Bouncy World

On beach vacations since I was eight, our toes typically remained in the sand, except for an afternoon of mini golf or a few trips for penny candy. So, a beach vacation where the beach itself is not spectacular, means readjusting expectations.

Well, my expectations. The kids are not as tied down.

So, when the largest bouncy water slide we’d ever seen loomed into view high above us on Day One, I privately groaned. And when the one slide turned into an entire park of bouncy castle fun, I knew, reluctantly, I was doomed to miss at least a day of beach time.

One side of the park houses water slides of all sizes. No shoes. No socks. Probably not quite sanitary. The other side is home to dry bouncy adventures. Socks, please. For a dollar, we bought a pair of black socks for the nine-year-old in flip-flops. New or from the Lost and Found? I’d rather not know.

In-between the two lands – wet and dry – are two snack bars, picnic tables, beach chairs, and even cabanas for $50 a day extra. Families bring their coolers and stay the day or check into the adjacent motel for stay-and-play special weekends.

And the place, unimagined by me prior to this week, was packed.

I let my guys loose, found a chair in the sun, and opened a good book. They played for more than three hours, and would have stayed much longer. No fights. No whining. No injuries. No “can we go home now?”

One stopped by for a rest every so often. Another sat for a snack, then rushed off again, dragging his older brother with him. I only caught glimpses of the youngest racing between slides, or heard his voice yelling as he plummeted downward or calling out a challenge to whatever child waited in line behind him.

“The best part of vacation!” “We have to come back!”

As we fly home, I already miss the sun and the sand, and the possibility of every day being a good beach day. But I have to admit, Bouncy World – in all its plasticky, dirty, strange distortion of my vacation expectations – was the highlight for the boys, ready to go back in a second.

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It’s a Boy Thing

After a week with my three boys at the beach, it dawned on me yet another reason why boys and girls are different. Boys enjoy driving each other crazy for sport.

It is a constant effort to see how far they can go before the other goes bat-shit crazy. I do not remember that in a house of three girls.

They poke each other. Jump out from behind corners to scare each other. Take every opportunity to remind each other of a favorite football team’s meltdown in the Super Bowl.

They have old lady nicknames for each other like Carol and Sally and then use them until their brother can’t take it anymore.

They remind each other of the embarrassing things they did yesterday or last year or six years ago. “Remember when you pooped at the pool? “Well, you pooped on the beach!”

Poke. Shove. Poke. “Hey, Carol, remember when…”

In the end, after all three laugh until their sides ache, someone always storms off. “They are sooo mean.”

But fifteen minutes later, they are back together, back at it, back to smiles and that little-boy twinkle in their eyes. All for one and one for all.

I pointed this observance out to them. They all grinned, “That’s why boys are more fun.”

The Best Vacation

Spring Break 2016 has ended, and I return from a week at the beach certain that it was the best vacation ever. Ideal weather. Tan but no sunburn. Lots of rest despite the roosters. Delicious lobster quesadillas for lunch three out of seven days. Softest sand on the planet between our toes. Clear blue water.

Sounds great, but “best ever” because…

Our three boys played together in the water, splashing through waves that looked too large… even larger when I was in the water with them several times a day. We dove under waves, Let them crash on our heads. They talked and laughed and made up silly games as the waves kept pummeling us.

They told stories, gave opinions, laughed more, told jokes, paused mid-sentence, dove under, and came up talking. Tireless. Fearless.

They played hours of football with Dad.

We made two styles of sandcastle. A multilevel traditional fortress and a drippy one that received a “Lovely drippy castle. Well done!” from a British accent who walked by as we completed it. They were both our best to date.

The boys read good books and talked about them. Killer Angels, Moneyball, Wings of Fire.

They helped the youngest find Orion in the night sky.

If I could have stopped time a hundred times since they were born, I would have. At each moment, I imagined I could not love them more. But then we would not have had this vacation and I would not have seen how sweet they are together at 8 and 12 and 13, how much fun they have with their brothers.

And I might not understand that “best ever” and “love more” will happen again and again, washing over us like the waves and the sun.

 

 

 

 

 

Middle School is “Fine”

“How was your day?”

“Fine.”

“Learn anything new?”

“Not really.”

“Who’d you hang out with?”

“My friends.”

“Was it fun?”

“It was fine.”

As a mother of two middle school boys, I have learned that “fine” means “I’ve got it.”

….unless, of course, his slumped body signals utter defeat as he walks down the carpool line. Or “fine” is followed by tears.

That was yesterday. My sixth grader was dragging himself to the car, head bowed, bangs hiding his face.

“Things are not fine,” I said to his brothers.

He slammed the car door and burst into tears after launching his first-ever f-bomb. “All five f-ing teachers gave me homework!”

He’s mildly hypo-glycemic. I gave him chocolate milk while putting together a very large nutritious snack. That’s what moms do, right?

Unfortunately, he saved his toughest assignment for last. His first algebra homework. The teacher had written that if they understood the day’s lesson, it should only take 10-15 minutes. Thirty minutes later, he was sobbing and exhausted.

But boys rebound quickly.

By 7:00, after a quick entire-family review of algebra with dad and the snack by mom in his system, all returned to “fine.” He was playing soccer in the living room.

