If you grew up like I did, a week at the Jersey Shore was the epitome of summer. I counted the days on the massive, office-turned-family calendar that hung in the hall above the muddy cleats and abandoned water bottles. I carefully marked X on each day until we reached the long, black line that stretched from Saturday to Saturday and read in bold, all-caps, “VACATION!!!”.
My father, ex-military, had developed a timeline and packing system that would make a colonel blush with pride. To this day, I wish I had paid more attention to the exact manner in which he strategically placed each suitcase, beach chair, umbrella, and what seemed like hundreds of unnecessary items, into our brown with wood striping minivan, and always having room for one more item. Instead, I quickly grabbed my pillow, rushed down the stairs, vaulted into the van and attempted to stake my territory before my older sister or younger brother could climb in. I had about a 20% success rate.
Over the years, my best childhood memories involve our time at the shore. In fact, during the 51 non-shore weeks of the year, if I had a nightmare, a bad day at school, didn’t make the varsity team or just needed a hug; my parents’ comforting was always accompanied by a saying that has become my life mantra, “Just think of the beach…”
Instantly, I am taken back to waking up with my dad before anyone else even stirred, jumping on our bikes and heading off to our favorite bakery to bring back warm, gooey, sticky buns and an equal amount of crumb buns – my dad’s favorite with a cup of coffee. The trick was to get there early enough because once all the goods were sold, that was it for the day. My family was always one of the early birds to the beach and the last to leave. I was an inexhaustible child who wanted to savor every sandy moment; diving through waves, building elaborate sand castles, and once we got tired of sand castles, the construction of sea turtles, dragons and mermaids, turkey sandwiches at lunch, paddle ball, sea shell scavenger hunt, and all the while, my mom chasing me around with sunscreen trying desperately to cover my rapidly pinking skin. I often ended the day on the beach by falling asleep under the umbrella where my mom used to place an extra-thin beach towel over me – the best sleep of my life.
My husband and I recently, and most-begrudgingly, returned from our family vacation in Avalon, also with an inexhaustible 7-year-old. While I still had sand between my toes, I realized that a continuum had occurred that both warmed my heart and made me incredible nostalgic for my childhood. I was now the mama – rinsing the bathing suits, hanging the wet beach towels, packing the cooler with turkey sandwiches, sitting under the umbrella and chasing everyone with sunscreen. I found such comfort and ease in this role because my parents passed on “the wisdom of the shore”, passed on from their parents, which I would now like to share with you:
1. Never feed the sea gulls and keep your sandwich low when you eat. One summer, I had a lapse in judgement and used my sandwich-fill hand to point out a dolphin skimming the waves – the sandwich was gone before I could utter the word dolphin.
2. The beach bag should be armed with sunscreen (of course), bug spray, and baby powder. Baby powder is my mom’s secret weapon. Whenever we needed to get wet sand off of any part of our bodies, we just sprinkled some baby powder and magically brushed off the sand.
3. Keep a wet wash cloth in a zip lock bag inside the cooler. You will be the hero when your little one screams that there is sunscreen in his or her eyes and you have a cool, wet wash cloth to take the sting away.
4. Outdoor showers are always better than indoor showers – just remember your towel before you venture outside.
These are just some of the lessons I learned while dowsed in sunscreen, huddling over a sandwich and digging my toes in the sand. I hope your summer is filled with wonderful “just think of the beach” memories to sustain you for the rest of the year.