Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Life's A Beach...And Then You Drive

The surf's up and it's finally time to hit the beach! For months, I had pored over so many coastal living magazines that I'd practically given myself sunstroke in anticipation.

I had waded through pages of sun-filled layouts with families happily walking together along the strand. Smiling copper-toned kids beamed over buckets full of perfectly formed seashells and posed in front of Biltmore-sized sand castles that they'd constructed, I imagine, sans parental participation. Moms and dads looked blissfully relaxed in lounge chairs, while their carefree children frolicked in the ocean without a jellyfish or icky floating thing in sight.

Unfortunately, you won't find many photos like that in our family album. Faster than you can say “vamos a la playa”, it's clear that a day at the beach with my brood, isn't exactly, well…“A day at the beach”.

After an hour of over-packing the car with a stack of rusty sand chairs, a leaky cooler, countless sand toys and as many boogie boards and skim boards as Ron Jon's Surf Shop - we look more like the “The Beverly Hillbillies” than the well-heeled beachcombers I'd seen in those glossy periodicals.

The kid's backseat bickering begins before we even make it down the driveway. It continues as we lug our gear across a Sahara-wide strip of sole searing sand. We wince in pain as we try to sidestep the shrapnel of broken shells along the way. The schlep seems endless as we ritually wander and stop - at least three times - until we're sure that we've found just the right spot.

It's only after we've fully unloaded and arranged our chairs in perfect alignment with the sun that we realize that the tide is actually coming in. My husband does not look amused as we franticly chase scattered flip-flops that have been swept away by a small tsunami, and we move yet again - back to where we stopped in the first place.

After fighting gusts of gale force winds, we take a moment to bask in the glory of getting our rickety umbrella planted upright, and thankfully without impaling any neighboring sunbathers. Then comes a heated Greco-Roman wrestling match to get the children into their sunscreen, which by their protests, you'd think was really acid.

My husband, with a solar-induced migraine, quickly tires of a minefield-like game I call; “Which bikini-clad body on the beach most closely resembles mine?” Then we begin the losing battle of trying to keep track of all our pails, shovels and stolen hotel towels - most of which are already half buried.

It's only a matter of time before the kids begin a chorus of complaints about the sand in their eyes, the grit between their teeth or somewhere else in their swimsuits. I wonder if I hold a seashell to my ear, would I'd hear the sound of a child whining.

But, eventually we settle in and find our rhythm with the ebb and flow of the sea. The boys excitedly start digging their way to China with some newfound “best friends” - sans parental participation - and my daughter discovers the joys of a good beach read. Even my husband and I are able to unwind with a quiet conversation in complete, and uninterrupted, sentences.

Before we know it, the air starts to cool as the sun calls it a day. We pack up and head home. This time the backseat is quiet as my sleepy beach bums, with their sun-kissed skin and sandy smiles, drift off dreaming about our next trip to the shore.

At last…a picture-perfect day at the beach.


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