English people invented going to the seaside for fun in the 19th century. Clearly, they were out of their minds.
If this summer has taught me nothing else, it's that the beach is not for humans. It's the ultimate hostile environment, yet we continue to collectively insist it's a paradise that will magically turn us into relaxed, hot-bodied beauties.
I grew up in the U.K., where there's really no such thing as beach weather. Yet, as long as it's not snowing, Brits consider the seaside open for business. That's why, overwhelmingly, my family's beach photos feature us wrapped in towels, blankets, or scraps of seaweed, huddling together for warmth. When we did venture to sunnier parts of the continent hoping for a less abrasive experience, we had no idea how to handle that big ball of fire in the sky so we spent our time getting sunburned, recovering from bouts of heat exhaustion, and nursing jellyfish stings. Our luggage on the way home was mostly antihistamines and regret.
Moving to the U.S. just confirmed my suspicion that plentiful good weather does not make beach life any more pleasurable. If anything, it's worse because I feel pressured into peeling off my protective layers of clothing and cynicism in order to have semi-naked fun. It's more anxiety inducing than giving birth. At least I wasn't required to enjoy that. And if I really want to see that many people in what amounts to ill-fitting, neon underwear, I'll take my chances on the internet. At least that way I get to keep my sweater on.
But every July, I find myself inexplicably pining for a beach. This year was no different, so last week I dragged my family to a hyped strip of sand on Long Island. We paid, parked, and discovered that we were still nowhere near the beach. So we gathered up our belongings, strapped down our screaming, confused children, and started our march toward an experience I was reasonably confident would be horrible.
I wasn't wrong. It was like entering a flat white desert, but instead of camels and cacti, the landscape was dotted with snoozing lifeguards and people texting on towels while their skin shriveled into a cancerous hide. It was too windy to look up in any direction without getting an eyeful of grit. My daughter, upon discovering that sandcastles are easily dismantled, had a tantrum. Later, a deranged seagull hovered and air-pecked three feet from my baby son's head. It wanted his banana so, as per the standard mugging advice, we relinquished the goods and hoped his buddies wouldn't be along to see what else we had. Fortunately they were busy emptying their bowels onto the people a few plots downwind.
My husband and I argued. Because he grew up near the coast and is more prone to have fun than me, he was frustrated by my need to tell him how awful everything is all the time. Plus, this whole beach thing was my idea.
We lasted nearly two hours and at no point was I comfortable or at peace. It was as if the beach and everything that came with it was designed as an endurance test. I slathered so much sand-infused sunscreen on our children I think they actually lost skin pigment. And they sobbed because they're not used to being viciously exfoliated by their mother.
And the worst part was, it was all so pointless. If I had actually managed to get some shade and settle my limbs into a position that wasn't a gross contortion requiring several osteopathy appointments to fix, I couldn't leave my spot. To do so would be to risk having my valuables stolen by the beach thieves I'm sure skulk along the shore looking for hapless families like mine. And what was I going to do anyway? Swim? Forget that. In the brief time we were at this particular beach — which is marketed as family friendly — three people needed to be rescued from the churning water because they strayed a few feet out of the recommended swim zone.
So I'm saying: No more. I'm done.
Well, at least until next summer.