I remember a beach vacation where my parents walked my brother and me down to the beach for a day of fun in the sun, and we had so few belongings with us — so few objects of entertainment — that we could carry them all without breaking a sweat.
We each carried our own towel. Everyone had either a book or a Nerf football or a sand pail. My dad had one small cooler with cold drinks and sandwiches. In case we got hungry for an afternoon snack, my mom had a can of Pringles tucked under her arm.
These days that amount of stuff would signal to someone that you were there for a quick dip in the ocean. Half an hour max.
Now we have tents and umbrellas for shade and enough chairs that everyone can have a seat. (Even though anyone with small children knows it’s optimistic to think you’ll actually use them.) Because us Texans are friendly people by nature, it’s not a rarity to see extra, empty chairs set up. What if a friendly stranger walks by with extra adult beverages to share?
We have barbecue grills set up behind these tents, and some of us are resourceful enough to bring fold-out tables where we can serve the food with their appropriate buns and more condiments than you would find at a Whataburger.
We bring flags, either so that people can find us or because we want to take this opportunity to share an important part of our personality with our neighbors for the day. Our political affiliation, our sexuality, our favorite aquatic mammals. If we want to advertise a less important part of our personality, we set up kites, which signal a childlike sense of wonder in the world. Unless we have children, then it just signals we are great parents.
For the children, long gone are the days of a dainty pail and a shovel. Now we prefer shovels like our French fries: supersized. We’ve got boogie boards, water floats, inner tubes of all shapes and sizes. Sand games like bocce ball and horseshoes. We bring volleyballs, though really that’s just to lend out to any energetic teenagers in the group.
It’s no wonder many of us find ourselves wishing Sherpas were fond of the heat. Instead, we get really big-wheeled wagons, and when we see others laboring to pull their big-wheeled wagons through the sand we feel the empathy that the media is so fond of saying we can’t muster for each other — in this case, we truly feel the pain of their flip-flop blisters.
This summer my older children are the age I was back in the ’90s, and I wonder how they will look back on our beach vacations — these times that are so chock-full of play. I got a glimpse of it when my younger son looked down from where we were building a sandcastle to where an older man was sitting on a towel in the sand, alternating between reading his book and looking out at the water.
It inspired me to tell him the story of a girl and her brother who went to the beach armed with nothing but Pringles and their imaginations. He seemed a little bored by the tale, and I don’t blame him because really, it’s a story as old as time. Of people who had things all figured out, then went out and complicated the situation.