Monday, September 6, 2010

SGW: What A Beach

In recognition that today is the last day of summer, here is a fantastic guest post about the importance of taking some kind of summer vacation.  Thank you to our special guest writer (now known as Mrs. Darling), the same fabulosa who wrote our summer reading post a couple of months back.


I stayed with my family this summer in a house on the beach and it was incredible.

Before I go on, I know how obnoxious this sounds. [Editor's Note: Uhh, yeah. -Kate] No self-respecting, dead-tired and still standing matriarch wants to hear some stranger mommy babble about the joy of a beach house. The same goes for the girls weekend to a spa, her cute pedicure, or the ever dreaded 'I lost the baby weight by working out for five hours every day with a personal trainer while my husband/extended family/magical sprites nurtured my infant to the point that said baby is now full of gifts and talents.' You're already wondering why Kate and Lydia allowed this twit to grab up some valuable screen time and now you're eyeing the Target banner and wondering if there’s a sale on boys pants...


Please know that this is only the second vacation my family has taken in eleven years that was not supported by a visit to family and friends or work. For eleven years my family had to either stuff themselves in hotel rooms that were really meant for one businessman and pretend we didn't know Daddy if we saw him in the hotel lobby with co-workers or throw ourselves on the mercy of kind family and bewildered friends who remembered us before kids when we were charming and fun (and not so sticky). This was not just a vacation, but a personal parental triumph. Through a combination of savings, an excellent tax refund that didn't have a home repair waiting to snatch it, and the fact that amongst the mansions that took up the shoreline ours was the only two bedroom hovel called -- appropriately enough -- 'the shack', our family of five was able to stay for seven lovely days of sand, surf and the occasional wild storm that scared the schmidt out of one and all.

You know those soft focus type ladies movies -no, not the ones on Cinemax at 3 am, yuck- I mean the Julia Robertsy-or-some-lesser-starlets-of-a-certain-age films that have the heroine walking slowly on the beach. The ones where she will find one perfect shell and stare pensively out to sea with a wistful smile on her face? Put some extra bulge shoved in a cheap swimsuit and that was me! I got to walk slowly on the beach, feel soft focusy and wistful smilely and was even able to keep one shell that my kids rejected as ugly. And because I was able to wander up and down the Atlantic coast in a pensive (i.e. not screaming) mood I was able to create what I have pompously titled What the Beach Has Taught Me -- mostly because I know I'll never get away with using a title like that again.

Before we begin I must let on that for purposes of clarity, and because I want to imitate the cool girls like Kate and Lydia, I'm re-naming my family. Wendy, John, and Michael (ages 11, 9, and 4) struck me as good names not because they are preternaturally bright British Children who live in a nursery with a canine nanny but because if a tween ruffian came banging on their window while I was sleeping and promised them pirates, fairies, and flying lessons, I could just color them gone. My husband will be called Mr. Darling because that is just hands down adorable.

1) Too much of a good thing is wonderful.
We took the Darling family to Disney World once. For one day. We told them it was for one day. We told them that maybe we'd go again some other time (not likely) but that we could only see so much this one day. Wasn't it nice that we could take a break and visit Disney World with Daddy this one day? Boy, we are going to enjoy the heck out of this one day.

You know how this ended up. One day is not enough. One day, according to the Darling children, is instead a massively cruel tease created by mean parents who will not let them say longer because they don't love their children. Oh, how we hated that one day.

After that, nothing was better than telling the Darling children (who had acted ungrateful but were in the thrall of an Evil Mouse so I decided to give them a pass) over and over-"Yes we're staying at the beach for a week. No, Michael, we aren't leaving tomorrow- we are leaving in five days sweetie- you can't even fathom that can you? Wendy- it doesn't matter that your life is over- your life can't remain over on a beautiful beach that we are staying on for another 144 hours. John- where did you go- oh you're digging a hole are you? Well dig away my son because you have many more days to hit the center of the earth. La de dah- where's mommy's drink? I'm going to sit a spell."