And later when I said goodnight, he hugged me. “Mom, remember at the beach when we went on that walk and I told you I was nervous about middle school?”

“Yes.”

“I think I’m going to remember that walk my whole life, because you were right. Middle school is fine. I think I’ve got it.”

Penny Candy at the General Store

Remember moving slowly down the row of shelves with your small brown paper bag, eyeballing each bin of candy, doing your own math, mouth watering as you thought about each little treasure? Candy necklaces, Ring Pops, Fun Dip, Sweet tarts, long strips of paper with Dots, lemon drops, gummy fish, BB Bats, bags of Pop Rocks, malt balls, gumdrops, jawbreakers and more.

How, when they brought such joy, did Penny Candy Stores lose their place in our communities? Why do we only find them now in quaint beach villages where we vacation?

Most repeat visitors on Cape Cod have been to Candy Manor in Chatham or the Brewster General Store, where the most crowded aisle is filled with children shouting out prices to their parents, who carry a stub of a pencil and a strip of paper to keep track. The older kids do it themselves. The General Store is one of the few places where the honor system prevails out of necessity. It would take far too long to tally the treats at the register, and half of the candy would be gone before the many kids got through the line.

“Fifteen cents! Sixty cents! One dollar and twenty-five cents!”

The name “penny candy” certainly used to be more valid. But the happiness the process brings to kids remains the same.

Before our trip this year, the boys all began their annual litany of things they wanted to do as soon as we got there. Batting cages, Cobies (the roadside ice cream shack that sells ice cream in MLB baseball caps), and of course, the General Store.

As we pulled into the driveway that first afternoon, the first question they asked was “when can we go to the General Store?”

Every day we didn’t go during the two weeks meant a negotiation regarding when we would go again.

One afternoon after spending the entire day on the beach, my eight year old whined that we had not gone on “an adventure” that day.

“The beach was an adventure,” I said. “We floated on tubes, built a sandcastle, played football…”

“That’s not an adventure,” he pouted.

“Well, what adventure do you want to go on then?”

His eyes lit up and he grinned, “Can we go to the General Store?”

It’s just candy. They can get the same candy at home. But my eight year old got it perfectly. Perusing a long aisle of brightly colored treats with other excited kids, picking out individual pieces of your all-time favorites, putting them into a small bag that seems created just for Penny Candy, and doing your own math – that’s an adventure. That’s what makes the penny candy store of old so great.

Sunsets on Cape Cod Bay

From the beach house we rented for more than 30 years, we could see the changing tides. From the screened porch and long kitchen table where we ate dinner, we could also see the sun’s nightly decline and its disappearance at the horizon. So since I can remember, my family has rushed outside to watch just as the sky turns red and the sun dips under the sea. When I was a kid, we sat in near silence, three girls respectful of its beauty. My father took hundreds of photographs each year that always ended up looking like a hazy yellow ball in a murky sky – always far away and unclear due to his poor mastery of the camera.

For the last five or six years my three boys have turned this nightly vacation tradition into a joyous celebration filled with cheers and “Goodnight Sun!” and “See you in the morning!” and “Have fun in China!” They clap. They count down loudly to the end when the last sliver of sun tucks itself into bed. Their voices travel down the beach from where they jump up and down on plastic lawn chairs. And our more mature neighbors down the dirt road laugh and reminisce about their many trips to the beach when their own children were young like my boys.

This year a miscommunication or twist of fate ended our time in that house. Although we still rented on that same perfect beach, we were in a different house – one slightly back from the cliff overlook and surrounded by New England greenery that hides much of the sky and sea. And we kept missing the sunset. The sun had to make its journey to China without the farewell parade of boys. No “Goodnight sun!” No “See you in the morning!” No clapping wildly as the sky exploded in vibrant color just before going dark.

A moment in our family story has passed unnoticed by the boys. They are unaware that a small piece of their childhood is already gone. Only I mourn its passing.

Goodnight sun!

Harbour Island, Bahamas: Day 5

Island Storms

We played at the water’s edge, our sandcastle knights and kings battling the rising tide to save the walls of an undecorated fortress. The black clouds gathered at the horizon, sending its minions like gray ribbons to envelope the sun and threaten our fun.

But we stayed, prolonging our beach time, hoping the clouds would blow south or north of us. And occasionally, the sun tricked us into complacency by shining down from a small blue patch in the otherwise foreboding sky. When the sun peeked out, the sea turned a dark green color. It looked like glass that had been chiseled by a strong hand.

“Mom, we should go,” said the cautious son.

“We’re already wet. As long as it doesn’t thunder or lightning, we can stay.” But mothers are not always right.

Mere moments later, the clouds joined the rising tide in its battle against our castle and battalion of three boys and their parents. Rain pelted us as we screeched and ran and laughed, pushing each other across the sand, up the bank, down the path to the already soaked golf cart waiting for us.

“Go faster!”

“The street is a river already!”

“Dad, drive faster!”

“It’s cold!”

The roosters were silent. The streets were empty, the locals and other tourists more willing to accept a timely and honorable defeat. Finally at the Back Banyans, we piled out of the golf cart and ran into the cabin just as the lights went out all over the island, and the neighbors’ alternate generators kicked on, loudly humming with the rain.

Out at the horizon, the sky had already cleared.

But our sandcastle had surely fallen.