Monday, June 14, 2010

Beach bums

Growing up, I wasn't exactly what you’d call a beach bum. It was an aspiration of mine, but I was born into the wrong family for it. My wonderful parents are prone to sunburns and cautious about skin cancer. Dad wears sunscreen under a long-sleeved T-shirt while mowing the grass. Mom collects cute wide-brimmed hats.

At 10 years old, my greatest wish was for suntan lines. Thanks to my parents' affinity for SPF 45, it wasn't to be.

Meanwhile, across town, the boy who eventually would become my husband was living my dream. Matt's family had just enough Lebanese blood to matter. His mom's astonishingly dark tans were legendary; his dad routinely refused to leave his beach chair until he'd seen the sun set. Most summers their family spent at least two weeks at the beach.

My family went to the beach every year, too, but these trips weren't particularly memorable and, in retrospect, I suspect my parents endured rather than enjoyed them. A quick call to my mom confirmed this.

"What did we do at the beach?" I asked her.

"Oh, we took walks, played in the water, built sandcastles ..." she began.

"But never between 11 and 3, right?" (That’s when UV rays are most intense.)

"Oh, no."

"So what did we do then?"

"Well, we stayed inside, in the air conditioning, mainly. We read books and stuff like that," she said. "We never played putt-putt, we never did water parks, we never went to the amusement parks. We didn't go shopping. We did eat out. We usually only stayed one night, you know.

"I'm not much of a beach person," she clarified.

To add insult to injury, my parents took us to quiet, family-friendly North Carolina beaches – Holden, Ocean Isle; Matt’s family favored Myrtle Beach. While Amanda and I collected seashells, Matt and his brothers watched teenagers say "I do" over the crashing of waves. Even the seafood buffets where my family ate were more modest than those south of the border.

My big break as a beach bum came my senior year of high school, when Matt got to invite several friends to join his family in the Cayman Islands for spring break. For the first time in my life, I was exposed to tropical rays, and I was free to bask in them with no one nagging me about sunscreen.

By the end of the first day I glowed red and could neither take a shower nor wear shoes without pain. I kept waiting for it to "sink in" and "turn to tan." It never did, but finally it peeled off.

I bought sunscreen and learned to use it. Mom and Dad were right about that.

But I never have come to share their indifference about the beach. In fact, as soon as Matt and I got married, we moved to Wilmington with no jobs, no plan, only a vague hope of extending our honeymoon. We worked just enough to pay rent and spent an inordinate amount of time at the beach. For six short but oh-so-sweet months, our savings supplemented that lifestyle.

The beach – any beach – remains our favorite escape. Over the years we've spread our towels on a lot of them, from secluded Caribbean spots to, yes, Myrtle Beach. We aren't picky; we require only sun, sunscreen, sunglasses and a bag of good books.

Having a baby changes everything, as people trip over themselves to tell you. And it's true, a day at the beach isn't quite as relaxing as it used to be. Between keeping Claire slathered in sunscreen and stopping her from eating sand, there's not a lot of time to gaze at the ocean and think deep thoughts.

I know this too shall pass.

Matt has no memory of learning to swim. Claire, too, shows early signs of being a water baby. In only a few years, I suspect, she and her future siblings will spend their days at the beach holding bodysurfing contests and faking shark attacks on each other, happy to pretend their parents don't exist until they need someone to buy them lunch.

Matt and I will be back to our books – probably wishing they'd let us join the fun.


Anonymous said...

I've never been much of a beach person, mostly because I'm not really a swimmer and because I've gotten some very bad burns even with sunblock on... but I sure am excited about my trip to Mexico next month. :)

Also, I like the new blog design! It feels good to freshen things up sometimes, doesn't it?

Gail said...

This was a wonderful blog!

Ken Loyd said...

Ah yes, those glorious days scouting out secluded waterfalls, stream-hiking, strolling forgotten pathways, and watching the sun set on the western slopes of the Blue Ridge. . . oops. Wrong blog. : )

Kaitlin said...

I love this post, but I think I miss the Georgia font!

I love Claire.