Tag Archives: beach

The Lesson of the Cup and Stick

This time last week, I was on a cruise ship in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, with nothing to worry about except whether to have wine or dessert after dinner. (I had both.) It was a “girlfriend” getaway, with 23 silly women (and 3 very brave men), planned to take us away from the stress and chaos of our busy lives and charge our spiritual batteries.

Cozumel, our first port of call, gave us a rainy welcome. Donning plastic ponchos, we hit the streets to see, smell, taste, and feel this island paradise. The rain ended soon after we arrived, and the sky turned a beautiful shade of blue that provided a magnificent background for our adventure.

Photo credit: Stacy Wheat, 2014

Photo credit: Stacy Wheat

As we walked the streets we talked about many things. The dichotomy of rich merchants hawking their wares and poor children on the street corner asking for money. The safety of the drinking water. Concerns about sanitation and health care. The beauty of the open water, and the threat it brings every hurricane season.

The lives of the people there seemed so different from our lives.

My mama’s words flashed through my mind. “There, but by the grace of God, go I.” I shared this thought with my friends. How lucky I felt that I was born where I was born. In a place where clean drinking water is taken for granted. Where I can drive to a doctor for medical treatment whenever I need it. That I have an education, a good job, a safe home. I did nothing to deserve these blessings. I was born into them.

Feeling grateful and lucky, we continued our walk along the beach, stopping for an occasional photo. A brown-skinned boy played in the sand. Young men swam in the crystal water. Modest boats were pulled onto the beach, the tools of their owners’ livelihood. My friend offered a different perspective.

“How happy do you think these people are, compared to us?”

Living a simpler life, at a slower pace. Developing deep relationships. Fewer stress-induced maladies, more time to enjoy the beauty in each day.

It was a humbling moment. I watched the boy in the sand, with a cup and a stick, playing contentedly. I thought about my children, and the complexities of their lives. How long would they be satisfied playing with a cup and a stick? I looked at the policeman on the corner. I wondered if his medicine cabinet had as many prescriptions in it as mine did. I wondered if the fishermen knew how well their daily catch nourished their bodies.

I didn’t set out that day to have this kind of existential moment on the beach. But it seems that’s what I do. We walked quietly for a while after that, taking in the last moments of our time there.

I brought back many things from this trip – woven bracelets, postcards, and a beautiful leather purse.

But the most important thing I brought back is a renewed sense of gratitude. I want to have the best of both worlds in my life. To live in this place with clean water and good health care, but to do so in a simpler, slower way. To enjoy the beauty in each day, and to live in the moment I am given. To hold my dear ones close. To be grateful for a cup and a stick and a beautiful view.

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The Strong Smile

As I stood there watching the photographer set up her equipment, I attempted to give the boys one last round of instructions.  It was important to me, and I wanted to get it right.

It was day three of our beach getaway – our cheeks were rosy, our shoulders tanned. The sun was setting at the perfect angle and the surf was gently lapping at the sand.  The photographer called us to our places.  And I tried not to cry.

The vacation was planned late in the summer to give us one last time to be together.  One last set of memories before my husband left for Iraq.

I was trying to tell myself that this photograph would be a reminder of my happy family.  But inside, I was wrestling with my greatest fear:  that this photograph might be the last image of the five of us together.

© The Lucky Mom

Through it all, I smiled.

We sat on the dune together, and walked at the water’s edge.  The photographer patiently captured the essence of each child, then seated me and my husband together.  With his arm around my shoulder we smiled for the camera, trying to forget why we were there.  She took the final shots of us separately, me last.

When the photos arrived in the mail a few days later, I was quite surprised at what I saw.  The smile on my face was not at all what I expected.  That day I felt afraid and anxious.  But the smile I saw in the photograph was not.

The smile in that photograph became part of me, and I wore it for the better part of the next year.  That smile kept from crying many times.  That smile meant everything would be alright.  That smile meant that I was, indeed, strong enough.

It’s a Good Thing I Drive a Big SUV

Yesterday, we went to the beach.  I’m so sorry I didn’t have my camera — because the visual image of us going to the beach speaks volumes about my family.  As there are no photos, I’ll just have to give it the thousand-word description it deserves.

For most people, going to the beach would conjure up images of a tote bag, a bottle of sunscreen and a floppy hat.  For us, it’s more like moving a 1-bedroom apartment out to the shoreline.  Mr. Wonderful is called Mr. Wonderful for many reasons, but chiefly because NOTHING is too much trouble for that man to do for his family.  So when we go to the beach, he hauls enough crap equipment for us to spend the rest of our natural lives in comfort at the water’s edge.

As we pulled out of the driveway, the back of my SUV was packed tightly with all the necessities, barely leaving room for our three kids + one more.  We have shelter from the sun for me (I’ve had malignant skin cancer), chairs, a table to keep our shirts and towels out of the sand, food, beverages, skim boards, boogie boards, goggles, towels, shovels… I think you’re getting the picture.  The hour-and-fifteen-minute ride was relatively pleasant, thanks to a couple of fully charged iPods and an air conditioner that reaches back to the third row.

We met our friends en route and arrived at the beach just before noon.  Out pops my BFF, a feisty Cuban-American schoolteacher who has skin that is genetically perfect for tanning.  (Her dark brown eyes make her the lowest possible risk for skin cancer.  I hate that about her.)  She’s holding a tote bag and a bottle of SPF 4 sunscreen, and her skin begins turning a shade of golden bronze the moment she steps out of the car.

My group starts hauling crap equipment through the sand, setting up Base Camp in a lovely spot.  20 minutes later, while my friend has already turned over twice and taken a walk, we’re ready to sit back and “relax.”  I let the kids shed their shirts (so I can apply Neutrogena SPF 100+ sunscreen to their pasty white skin) and let them play, because by this time I’m needing a drink and a chair.

The weather was perfect.  (90-ish degrees is a lovely day for us on the Gulf Coast.)  There was a gentle breeze, and the sun sparkling on the water was mesmerizing.  The kids played in the sand and swam out to the pilings where piers once roosted (before Hurricane Katrina).  At various times they were throwing baseballs and lacrosse balls, digging holes, and burying The Little Guy in the sand (because he’s the only one who still thinks it’s fun to get sand in every orifice of his body).

Then, when everyone was tired, and the spots where we missed putting sunscreen were starting to sting, it was time to pack it all up and haul it home.  This is where it gets tricky, because it never goes back in the car the same way it came out, and inevitably, something gets pitched so we can see out of the back window.  (This time it was a blanket that we didn’t use…)

Today I’ll pull it all out and clean everything, because a lifetime of going to the beach has taught me NEVER to put things away without cleaning them, lest you be surprised by the Most Horrific Smell Ever next time you want to use any of that crap equipment.

So the images of this day at the beach exist only in our memories.  Next time I’ll try to remember the camera, to record it for posterity.  For a day at the beach is definitely a metaphor for The Lucky Mom’s life:  be safe, have fun.  Then blog about it.

As our children grow older, it’s really hard to find activities that everyone can get excited about.  With kids ranging in age from 10 to 19, someone is usually being dragged against their will to family outings.  But the beach is a great equalizer.  Everyone acts 10 years old at the beach.  Some of us just bring more equipment.

The Clean Up.

The Clean Up: Those boogie boards have been to beaches from Florida to Hawaii. Really. We've actually checked them as luggage.

My preferred sunscreen. {http://www.neutrogena.com}