It’s about time I confess something.
While the adjective outdoorsy is a pretty good assessment of my lifestyle (obviously), going to the beach is not my thing.
It could be my thing, but based on my current circumstances, I might never get the chance to find out.
Before kids, I spent a good amount of time at the beach, enjoying bonfires, reading books with a cold one in hand and gazing at spectacular sunsets. But nowadays I’ve always got five kids in tow wherever I go. And you need to understand, a visit to the beach can get complicated quickly when there are five kids involved.
I’ll never forget the time I took my two kids (back when I had only two) to Greenwell State Park in mid-November. I had recently read a biography of Sacajawea and her story was preying on my mind.
When she was a young teenager, she was kidnapped by a rival Native American tribe. In that time, it was common for women and older children to be taken prisoner in warfare. According to the book, Sacajawea herself was later wagered in a card game by her captor and lost to a Quebecois trapper who made her his wife.
While that was certainly unjust, it wasn’t Sacajawea’s fate that had captured my attention. It was the kids I wondered about.
What happened to the younger children when the adults and teens were taken hostage by another group? I figured they were probably killed, or perhaps they were just left behind? Was it possible they could have survived on their own?
I was thinking about those children as we headed down the path to the beach.
I decided to do my own experiment with my youngest daughter who was 3 years old at the time. As she explored the shoreline, I stayed back a little and carefully observed her and how she interacted with the natural, untamed world around her.
My honest assessment was that she could survive at least one night in the wild. Little did I know, my expectations were utterly off-base.
As I watched her pick up sticks and seashells, I wondered if she’d be smart enough to avoid drinking the river water, as I foolishly thought the biggest threat to her survival would be dehydration and lack of food. Boy was I wrong. The experiment didn’t even last a minute.
A big storm had blown through the night before, which is what precipitated our trip to the beach. We wanted to see if anything interesting had washed up ashore.
Well, a piece of some unlucky person’s pier was floating right at the river’s edge, tantalizing my daughter. She stepped on the boards and as her weight shifted the floating wood, she lost her balance and fell face first into the water, taking me completely by surprise.
Her winter coat puffed up around her body like she was trapped inside a giant balloon. My parenting instincts kicked in immediately and I grabbed her by the scruff of her coat and extricated her from the water.
She was cold, but otherwise unharmed. I carried her back to the car and took off her clothes, wrapping her in a blanket from the trunk, and then I drove her home with the heat blasting. After a warm bath and a mug of hot chocolate she was back to her cheerful self.
The experiment clearly showed exactly how long she’d survive in the wild: Less than a minute.
Turns out, although seven years have passed by, things may not have changed that much. I should have remembered this incident when we went to Chincoteague, Virginia, this past weekend and kept a better eye on my daughter when we visited the beach.
On the afternoon of the second day of our trip, we found ourselves gazing out at the churning ocean near the tail end of the island. The waves were beckoning us to wet our feet just a little. It was a blustery day with big waves, after some larger storms had passed through during the night before and early that morning.
We began to comb the beach for seashells when my 3-year-old, just planning to follow the line of demarcation between wet and dry sand, was surprised by a zealous wave and lost a flip-flop in the surf. It was really no big deal, but to a 3-year-old, it was serious and she began to holler. I guess my older daughter’s common sense flew out the window the second she heard her sister’s shrieks.
To my terror, the older girl galloped after the shoe like a greyhound chasing a rabbit, oblivious to the danger. As the shoe was sucked out to where the waves break, she lost her balance in the shifting sand and tumbled head over feet into the roiling water.
For a brief moment, the recollection of her falling into the water as a toddler flickered through my mind.
Don’t worry, this story has a happy ending.
She was able to get to her feet and beat a quick retreat just as the next wave chased her up the beach. The entire event happened in the span of five seconds. By the way, if you were wondering, she managed to keep ahold of that flip-flop the entire time, although I let her know later that she should have just let it go.
When we got back to the hotel and she changed clothes, sand poured out of every garment as she removed the layers. Luckily the snack bar in the lobby had hot chocolate, and after she warmed up she was back to her cheerful self once again. We headed back to the beach later that evening to enjoy the sunset and collect a bucketful of seashells. I’m happy to report no one lost a shoe or narrowly escaped death.
I think it’ll be a while before I take the kids to the beach again. From peacefully contemplating the sights and sounds of nature one moment to fearing the worst the next, it’s just too stressful for this gal.
And besides, all that stress is starting to take a toll on me. As we were getting ready the next morning, I found my first gray hair.