Monday, July 18, 2005


Today has been no day at the beach, you know what I mean? Except that it has been. And perhaps that is precisely the problem...

Our family vacation started this week. And since a trip to the beach is generally considered to be a relaxing and vacational experience, we decided to load up the rental car early in the morning and drive to the seaside. The day is sunny and warm, and yet -- since it's a Monday morning -- the highways and the beaches are not too congested, so it seems like we're in for a glorious day. In my head, I envision laughing with my children as we splash in the waves, working together to build towering sandcastles, enjoying picnic delacacies in the shade of a cabana, and lounging in the sun with a good book as the children nap...

Ah, the woes of foolish idealism... My illusions start breaking down in the seaside parking lot.

Before unloading the car, we have to start with the time-honored Caucasian tradition of sunscreen application. Yes, it's annoying, and of course it's unpleasant -- but without a liquid shield of ultraviolet protection, my fair-skinned family would die an agonizing, red, blistered, radioactive death after a day in the sun. So we smear the stuff on our hands, and then all over every exposed surface. We end up feeling greasy and sticky -- the beginnings of discontent starting to drift over, like the spiralling seagulls above -- but we're ready to make our move and haul the provisions surfside.

On the way down to the beach, we happen to point out the seagulls to our son -- thinking that he will enjoy the small glimpse of such oceanic "wildlife." Unfortunately, it turns out that Elliot is deathly afraid of seagulls (I forget how just about anything unfamiliar can be scary to my sensitive three-year-old). Thus for the next hour, we are doomed to vigilant look-out for rogue seagulls that might wander too close to our territory on the beach (and by "too close" I mean anywhere within 100 meters of our blanket). Still, in spite of the fearsome aerial predators, we manage to reach our chosen spot on the beach just barely before our biceps give out under the pressure of our bags, coolers, and one-and-a-half children (of course, 10-month old Olivia must be carried, and unfortunately Elliot, whenever a viscious seagull rears its ugly head, must be partially carried as well).

We spot a free cabana nearby and haul it over to our spot. A wide white sheet is spread out onto the sand, anchored at the four corners by shoes or bags or whatnot. At this point, I'm thinking that the kids must be bursting at the seems to get down by the water -- you know, wading, combing for sea-shells, building sandcastles, and so on... But as soon as we settle down at our spot, we discover the horrible truth that a fresh layer of sunscreen actually serves as a kind of protective lacquer, catching and trapping grains of sand against human flesh. A peripheral glimpse of my daughter gives me just enough time to save her from ingesting a tiny sea-shell -- but not in time to avoid a swath of sand being semi-permanently embedded across her baby-soft cheeks. This sand, which now coats our feet, legs, and Olivia's face is immediately sealed by the sunscreen and proves highly resistant to brushing off with hands, with towels, even with a bit of sea water. It turns out that we're stuck with it for the rest of the day (pardon the pun). Both of my children are whining by this point.

I decide that distraction is the best tactic. "Let's go build a sandcastle!" While Marci finishes setting up camp, I bring Elliot and Olivia down within a few feet of the water and begin digging a moat for our medieval sand fortress. Of course, it's just a few moments before the tide comes in just enough to wet our feet. I look over at Elliot -- expecting to discover a look of surprise and delight. Instead, his face screws up as though he's been stung by a scorpion and he cries out in agony. Olivia picks up on her older brother's cue and starts to cry. Within seconds, genuine tears are flowing down their sandy cheeks, and I catch myself muttering how much I hate the beach.

It doesn't get much better from here. We survive until lunch, where we chew supernaturally crunchy chips and cookies (enhanced by sand granules). Elliot probably ingests about half a cup of sand as he drops his sandwich on the ground, picks it up with his sandy fingers, and downs a few more gritty bites. Olivia takes the stuff in by the handfuls. I feel millions and millions of tiny grains of sand torturing my body both inside and out -- but only the children are socially permitted to express their displeasure to the extent that we all are personally experiencing. We can only take so much before we decide to call it a day.

By one o'clock we've succeeded in loading everything back into the car, and we're on our way back home -- listening to the song-stylings of "My Busy Busy Day" as a salve to the beach's irritation that we've carried back with us into the station wagon (the CD works great for soothing my children, but it only exacerbates things for me). Indeed, we get home much sooner than we had ever expected -- however, it proves to be fortuitous, as it allows extra hours for shaking out sand, bathing, sweeping, and vaccuming every trace of beach from our bodies, our rental car, and our living space. In fact, our time cleaning up is roughly equal to our time "enjoying" the seaside... but when it's done, we feel a sense of achievement and sanctification.

By suppertime, Elliot is chatting cheerfully about the day at the beach and expectantly asking: "When can we go to the beach again?" I ignore the question and chew my food, stopping just long enough to pick out a stowaway grain of sand from my teeth.


At 1:30 AM, Anonymous dustin said...

This reminds me of a time that Katie and decided to go camping but forgot to pack a crucial box -- the one with the lanterns, flashlights and other important tidbits. It was already dark by the time we reached our campsite and discovered that the box was missing but decided to tough it out and managed to get our tent up. However, early the next afternoon, the rain (of course, rain) and wind had gotten to be too much to bear and we loaded up the car and headed home a day and a half early. Sadly, sometimes vacations aren't all they're supposed to be. :-)

At 1:34 AM, Blogger Jay said...

Ah...the tragic irony. Your previous post was an idyllic beach experience; this one was a painful sandy mess. Kids do make life interesting, don't they?

At 3:32 PM, Blogger Eric Asp said...

How true... How true...


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