I hate the beach.
I know, it’s heresy. I’m supposed to love sandy toes and salty kisses, sun and surf and waves. On a sweltering day, I’m supposed to troop down to the water’s edge with an umbrella and towels and sand toys and drinks and sunscreen and beach chairs and snacks. After I arrange these things to my liking, I am supposed to fling myself, and my small children, into the churning waves.
First, there’s my crippling fish phobia. Not just any fish, mind you: the kind of largish, brownish, fattish fish you find in the ocean. No way am I am actually swimming somewhere with the remote chance that one of them might touch me (not eat me, or nibble me, but touch me). So when everyone goes out to bob in the waves, I’m confined to getting in up to my knees. This wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t so damn hot.
Second, I’ve read too many whaling accounts. Those sailors couldn’t swim and drowned in droves. So I have an irrational fear of drowning. Not myself; I know how to swim. I’m terrified my kids will drown. I imagine riptides. I conjure currents. My husband, at age two, went missing on the beach for two hours, only to be found eating cigarette butts two miles away. I would have long collapsed into hysterics and given him up for dead.
I also hate the sun. Not in a “oh, she burns easily way.” I hate the sun like a sparkly S&M vampire. I’m pale. The sun almost hurts. It hurts my eyes, it hurts my skin, and it hurts my feet when I have to walk on the stupid freaking sand. Sunglasses are never enough. I’m the woman in the long-sleeve coverup and the enormous floppy hat who’s attempting to cover her legs with a towel.
Of course, my children love the water.
So I find myself, several times a summer, camped out on some sandy expanse. My husband has set up an umbrella for me, to keep the wretched, wretched sun at bay. I’ve suited up in my anti-sun gear; the kids have donned lifejackets to allay my drowning terrors. I’ve worn sandals to guard against the sandburn, and I have a giant cup of tea. I am usually dedicated keeper of the sand toys. And so I sit.
Usually these trips coincide with massive family gatherings, where everyone is thrilled to be at the beach and together and together at the beach and let’s take pictures, because we’re together! The menfolk take the kids out in large brown fish territory. They’re so happy to be there, alongside each other. The cousins surf the breakers in their lifejackets. They try to dig tidepools. They are so glad to play with each other.
Meanwhile, the matriarch sits up with me. We supervise the children too small to swim. I gamely let my youngest son bury my feet while grandma chases his same-age cousin back from the water again. I rarely have one-on-one time with my mother-in-law, and I find I enjoy her company. I watch my boys in the water. They enjoy themselves until, sunburnt, we tote our gear back to the house.
But at night, we go for a beachwalk. I like that part. My sons find skates’ egg cases and seashells. Later, we go out and look for ghost crabs, then scream when we find them.
I hate the beach. But I love that my sons love it. I love that they go with their grandparents and cousins, that they have that time with relatives who live so far away. I hate the seaside, the seafood restaurants, the cheap stores selling inner tubes and shovels. I hate pretty much everything about the beach.
But Iove that they love it. And that’s why we go back.