Looks deceptively tranquil, no? Let me disillusion you:
It is February school vacation week. We are staying at a house on this very beach. Little S is napping happily indoors (after spiking a fever during our much-delayed and logistically infernal voyage and throwing up in the rental car at 10 pm after we have driven unwittingly through Carnaval traffic on what turns out to have been Mardi Gras) while her father unhappily does some work, and Big K is sitting with me moping on his paradise-like beach, complaining that there is too much sea-grass in the freakishly warm and dazzlingly clear water in which swim beautiful tropical fish that she’ll never see because she refuses to put her head under water despite the semi-professional mask and snorkel we bought her at her insistence that she just couldn’t wait to go snorkeling. (Sometimes a run-on sentence is a necessity to capture the mood.) I would like nothing better than to spend the next hour strolling along the beach by myself, splashing my toes at the water’s edge and letting my mind wander. I’d like to think about the characters of my next book, about the dance pieces I’m preparing for an upcoming show, about the book I’m reading (Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones). Or maybe – gasp – about nothing at all. But I have this 7 year old child with me, and apparently this is entirely my doing. So I try to engage her.
– Hey, I have an idea. Let’s go for a stroll down the beach and see what we discover!
– Oh, yeah, great idea! [She jumps up.] Oh, wait. I don’t want to carry this camera. Let’s go upstairs to drop it off.
– Nah, I don’t want to risk waking S. Why don’t you just put it in your pocket. It’s small enough.
– Nooo! It will fall out.
– No it won’t, it’s really small.
– But Mooommy!
– You can handle it.
– Fine then. [Shoves the absurdly small digital camera she was given by an overly generous uncle into her back pocket, where it fits perfectly. We walk five steps.]
– Mommy, I think I need to go pee first.
– What do you mean, you think you need to? Do you need to or not?
– I need to go to the bathroom.
– [Sigh.] Ok, go ahead, I’ll wait here.
– No, come with me, please. I need my sunglasses and I don’t know where they are.
– K, keeping track of your belongings is your responsibility.
– But Mooommy! The sun hurts my eyes.
– Good grief. Ok, let’s go. [We go upstairs. Find sunglasses. K uses the bathroom. The wind causes the door to slam and I cringe, expecting S to wake up. Thankfully she doesn’t. J still at his work computer. K emerges.]
– Mommy, I’m hungry, can I have a snack first?
– No. You will not starve on our walk.
– But Mooommeee!
– Gah! Ok, choose something quickly and bring it with you.
– [K chooses one of those chocolatey, sweetened cereal boxes from the multipack that we get her as a treat on vacations. Looks like chocolate rice crispies. She crinkles the bag excessively, right outside the door to the bedroom in which S sleeps, to open it.]
– Here, give me that. I’ll open it downstairs. [We head back down, through the breezy outdoor lobby with its comfy couches on which I could be curled up with a book, down the jungly walkway back out to the beach.] Which way do you want to go?
– That way. [We walk five steps.] The sand is hot and pokey.
– Yes! It’s poking my feet.
– Why don’t you walk in the water with me?
– [She scrunches her nose disdainfully at the rim of seaweed that lines the water’s edge.] Nooo. [We walk five more steps.] Actually, let’s go the other way.
– Huh? Ok, fine. [We switch directions. We’ve now walked back and forth the same 25 foot length three times.]
– Even though I have my sunglasses, they’re still letting the sun bother my eyes. [Note the way she blames the sunglasses for actively allowing this egregious affront to her eyes. I ignore her. She snacks loudly on her cereal packet. Suddenly, she is hopping around madly.] Ow! Ow! Oweeee!
– What now?
– [She holds her toe dramatically but is nonetheless careful not to drop her snack.] Oweee! I hurt my toe on something sharp!
– Something sharp, or something pokey?
– Mooommeeee! Stop! It’s not funny!
– Hey, look at that pelican! It just dove down from up high to catch a fish!
– Oh, where? [She puts the massively injured foot back down in the hot, pokey sand. We walk ten feet. She loses interest in the pelican and feigns a limp. I point out a fish jumping out of the water, which she fails to see. We discuss the use of hammocks as sleeping furniture. We talk about what constitutes a bay versus a gulf. There is discussion of the Caribbean Sea versus the Gulf of Mexico versus the Atlantic Ocean. She forgets to limp. I start thinking this might work out after all.] Ok, let’s turn back.
– Oy! Already? What do you mean, turn back? That was nothing!
– Yes it was. That was a walk. [She points to the house fifty feet away.] Look how far we went. Let’s go back and you can play Boggle with me.
– Why don’t we sit here first for a while. Here, you can finish your snack. [I pat the sand next to me.]
– [She looks down dubiously.] But my camera is in my pocket. I can’t sit.
– [I bite my tongue, force a pleasant voice.] Give me the camera, please, and sit down.
– [She complies. Munch munch.] Thanks. Hey, this is nice! [Munch munch.] Ok, now can we go play Boggle?