2) Cooking for your family during vacation is bliss- quit laughing.
Over the years, my chosen profession(s) have more or less forced me to seek out additional income in the food service industry. Because of this, I have been able to see first hand the abject misery most families feel after touring our nation's capital in rainforest like conditions only to be expected to wrestle a clean shirt on squirming no-nap-in-sight children and then shell out approximately $120 for a dinner that no one really wanted because they had eaten too much freeze dried ice cream in the hotel lobby. The Darling family has had a number of those fun family food traumas although my scorn is more directed to the 'eat your stale cereal and lukewarm milk while sitting on the edge of our one businessman special's bed because by Maude we are not buying a bagel for five dollars in this rat hole.' dining experience. That is why I absolutely loved my little kitchenette. After one harrowing trip to the Food Lion we were done- simple dinners could be made, adult refreshments were plentiful and there was enough peanut butter and bananas to feed Michael for every blessed meal (it's protein and potassium- don't judge me). One day we all stayed in our bathing suits until it was time for bed- just the thought of that makes me smile.

3) The beach denizen who left a condom in front of our stairs to the beach should be applauded for practicing safe sex and then shot in the little toe. Thank You.

4) Farewell Vanity.
I do pride myself in making a little effort each day. If I haven't washed my hair for a day or two I will put on extra lipstick because know that dazzling pomegranate takes attention off my fuzzy topknot AND my clothes are almost always completely clean. Some people can pull off the cute hard working mommy chic (mentioning no names) but I am well aware of my own personal cuteness limitations. So believe me when say that they beach is wonderfully freeing in the whole appearance department. By the second day all neurosis' flew off on a self hate wind and I was proudly incapable of caring what anyone thought of my body, or my hair or, frankly, the whole package. This is not to say I started loving dimpled thighs and the bizarre shelf created by multiple c-sections, but I did come to the epiphany that none of this mattered. Worrying about how I looked to the general world would not help me right then and it would only serve to ruin my fun. Wandering around in my too-big-in-some-places-and-way-too-tight-in-others swim suits that were never quite cleared of sand by the end of the day felt fabulous. I had more or less accepted that my nubile maiden days were over, but for the first time in my life I didn't care.

5) I Will No Longer Look at Every Inappropriately Dressed Young Girl and Wonder What Her Parents Were Thinking.
Sweet little Wendy has had the incredible good fortune in having a cheap mother. Because of this, if I do buy new clothes (most of my kids clothes come from a combination of church sales or second hand emporiums- I call them fancy green garments because they're recycled and I so long to be fancy) I tend to buy thing a size or two larger so that they might get a couple of years use out of them. Favorite clothes can stay favorites for years. Case in point-Wendy has a particular dress that she's loved since age seven. It has spaghetti straps and is sort of a rayon shift with a sea green and pink flower print. Adorable. The hemline has been creeping up as of late so being responsible mommy I told her to always wear shorts with the dress.

Mommy-Daughter shopping day comes and we head off to check out the stores in a nearby town. In a rush to go, I didn't check out too closely what Wendy was wearing, but since I packed it it should have been fine. That I had made an awesome error didn't hit me until we got on the boardwalk. Taking a step back, I saw that my precious sun kissed daughter was a lovely sight. In the next heart beat I also realized that not only had Wendy grown up in the dress...she had also grown out. Every straight line now had a definte curve, the shorts that she selected had disappeared under what was now a true mini dress. What was worse and what was apparent to one and all was that in the right light my Wendy looked sixteen, A confident sixteen. A sixteen year old who shopped at Forever Hot Skanky Topic 21. A sixteen year old who was shaking what her mama apparently gave her. Her favorite dress is now a nightie.

6) PBS is a true public service to parents everywhere.
Ah PBS Chapel were a shining beacon for whenever the rain fell for one hour too long, when Michael - who was in the room with no curtains - woke everyone up at 5:42 am with a joyful "it's morning! No jellyfish today! Where’s my buggi board?" or when everyone needed to SIT DOWN ON THE LINOLEUM AND QUIT DRIPPING ON A CARPET THAT ISN'T OURS. PBS Sesame Street, Arthur, and ponderous nature documentaries that had a lot more bloodletting than Animal Planet - all saved my sanity nearly every day. PBS had quality programming that was the pinnacle of educational entertainment and, unlike the fuzzy rorschach patterns on what we supposed to be Nickelodeon, it could actually be seen by the naked eye. I love you public television - my check is in the mail.

