“Daddy! Look at me!” my daughter cries out from the shore line, where she is sitting, fully clothed, in the sub-60-degree waters of the Gulf of Mexico. “I’m peeing in the ocean!”
“Welcome to Hoopie Beach,” says my sister, resigned to the fact she and my wife have completely lost control of the situation. Just then her 2-year-old daughter scampers past us down the beach, sans underwear. I look over to see my son, still soaking-wet from falling into the water, teeth chattering, as he sits in the sand munching on a sand-covered apple slice.
Yeah, this was a great idea.
I’ve never been much of a beach person. When I was 5-years-old, my family and I went to Cocoa Beach in Florida during a Disneyland vacation, and on our first day there the tops of my feet got badly sunburned. For the rest of the week I set up camp underneath a beach umbrella, wearing a hat, t-shirt, and socks, while the rest of my family jumped and frolicked around in the surf.
A few years later, I was playing in the shallow waters of Ocean City, Md., when I started having a rather uncomfortable pinching feeling in a certain unmentionable area. It felt like I had fire ants in my bathing suit. The culprit: sea lice. All I remember is darting back to the hotel and jumping into a hot shower as I tried to rid myself of the tiny, crotch-invading critters.
By the time I’d reached college, I’d pretty much had it with the beach. I still went on spring break, but while there I spent most of the time inside a beach tent, a large cup of Dunkin Donuts and a USA Today in hand. (I was a real party animal.) The one time I dared venture out of my shelter – a mere half hour to toss the Frisbee around with my friend – I ended up getting sun poisoning so bad that the skin on my chest looked like crust bubbles on a pepperoni pizza.
Strike three—I’m out.
So when my wife and my sister suggest we take the kids down to the beach for the afternoon, I am, of course, less than enthusiastic. But then I figure, it’s the middle of winter, so the sun shouldn’t be too intense. Plus, the water’s so cold that we won’t have to worry about anyone actually going in. Then, five minutes after we get there, my son runs down to the water and falls, fully clothed, into the frigid, salty Gulf. And since we forgot to bring any towels with us, I have to make a run back to the house.
And that brings us back again to Hoopie Beach.
We stick around for another 45 minutes or so, three adults chasing after four very wet, sticky, sandy kids, as the other beach-goers glare at us disapprovingly. Meanwhile, the powdery white sand is finding its way into our lives forever, thanks in part to my son, who still thinks all things are either meant to be eaten or thrown.