We recently returned from our annual trip to the beach. It’s a weeklong adventure packed with reading piles of novels, slathering kids with SPF 50, and finding sand in the most surprising places.
We quickly establish a routine during our vacation. Knox is usually the first one up in the morning. His eyes pop open about 6:30 regardless of when he went to bed the night before. Lucy is also up or soon after and then Ella stumbles into the living room to join the crew an hour or so later. They flip on the Disney Channel (I don’t let them watch it at home so this is a rare treat) and the three of them veg-out until Brent and I decide we should be responsible parents who tend to the needs of our offspring. The kids eat their breakfast (again, in front of the Disney Channel) and Brent and I take our bagels and books to the balcony. (I can’t eat and be in the same room with “The Suite Life” twins. Their upbeat and quirky yet predictable brand of humor makes regular digestion difficult for me.)
After a while, we spot my brother-in-law and nieces at the beach. Our kids go into “we’ve-got-to-get-out-there-with-them-or-we’ll-miss-everything” mode and we prepare for the ocean. Bathing suits? Check. Beach towels? Check. Sand toys? Check. Swim goggles? Check. Boogie boards? Check. Snacks and water bottles? Check. With bags hanging from every arm we head for the beach. After about an hour digging giant holes and splashing in the waves, Lucy starts asking: “When can we go to the pool?” Don’t get me wrong—they have a really nice pool, but it’s the beach! We can go to a pool anytime!
In spite of my pleadings otherwise, Lucy spreads her discontent with the majestic Gulf of Mexico to her siblings and cousins and we are once again packing our belongings to move to greener pastures. (I suddenly feel an empathy with the Wandering Israelites I’d never felt before. That is, if the Israelites wore tankinis and their wilderness looked like Florida.) We shoulder our bags (sunburn arms + sand + bag straps = ouch!) and mount the long steps that lead to the boardwalk. On the way to the pool, we must all stop to shower off the sand and then apply another layer of sunscreen.
It’s at the large pool where I entertain myself with random observations:
I play Brent’s least favorite game called “Find Someone With Abby’s Body Type.” He’s too smart to play it right so I usually just play alone.
There are always newly breasted teen girls sporting bikinis. It’s like they’re not quite sure what to do with this new gift but they’re pretty sure it’s a gift meant to be shared.
I will admit, in my former life as a carefree non-mother, I spent many summers preoccupied with the task of getting a well-dispersed suntan. But that’s nothing compared to the OCD tanners at our resort. They give a new definition to the term “working vacation.” They flip themselves every thirty minutes or so and stretch out their arms to make sure they don’t get that white stripe on their inner arms that lets people know you’ve been lying on a patio recliner doing nothing but breathing for a week. They take periodic dips but for the most part they are wholly focused on the task at hand. It’s grueling but satisfying—if you’re in one of the rings of Dante’s Inferno.
We end up spending the week with the same families every day. We make small talk about the weather and our points of origin while sitting in water a foot deep in the baby pool but we never really scratch the surface of who they are. And since I don’t want to appear to be a stalker, I just make up their back-stories. My favorite families to analyze are the ones that are from other countries. The most obvious way to figure out where they’re from is their accent and language but I also love the more subtle distinguishing characteristics of these families. There are the thick-rimmed glasses and leather beach shoes of the German families. Then there are the highly revealing one-piece swimsuits of the South American ladies. The tiny Speedo swim trunks that I can barely glimpse under an older man’s hairy protuberance of a belly reveals something about who he is but I avert my eyes and try to look elsewhere. My sister-in-law and I will eventually compare notes about these families and we frequently come to the same conclusions.
So as we creep along the interstate either driving to the beach or going home and we pass the reason for the utterly slow traffic, (A minivan pulled over to the shoulder so a three year-old can pee. Yes, that’s reason enough for hundreds of cars to rubberneck as we go past them.) I wonder if it’s all worth it. But I know these long car rides and inconvenient trips back to the condo to get pool floats and the cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen that has no measuring cups all are a rite of passage for my kids. They won’t realize it for a long time—maybe not until they have kids of their own—but someday they’ll see all that happens behind the scenes for parents. Someday they’ll understand the thing they know—that we love them enough to go to Florida just to play in a pool even though we have one in our backyard.