Sometimes you just have to write…
Yesterday on the beach we were surrounded by families with small children, and watching them reminded me of when my own children were small, and the typical things that the under-six crowd predictably do at the beach.
They build sand castles. Or, rather, they want to build sandcastles, but what really happens is that Mommy or Daddy builds a sandcastle, while the children “help,” which mostly consists of ineffectually patting at the surface of the castle, or carrying bucketloads of water, much of which spills out on the way.
And those sand castles: they have to be big, with walls and moats and turrets, if at all possible. Mommy or Daddy “helps” with these details. The children supervise. The children decorate the walls with small shells, seaweed and other detritus.
While they’re doing whatever they’re doing, whether it’s sandcastle building or hunting for shells or playing ball, the smaller children will demand attention … constantly. “Daddy, I found some seaweed!”
No response. Daddy’s reading the paper.
“Daddy, I found some seaweed!”
No matter how many times it takes for Daddy to respond – even just a “That’s nice” will suffice – the child will repeat the phrase “Daddy, I found some seaweed!” over and over again until she gets a response. And every repetition will be in precisely the same intonation. The volume, however, will progressively increase with each repetition.
I’m endlessly impressed at the parents who spend so much time playing with the kids at the beach: building those sandcastles, playing ball with them, taking them swimming, and so on. I never had the patience for all of that: I tended to just want to set them loose and keep an eye on them. My husband, fortunately, was (is) one of those active parents.
Children most emphatically do not want to be interrupted in whatever they’re doing, especially not for something as boring as applying sun lotion. On the other hand, they will drop everything instantly for an ice cream.
And they’re so completely and utterly self-absorbed! Every sentence the under-sixes utter is about themselves: “I wanna …. (fill in the blank)”, “Look at me!”, and so on. There’s something horrifying and wonderful about that total focus on themselves.
Toward the end of the day, children cry. They’re tired, and anything – I mean anything – can set them off. Stepping on a stone, which they’ve been doing all day, can be enough to set them off.
So their parents want to take them home. The children, however, no matter how unhappy and tired they are, most definitely do not want to leave the beach under any circumstances. A power struggle generally ensues, with more crying.
And I was reminded of something that I love about small children in general, not just at the beach: their complete lack of self-consciousness. Yesterday one little boy went into the water with his father. It was low tide so it was perhaps 100 meters from the edge of the water to his family’s spot on the sand. About halfway back he realized he had to change out of his wet bathing suit into dry clothes. Instead of doing that when he arrived, he pulled down his suit halfway and walked the rest of the way there with the suit around his knees.
A little girl nearby, also completely unself-conscious, wore a one-piece bathing suit that had ridden up so high in back that both buns were entirely exposed. I hope her mother had lotioned there!
My children are much older than this now (15 and 20), so things have changed, but seeing these small children with their parents brought a lot of it back to me. While I felt nostalgic, I didn’t miss those days. I enjoyed going to the beach when my kids were little, but I love seeing how my children have grown and changed and become individuals. For me, watching other parents partake of a less-than-restful day at the beach is more than sufficient.