The Beach. It was the one thing my daughter said she really, really, really wanted to do this summer and I couldn’t seem to make it happen. Logistically and financially, an over-night trip was impossible this summer, but because we live only two hours away from the ocean, I thought that at some point, we could do a day-trip. You know, pack the car the night before, leave early, spend the day at the beach, and return in the late afternoon or early evening–tired, sun-kissed, and satisfied with a happy summer memory? Certainly, that sounded do-able in June.
But we never got around to it. We were busy with other things—like getting my mother-in-law’s house cleaned out and ready to rent. And because we only have granny-care three days a week and then for only five hours per day, we can’t just decide to go to the beach the night before. It would take some planning and preparation. I would have to ask Deborah, our care-giver to adjust her other work schedule so that she could stay at our house longer. I would need to ask her at least two weeks in advance so that she could work out the details with her other job.
Now, we were running out of summer—school was starting the very next day—and I decided to “make do.” Okay, we couldn’t go to the ocean because that was just too far away, but we could go to the Bay. As the crow flies, we live about two miles from the Chesapeake Bay and at various points along the Western Shore of Maryland, there is beach with limited public access. The sand gravelly when compared to sand at the ocean, and while the water is choppy, there are no real waves. The water is brackish, and I can see land on the other side, but other than that, it is just like the ocean. Eye-roll. That was what I told myself as I loaded the kids, their shovels and buckets, towels, sunscreen, and snacks into the car.
“Making do” with the Bay is better than no beach at all. I told myself this, too.
I also reasoned that by calling the Bay beach the “fake beach” and the ocean beach the “real beach,” I was being unjustly persnickety, but not without a valid reason. I grew up close to the ocean. During my childhood, I saw the ocean at least weekly, and once I was a teenager, I saw it almost daily in the summer. When it comes to time at the beach—the real beach, not just on the shore of a very large estuary–the bar is set pretty high by my own childhood. And that beach experience is the one I wanted for my children but couldn’t deliver this summer.
I’m thankful I had the common sense to keep these thoughts to myself. I refused to share my sense of disappointment with my children. I put on a happy face, and said, “Let’s go to the beach!” “Hooray!” they cried. “You are the best mom EVER!”
And oh, the fun they had at the fake beach! My son packed sand into his bucket and created two mounds side-by-side. “Look, Mom! I made sand boobies ‘cuz I like boobies!” When his sister gave him a scolding look, he smiled, shrugged, and said, “What? I like boobies.” He’s three, not thirteen.
My daughter made a huge sand hotel as I helped my son transform his sand breasts into a series of towers connected by a wall and topped with feathers and shells. Then, my children became dinosaurs and stomped their own creations.
We swam—briefly. Jellyfish. Thankfully, we escaped the murky Bay water without being stung, and while my son sat on a towel eating gritty yogurt-covered raisins, my daughter gathered seagull feathers to tuck into her bathingsuit. She would later do the same to her brother, and together, they would imitate the seagulls and try to be assimilated into their flock. I filmed it from a distance. How creative and resourceful my children are! I never thought of doing that when I was a child, and as an adult, I just don’t have that kind of imagination–or ambition!
By the time we left the beach, they were exhausted—and happy. When I glanced into the rearview mirror, I saw they were napping in their car-seats, bodies limp and mouths open. No doubt they were dreaming about sun and sand and seagulls.
It’s so easy for me to look at my life right now and see one big compromise after another and even feel a little resentful. I left my job—no, my CAREER—to be a stay-at-home-mom because I wanted my children to have adventures. I wanted to be the mother who takes her kids to the beach, to amusement parks, to movies, to plays, on nature hikes, to the library, to the museum, to the aquarium, on vacations, on picnics, to the pool…I wanted every day to be an adventure, especially in the summer.
I did not leave my career so that I could stay home making soup for their grandmother or feeding her and changing her. I did not plan to spend the past year cleaning out her house. I did not intend to spend my children’s childhood “making do” because we are always working around granny-care.
I recognize, however, that compromise is a part of life. It’s a big part of life for the sandwich generation. Sometimes, we settle for second best—we can’t always have the ocean and so we go to the Bay—and if we relax our expectations and just appreciate what we do have and what we can do—despite all the crazy demands placed on us by ourselves and by others, life is good. Damn good.
That night as I tucked my son into bed, he hugged me, and said, “Thank you for taking me to Hawaii.” He and his sister have recently become obsessed with going to Hawaii. Whenever anyone mentions vacation, they are certain that it means a trip to Hawaii. I can’t explain it. They have never been to Hawaii. I’ve never been to Hawaii.
“Hawaii?” I asked.
“Yes, when we went to the beach, I was in Hawaii.”
Oh, God bless him! I take him the Bay and secretly lament not taking him to the ocean while his imagination takes him to an island paradise. For him, life is more than damn good. It’s a day in Hawaii.