Wednesday, August 22, 2007


I grew up at the beach. Well, not as literally as I would have liked, but I come from a long line of beachgoers. We frequented Cape Cod and the Connecticut beaches, but the majority of our day trips and week-long vacations were taken at Misquamicut, Rhode Island. I spent the summer after my freshman year working at a concession stand on the beach on Long Island Sound.

When we went on day trips to the beach, it was a total event. We brought coolers of fried chicken and fruit and drinks. We'd get there really early to stake out our place on the state beach, and try to pick a spot close enough to the water so my mother could watch us, while far enough away that at high tide in the late afternoon we wouldn't get flooded. We often missed the target. :) We'd stay on the beach until the sun started to drop, then shower and change in the giant bath house and go to Paddy's Wigwam for dinner.

I am never as still as I can be on the beach. Not just lying on my towel, burning my back and the backs of my legs six shades darker than my front while I read for hours. But sometimes, just standing, feeling the rhythm of the surf and the wind and allowing it to calm my center.

Our beach vacation last week? Was nothing like that.

Not all of the differences were negative--in fact, most of them weren't. The world is different now. I worried about the damage to my kids (not to mention my own potential sunburn) with the thinner ozone layer, so we didn't spend days at a time on the beach. We went three times, always late in the day, and only for a couple of hours. The beaches were amazingly EMPTY. Seriously! Totally empty. Part of that was because the local schools were already back in session, but where the heck were all the tourists? (In Broadway at the Beach, apparently, but that's another post.) I liked that--I am so not into crowds.

The sand was very soft, and the free parking just over the dunes was nice. The shell collection was stellar, though I ended up with only three tiny, perfect specimens. The water was clear. But MAN, was it warm! I'm sorry, there is something seriously wrong with that. Sure, it's painful to walk into icy water in June up North. But when it's 98 degrees, it's also refreshing. None of the water I put my body into last week was in any way refreshing. Not that South Carolina has any control over that, of course.

We spent all our beach time in the water, which was the best part. I love bodysurfing, but let me tell you, the mojo of my youth is gone. When I was a kid, as far as I knew, boogie boards didn't exist. You crouched in the water, timed it, put your head down, and rode those babies into the sand. I think my memory is slightly faulty about how good at it I was, but I'm definitely worse now.

Part of it was the surf. High winds most of the week, plus really strong cross currents (the waves were at a 45- to 90-degree angle with the shore), made the waves very choppy. They crested in all the wrong places. But my kids, who haven't had much (if any) experience at this, took two minutes of my instructions and became experts. The little one, especially, had excellent timing to catch the waves. Using a boogie board makes it easier, of course, but I wasn't getting anywhere with those, either. I decided the vast different in my weight between then and now was the reason I couldn't race in to shore.

Until my husband soared past me. Jerk.

Despite my failure to ride much, we had a lot of fun. The first time we went, the surf was SO choppy you couldn't stand in one place at any point in the water. It was constantly pulling us in every direction. Good exercise, but worrisome for a mother. I wondered how my mother ever bore it, watching us swim from way up on the shore. I stayed within five feet of my kids at all times. A storm rolled in as we were getting ready to leave, so it cut that visit short. The Thursday visit was nearly the same, though maybe slightly tamer water. Saturday, everything had completely reversed. The surf was still choppy, but now heading the other way down the beach, and the wind was in the opposite direction, too.

The worst part was that after 36 summers of swimming in the ocean, sometimes with a jellyfish every two feet, and never in my life being stung...this time I got stung, with nary a jelly in sight. Okay, they're clear. Of course I couldn't see them. And it's possible that's not what it was. But I don't know what else it could have been. At first I thought the cable on my board had rubbed my thigh, but when I brushed it with my hand it hurt there, too, and then on my opposite knee. I was pretty pissed. Speaking of which, luckily, the pain was minor and subsided quickly, so no, no one peed on me. I rubbed sand on it and went back in the water and eventually all the sensation went away. On the last day Number One got stung on her hand, bad enough to get welts, but it faded as quickly for her, too.

And finally, my last comment, about the lessons of our childhood. After so many years of being told The Rules, it was easy to impart them to my kids. How to use care and good judgment in inherently dangerous water. How to stay aware of the people around them when boogie boarding. How deep they were allowed to go, both in wave and in trough.

But the really funny rule was the one about watching where our stuff was on the beach, and keeping oriented to it. All my life I've swum with one eye on the striped umbrella next to our blanket, or whatever bright thing I was able to see with my extreme nearsightedness (oh, that's something that was different, too, in a good way--I had disposable contacts this time!). So I taught my kids, especially with the very strong longshore current, to keep an eye on our chair and move back so we were always in front of it.

Except unlike when I was a kid, all four of us were always in the water. My mother usually kept an eye on us from shore, so it was important we stay where she could see us. But last week, we were always together so it didn't MATTER that we were a quarter mile away from our stuff. Even once I realized that, though, I still kept checking for it, and making everyone move back up the beach. It was far too ingrained of a Rule to defy. :)

So, tomorrow (which is really today already) I'll talk about what we did all week that kept us away from the beach.


MJFredrick said...

Sounds WONDERFUL. We rarely go to the coast, though we're going Labor Day weekend. I hope it's not too crowded.

Natalie J. Damschroder said...

Yeah, crowds tend to diminish the fun in anything. :)

Good luck, and have a GREAT time!

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