Vintage Another Vacation, August 2005

"The sea is calm tonight...."

Shhhhhyeah…if only.

Well, I’m home from the beach.

I was on vacation.

Vacation, as in getting away from it all to unwind, see some new sights, mix plaid shorts and striped tops and not give a hoot because, what the hey, you’re not going to run into anyone you know. Or anyone you’re going to ask for a job.

However, as was astutely noted by one reader, it ain’t much of a relax when you’re vacationing with youngin’s.

Let’s see…a few holiday snapshots:

Two children below the age of seven: one a new swimmer just getting the hang of the hold-the-breath-under-water maneuver; the other - for all intents and purposes - a large lead sinker in a pink bikini.

The Atlantic Ocean: home to big water, toothy predators, and hidden rip currents that threaten to drag any gill-less air lovers out to the feeding grounds.

Now here’s one of me standing shin-deep in the turbid ebb and flow, my back to the ocean, shoulders tense, feet apart and knees bent, poised and ready to move, dodge, dart - I’m like Jackie Chan in a Land’s End Tugless Swimsuit - watching my daughters run back and forth, in and out, jumping waves and throwing sand. A big wave whomps-in, breaks shallow, and knocks Princess Seconda into the brine, a swirl of sand and seashells, the tide tumbles her once and begins pulling her out to sea. With lightning quick reflexes, I lunge, my hand flying-out and I grab her white ankle just poking out from the roiling foam before the final dip; I drag her back from the surf, hold her high and safe and flailing like an angry trout.

(Did I use all the sea words yet? Did I already use “ebb“?)

Meanwhile, Princess Prima is running from shore with a boogie board, running in too far as the tide ebbs back. I smack Seconda hard on the back, upon which she coughs out two pints of water and a very surprised fiddler crab. I then fling her as hard as I can up the beach, toward my husband lolling under his umbrella. Prima, meanwhile, is going to hit the water just as another whopper is rolling in.

I swear, I understand that my genes have been roaming the planet for some 3.5 billion odd years, give or take, and are probably some tough old broads who share humorous anecdotes about evading large snakes and “Remember that smallpox pandemic? Good times!” But if this current display by my progeny is any indication of the continued chance for long term survival of my line, well… I just have to say that I hope Darwin is wrong. Although, I’m not seeing much in the way of intelligent design here, either. Who designs a human who rushes headlong toward sharks? Or eats Barbie shoes?

In my genes' defense, my kids can fashion clothing from staples and paper towels, track and capture the quick and elusive American Shorthair Cat, and Seconda can touch her nose with her tongue. That has to be worth something, right?


Eventually, I realized that this “tag team vacation” approach wasn’t going to work, and so I called my husband out from under the shade. He was listening to his iPod (volume level 11) and so I had to signal him down to the water through a series of gestures which, I’m sure, looked like a combination of the International Sign for Choking and some of the more fitful moves from Riverdance.

“What’s going on? Is there a jelly fish in the water?”


“In your pants?”


“Well what? Why are you dancing around on shore like a woman with a jelly fish in her pants? Why aren’t you in the water?”

(We really dig each other, really we do….)

“Because you know how there are these waves and they are big?


"And you know how our kids do better with the O by itself and not so much as when combined the H2 and how - roughly around the Devonian Period - we decided to crawl out of the surf and not look back?”

“What are you reading? Are you reading that Bill Bryson book?”

(Note: This is not a suitably diversionary book to bring on vacation. Instead of excitedly page-turning a bestselling novel to find out whether the dashing symbologist gets the girl before the evil monk murders them both in the Louvre, I was lolling on the beach with a book that was forcing me to contemplate such things as “No way is there a God…no flippin’ way…who goes through all the bother of creating dinosaurs and then flings a giant space rock at them?” and then “Well, if the intricacies of cellular life and the fact that we’ve evolved to create Flowbees aren’t proof of a Higher Power, I don’t know what is” and most alarmingly “Holy crap! What do you mean that 1/5 of the weight of any bed pillow is mite dung!” Back to me and hubby on the darkling plain. I mean, the beach.)

“Look…I just need you to help me with some one-on-one life guarding, here. Just until these kids get a handle on what the ocean is all about with the waves and the sharks and stuff.”

“Fine. What do you want me to do, specifically?”