7) Let's throw caution to the wind and live on the beach - but wait...
I loved the beach to the point that Mr. Darling and I did what everyone said we would do and began to plot how our meager savings could possibly purchase property (that we would then rent out so that we could pay for the mortgage which would effectively shut us out from actually enjoying the beach house, but that was a minor point). What saved us was the one truly annoying part of the beach - the sand. This is not playground sand where you can get it off with a vigorous shake of a child. This is beach sand, my friends, and after a few days you begin to know its power. Beach sand gets into every crevice of your being. Beach sand can chafe, ruin your sheets and stay in a kid's ear for a month. It is all encompassing and you never realize that it is too late until you wake up in the middle of the night and find that you for some unknown reason have sand INSIDE YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR DREAM LIKE HAZE YOU ARE TRYING TO EAT IT. I love sand because it reminded me that not all would be well and good if you lived on the beach.

8) The beach doesn't make any of those Eat Pray Love on a Fabulously Huge Budget books go down any easier with me.
Nor would any book titled What the Beach Has Taught Me for that matter. But these were fun and I actually got to finish some of them at the beach: The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance by Elna Baker, Murder with Peacocks by Donna Andrews, and The Passage (or This is a Vampire Book That Have nothing to do With Bon Temps and Will Scare the Edward Loving Life Right Out of You) by Justin Cronin. There's no message here - I made that clear the last time I wrote for Kate and Lydia - books just put me in a full blown geek mode so I must share the lit love.

9) This will not be a top ten list.
It was supposed to be one, but I think I've had my say so I am done. Let's leave the even numbered lists to required reading, two dozen cupcakes for the bake sale, and the interactive science report that was due yesterday. For a few more days, I'm still on beach time. But one more thing....

10) To properly appreciate staying in a beach house, you must have children.
Not because they bring joy to your life and let you experience the world anew blah blah blah- my kids might exhibit those qualities for 47% of any given day, but for the most part they are self centered, looking out for number one crazy people who are trying to find a place at the table o' life. I was like that, my mother was like that- it's called Karma sweeties. But it is only with their selfishness and their cute me-and-only-me attitude that makes you appreciate the house sitting right on beach. Wendy wants to live life on the eleven year old edge and that means you hurl your entire body through a wave so you can get to an entirely too distant sandbar and then wave at a heart attack prone mommy. John, having watched too many Croc Hunter's, is stalking crab holes 50 yards way while murmuring in an ersatz Australian accent. Michael, having let me know that jellyfish will kill you even if they are dead on a beach, wants to  Mr. Darling, just delighted as all get out that this is how he is spending his 40th birthday, is in the happiest of moods and has his eyes fixed on the horizon with no interest in entering into family drama.

Thanks to our little shack on the beach, all of this 'let's drive mommy crazy' tableau taking place does not affect me. Michael is invited to hop back into the beach house and hide out from the killer jellyfish under the protection of Darth Vader and his wife Darth Maul (this is what I get for not letting him watch any Star Wars movies- although I believe they did enjoy a nice beach wedding). John has been outfitted with the loudest swim trunks I could find in case he gets lost in a crowd- although he kind of makes himself known to one and all by screaming out 'oh, he's a beauty!' before leaping on top of a dogfish purse. I'd like to say that letting Wendy try to kill herself through the medium of crashing surf is a metaphor of her swim though the turgid waters of adolescence (wow, that sounds good) but it's just as accurate to say that in eleven years of mommying even I know when not to scream for her to stop when there are approximately three hundred children doing the same thing (and I checked rip tide warnings every morning before allowing her to get one foot wet). Mr. Darling does not see the stress flying away from my normally fevered vacation time head- he only sees his peaceful wife looking at her children with absolute love and who thanks him kindly for the plastic tumbler of cold pinot grigio. Heaven. 

Now my own personal public service message: Do this. It doesn't have to be the beach and it doesn't have to be for a week, but take your family to stay somewhere where the most pressing problem is when shall we take a walk, not when is practice or who did what to the laundry. [Editor's Note: We recommend blaming Randy for that. - Kate] Put yourself in a place where you can sit and share in your kids discoveries while finding a few of your own. Camp out, borrow someone's lake house, or just have a long picnic. Most importantly, make sure you bring something to make your own list.

Sharpie and a newspaper, anyone?

(c)Herding Turtles, Inc. 2009 - 2010

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