Our duty is keeping vigil. Constant, attentive eagle-eye attention. I don’t know how parents of more than 2 do it. I have done it by myself with my two boys, and it is exhausting. I may look relaxed..... wait, I don’t even look relaxed. I am on edge. If you try to talk to me I am about 1/4 paying attention to your words. Not the meaning of your words, or the context in which they are being said. Just the words to which I respond with an “Ah-huh” or “Really?” Nothing more. I am analyzing not only the distance in which my 9 year old is drifting out into the sea but, the wave roughness, gauging the undertow as well as any adult that may be around him. All while keeping an eye on my 5 year old who does not go out too far yet. He is governed (a little bit) by his own fear, which is getting less and less as the day goes on. First Born never possessed this natural fear. He would have gone all the way to Portugal the first time we let him in the water.
You know us, you may be one of us. We stand sometime, sit, at the water’s edge. Watching. Looking at our watches to see if it is time to reapply the sunscreen too our young ones, tender and perfect skin. Ignoring our own older, weathered skin as the right side of our body becomes darker or redder depending on your melanin levels.
I remember many, many of my younger days spent on the Jersey Shore, coating myself with my new bottle of Hawaiian Tropic Dark Tanning Oil, just purchased at the Thrift Drugs, until I glistened like a glazed doughnut. Checking my tan lines and flipping and shifting with the sun as to get the perfect - even tan. That was in the 80s and early 90s when frying your skin to the desired hue was perfectly acceptable. My friends and I would compare our tans, by holding our arms next to each other, exclaiming how one would have the perfect “golden” tan, others looked too red, and I always looked more green. Yes, my dark olive tone, seemed to stand out pretty significantly, next to their pretty irish skin. Ahh, youth.
Now we stand guard. Like half burnt centurions. Our supplies neatly tucked away back at the base camp. This is another of our duties. We must secure a position on the sand that is in close proximity to the lifeguards and a visible distance from the water, with consideration taken for the tide schedule. Our supplies: umbrella or two, extra sunscreen, snacks, water, sandwiches, more snacks, extra towels, wipes, baby powder (c’mon rookie! Don’t know what the powder is for?! Google, “baby powder sand”.... Go ahead I will wait! ..... I know, right?! It is genius and works!) buckets, shovels - but not those wimpy little shovels, the big ones and plenty of them, boogie boards, trucks, frizbee, ball, diapers (if that applies), hats and extra swim shirts.
After the base camp is set up, we promptly leave base and walk to the water’s edge to stand our guard. Now that I don’t have to hover over a toddler, I have started bringing a chair to sit at the edge. Just to try to get a little break. But the intensity of the watch is no less vigilant, just a little lower. If the Hub is there we each take one child. But, usually, if he goes into the water he has both - one in his arms and the other next to him. Now that the Little One is 5 he is getting a smidge easier. First Born is frantically trying to optimize his water time. He plays in the water then runs out, grabs his boogie board and runs back in. Then he runs back out, drops the boogie board at base and runs back in. This goes on for hours at a time.
The lunch break is usually a cacophony of wiping sand off/drying off/ figuring out who’s sandwich is who’s/yelling about sand flying everywhere/jockeying for the best place to sit/ then, inevitably, a seagull takes off with someones lunch. Those friggin birds are good. They know the drill. They just wait for that little hand that holds the sandwich just a tad too long, out and away from the body..... juuuuust enough, then BAMMM! They got it, flying away with my good genoa salami while a child screams far beneath them. Damn flying rats!
After that battle, it is back to the water. Sometimes the Little One will want to dig want me or The Hub to dig a giant hole. A large crevasse that he can use to slide into and jump off of. This is followed buy wanting another crater dug next to it so that First Born can have the same thing. Which is followed by another one that they both can play in. Before you know it the area surrounding the base camp looks like the surface of the moon and anyone who walks by must be very careful.
The drill of the clean up is timed and usually culminates with someone me screaming something to the effect of “I HAVE HAD IT! NO I WILL NOT CARRY YOU! PICK UP YOUR TOYS IF YOU DON’T WANT TO LEAVE THEM HERE. WHERE THE HELL IS YOUR OTHER FLIP FLOP? I JUST CLEANED THE SAND OFF OF THOSE BUCKETS, DON’T PUT MORE IN THEM! WE CAN NOT TAKE ANY MORE SHELLS! I KNOW THE SAND IS HOT, THAT IS WHY I TOLD YOU TO PUT THE FLIP FLOPS ON! IT’S YOUR BOOGIE BOARD, IF YOU DON’T CARRY IT, IT STAYS HERE!” However, each day spent at the beach gets a little more proficient than the last. Each night after the beach ends in an exhausted collapse.....adults first.
There will come a time when we will be able to sit on the beach with a book again. When we will go to the water when we feel like it. When we can arrive and leave when we feel like it. When we decide that it is too hot or too cold to sit for more than an hour, or stay until the sun goes down. It feels like a long way off, but it will happen. Until then, ATTENTION! ABOUT FACE! FORWARD MARRRRRCH! Set up your base camp, and stand attention at the water’s edge until further instruction.