build a sandcastle. Benjamin Button remains in his chair, skeptical of what possible motivation anyone could have to build a sandcastle. “I’m bored,” he says. “Well go back down to the water,” I say. “Me and your dad are right here. We’re not going anywhere, we can see you, and Mary Ann can go with you.”
“I don’t want to go unless you come down there with me,” he says. This is the point where I try to decide if it makes me a horrible mother that the first thing that popped into my head was, “But I want you to go away so I can relax and read this book in peace like the moms on Facebook.” Mary Ann refuses to go with him and asks again, “How long have we been out here? Like 4 hours?” It has been 23.5 minutes.
I look around. The young couple along with their parents and their baby who appears to be less than 6 months old, who just spent 10 minutes setting up a tent and play pen, are already packing up, the mom walking towards the hotel with a fussy baby while the others pack up shop. There’s a 3 year old on the sand a few yards down who is laying on his back, screaming, because his mother wants him to reapply sunscreen. There are parents everywhere chasing kids of various ages, trying to make sure no one drowns, or eats sand, or eats anything else they find in the sand. There are dads giving their kids the evil eye as they once again have to reset their fishing line since the kid walked into it. Another family is making their way onto the beach with a wagon, cooler, sand toys, floats, and several children in tow, already looking exhausted before the day has begun.
I decide that it’s probably not just me and my kids. It really does suck to take them to the beach sometimes. Yes, it’s amazing to see their smiles and watch them splash and play, but after that 10 minutes is over, then what? We are all stuck with the consequences of the lie we have believed.
I’ll give it one more shot, I think to myself. “Look Benjamin, there’s a couple smaller buckets in there so you can build all kinds of stuff.” By this point, he is exasperated, tired of the heat and the day and the lie his parents have believed. “Look mom, I’m not building a sand castle, OK?!? When you sit in the sand, it gets everywhere, and I’m not getting sand in my penis just to make a castle, OK?” He’s not yelling, but he’s definitely louder than what we’re used to hearing from him.
We go inside, and Benjamin and Mary Ann happily head off for the pool where they would be content to spend the entire day, which is fine, except that we could have hung out at a pool at home. Or to their rooms where they can play with their iPads and be happy. Then we load up later and go out to dinner in Charleston where the kids complain about how much they hate seafood restaurants but we none the less end up laughing and having a good time. I wouldn’t trade this time with my family for anything, but honestly, is there ever a vacation that is actually relaxing? My mom would say, “Aww, you’re making memories.” But I think maybe what I’m making is a plan to go to the mountains next time.