Even though my family was waiting in the car, I took a few minutes to peruse the book titles and picked one that looked a little racy. After all, my kids weren’t babies anymore. There’s no reason that I shouldn’t be able to read a book while they play in the sand.
To me, lying on a towel, letting the sun warm my back, and getting lost in a good novel is the best use of a summer day. But, for the past 16 summers, the only thing that I have read at the beach is the SPF number on the tubes of sunscreen. My oldest son was born in the summer of 1986. What to Expect When You’re Expecting is still in my beach bag with a bookmark at the chapter outlining the third trimester.
When we pulled into the beach parking lot, the kids helped unload the car. There was a cooler with sandwiches and frozen juice boxes, a bag of towels, beach chairs, an umbrella, extra clothes, a first-aid kit, shovels, pails, Frisbees™, playing cards, three kinds of sun screen and baggies full of chips. I stuffed my new book into the canvas beach bag and grabbed the cooler. The kids helped carry stuff, too. They complained and stopped to rest every few feet.
“Hurry up,” I urged. I wanted to sit down and read my book.
As we trudged through the sand, I saw child-free sun worshipers sprawled on blankets and chaise lounges reading books, reading the Sunday newspaper and reading trendy magazines. I even saw someone with the exact book that I had just bought. “How is it?” I asked her as we paraded past. My children withered with embarrassment but the reader looked up and smiled. “Riveting,” she said. I couldn’t wait.
Whoever coined the phrase “It’s no day at the beach,” obviously wasn’t a parent. Frankly, a day at the beach with my kids – any kids – is no day at the beach. The minute that their toes touch the sand they have immense needs that only I can satisfy. They’re hungry. They’re thirsty. They’re starving to death and dying of thirst. They need to open the cooler. They must visit the snack bar. These are important demands that impede a mother’s ability to even start to read a novel. I doled out sandwiches and chips, applied ointments and outfitted the kids with the sand toys of their choice.
Suddenly it was quiet. No one was whining. The scene was one of utter contentment. I unfolded my chair and grabbed my book. I glanced at the jacket illustration and opened the cover ...
“Mom, I’m bored.” My 8-year-old, Lewis, was looming over me with a plastic shovel in his hand.
“Go build a sand castle,” I suggested. “Collect seashells.”
“Actually, I have to go to the bathroom,” he said. “Number two.”
I got up and trudged with him back through the sand to the bathhouse in the parking lot.
I sat outside of the men’s room wishing that I had brought the book to read while I waited and waited and waited. Just as I was starting to think that Lewis had been kidnapped and smuggled out of the building in a beach bag, he appeared.
“It’s cool in there,” he said motioning to the cement block structure. “The toilets flush all by themselves.”
I hustled us back to our blanket and Lewis agreed to dig a hole to China. Again I opened my book. Title page, author dedication, table of contents ...
“Mom,” my 13-year-old daughter said as she sat down next to me and adjusted the top of her bikini.
“Hmmmm,” I said without looking up.
“I really want to get my navel pierced,” she said.
“Forget about it,” I said without taking my eyes off the page.
“That cute lifeguard asked me to go for a walk in the dunes with him,” she said pointing to a 6-foot hunk with pooka beads. “Can I?”
“No way.” I put my book down. “Help your brother with his hole.” I kept my eyes on her as she sulkily picked up a shovel and began to dig.
I slipped the book back into the beach bag. I’ll probably pick it up again after school starts in September. But for now, I think I better just watch the kids.
Maybe if I had finished reading What to Expect When You’re Expecting back in 1986, I would have gotten to the part where it says you shouldn’t expect to read anything but SPF numbers for many, many summers to come.
Carol Band gave up trying to write this column on a laptop at the beach years ago. E-mail her at email@example.com.
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