Saturday, August 14, 2010

Fun Mom -- An Oxymoron Part 2

*** caption 1: Our fantasy family, happy in our giant sand castle we built. ***
*** caption 2: Our family the reality, exhausted from carrying the ridiculous amount of gear we take to the beach. ***

I used to be a girl in a Beach Boys' song. Now I am a cautionary tale.

Watch me as I walk the three blocks from my inconvenient but cheap parking space to the beach. On my back is a folding chair complete with pocket. As I walk, its solid aluminum construction bangs me in the funny bone every third step. In the crook of one elbow, my Target-dollar-bin beach bag, overflowing with a variety of sunscreens and swim diapers. On the end of the other arm, a toddler, who would rather be carried and is therefore whining the whole way.

This is the sound I make as I walk: rattle, rattle, clank (elbow-chair frame collision), groan, shuffle. Rattle, rattle, clank, groan, shuffle.

My husband, who in the years before fatherhood carried only a towel, our matching fins, and a board and looked quite sporty and hot, is now wearing an uber-uncool boogieboard bag, stuffed with two boards, two kids' spring suits, the umbrella anchor, a kids' chair, a frisbee, a kids' umbrella, a smash ball set, and our matching fins. (I will not get to wear my fins, because someone will have to stay on the sand with the toddler.) He pulls a wagon filled with cooler, towels, sand toys, and enough dry snacks for a preschool classroom.

Our six year old Sophia skips along, carrying nothing. Then after three minutes, she complains that she is tired of walking.

Young, scantily clad couples cruise past us on beach cruisers, obviously thanking their stars that there is such a thing as birth control.

I felt so cranky on this walk today, when I was also shivering because the sun refused to shine despite what said, that I decided to try smile therapy, like quirky little Fish on the TV show Ally McBeal. Sophia looked at me and said, "Mom, you're making a really weird face." At least that made me laugh.

Again, as I wrote yesterday, I really want to be a fun mom. But at no time do I mourn my former self more than on a beach day. If I squint I can see that old self, lying prone and half asleep, tanned as a pinto bean, reading a paperback book.

Not that it's all bad now. In between guarding the cooler from the kids' sandy hands, wrestling them through sunscreen application, and feeding Livie who literally NEVER stops snacking and still is tall and thin as a golf club (perhaps her modeling contract will pay for college), I do get to build sand castles. I just love bending over in my bathing suit in front of dozens of strangers. Then I can catch sand crabs (more bending over) in the 60-degree water with Sophia. And then, while Jeff takes Sophia out in the waves, I can feed Livie again, until Sophia comes out with blue lips and sand in all possible crevices, possibly crying with fatigue. I wrap and coddle her, feed her, and then feed Livie again.

Then we pack up and walk back to the car. Rattle, rattle, clank, groan, shuffle. Rattle, rattle, clank, groan, shuffle.

Why do it then, you might ask? Most mothers of young children I know simply don't go to the beach much. There are two reasons why I persist in this madness. One: I love my husband, who works in a windowless room all week and dreams of the moment that he can dive into a wave on Saturday, no matter how cold the water is. Two: I really do love the beach. I love body surfing, sun, sand in toes, searching for seashells. I love the crusty feeling in my hair and the way my skin smells on the way home.

Before my young married beach days, there were teenager beach days, with a pack of friends and a stack of Seventeen Magazines. Before that, there were family beach days, spending hours in the water with my dad, and being fed Jack-in-the-Box strawberry shakes on the way home by my mom. My parents' first date was on the beach; I probably ocean swam in utero. I want my girls to be Beach Boys songs, too.

So. Look for me on Saturdays between Newport's 32th and 30th street jetties. I'm the one standing in the giant hole my husband dug, waving at him and Sophia as they catch a wave together. And if you see me as I lug all my gear back to the car, say a prayer for me. Or at least offer to carry my chair.


  1. Believe it or not the girls will also have fond memories of the beach when they grow up thanks to you but will not appreciate what you really did for them until they are lugging their own kids' toys and snacks. But that is truly what being a parent is all about. What you sow now you will reap later. Being a parent is all about that!! Good for you for continuing to do what you love despite the extra "baggage"!

  2. Sandy, you get me. Thanks for your words of wisdom.