“Just…you know…stand between them and Morocco.”

(A long stare as the husband contemplates whether to argue, argue and give in, or just give in.)


(Smart man.)

So, to continue….

This is all in the first five minutes on the first day. This is only the beginning.

This is just the “we have to keep the children alive” stress.

I haven’t even mentioned the “I have sand in my eyes, why can’t we keep these live clams in the bucket and bring them home, I forgot my favorite blanket, I have sunscreen in my eyes, why do I have to put on more sunscreen, it’s raining, there’s nothing to do, I have sand in my butt, that seashell cut my toe it really hurts, the sand is hot, why can’t we eat at The Waffle House again, I have sunburn on my leg” stress.

Well, after all, I did cut my toe on an a seashell.

And it did really hurt.

And I do love waffles.

All-in-all and in spite of my…uh…heightened state of awareness, we had a lovely time, truly. Sand, sun, surf…all the wonderful wonders.

Without waxing too many poetic cliches about “the sea”…I do admit that it is always very calming in a deeply primal way to stand so small before something so big and to resonate for a brief moment with all those humans who have also stood on the shore, feeling at once so fleetingly insignificant, yet so too a part of the timeless mass, not separate from it.


I mean, see?

Take that, Matthew Arnold.

A little less you think, a little more you enjoy.

So, between picking timeless sand mass from various nooks and crannies, I did manage to get in a Zen moment.

And lolling relaxation aside, what’s a vacation, really, without at least one cut toe, some frustrated musings on the Darwin - Intelligent Design debate, and a bona fide Zen moment?

Even if it was all dressed in plaid and stripes.


A.C. said...

Great post! I got sucked under the water in the ocean as a kid, once. I was at the beach with a friend and her mom and we were boogie-boarding. The undertow pulled me under and the boogie board had a cord that was wrapped around my neck. I kept trying to stand up and kept getting pulled under. My friend's mom was on the beach, screaming at me to stop horsing around. I came out of that water looking like a motorcycle crash skin on my knees and hands.

I've got to read that Bryson book...

Anonymous said...

I am so there in just 3 short days. But this will be the weird year for us. Firt off, The Princess is now 13, and doesn't need us any longer.

Unless she needs to be fed, or traipsed somewhere, or is bored. And we will have no other folks with us. MLW and I will have some time FOR OURSELVES.

Just so long as we don't kill one another.


Rima said...

See, I think it would be pretty fun to go on vacation with you.

Big Gav said...

it ain’t much of a relax when you’re vacationing with youngin’s

You can say that again.

Katie Alender said...

What a wonderful post. I hope those meanies let you go to Waffle House at least a few times! (After all you'd done!)

Variations On A Theme said...

First off: You are a BRILLIANT writer. No, for real. I'm increcibly impressed and look forward to reading your first book.

Second, we just got back from a beach vacation ourselves a few weeks ago, and I so tried to find a Zen moment on a full-moon-on-the-beach-at-night night, but couldn't achieve transcendence because some college guys were belching and hocking behind me and a redneck mom was yelling at her kids to "GET THAT DAMN FLASHLIGHT OUT OF THE WATER!"

Manager Mom said...

OK - anyone who can take me from God to a Flo-bee in one paragraph deserves to be on my Google reader.

Welcome back!

MommyTime said...

I can completely relate to the powerful calm that comes from standing and contemplating the ocean -- or (sometimes even better, especially when there are small children on board) to sitting on a balcony and listening to the waves crash in while sipping something lovely and contemplating sleeping children. The sounds, smells, and pull of the ocean run deep for me. I long to get back there this year. I hope at least some segments of the trip were less about the lifeguarding and more about the zen.

Anonymous said...

I believe your power as a mother/saver of all things young and sea worthy came from your Tugless Land's End Suit. That is a mighty force, matey!

Anonymous said...

Ok, that sounded so good, you should come to FL and stay with me so I can take pictures and Flickr your waterlogged vacation for my own private chuckles!

Debbie said...

i think the bryson book sounds genius. i'm totally into almost everything. i mean, i am.

also, waffles rule.

as do you.

Anonymous said...

I've been worried sick about a beach day Olivia is going to take today with family friends. After reading this post, I think I'm going to need another xanax!
Wonderfully written! (Does "wonderfully" have two "l"s or one? I can never remember.)

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