‘Vacation’ is a funny word for a single mother of young children.
Before having children, the term ‘vacation’ would invoke a feeling of relaxation, but it doesn’t mean what it used to mean.
Now it means I will move my exhausted self and young children to a different place, so I can do the same activities with the same unrealistic schedule. Nonetheless, we go to the beach every year.
I pick the beach because it is the least painful of the options. I live within a few hours of numerous beaches so there are no long trips or plane tickets. I don’t have to drag them (and more importantly their stuff) all over a city while trying to keep their attention at tourist attractions that may or may not be age-appropriate. And to be fair, they love the beach. They start to jump up and down the minute they see the ocean and the sand.
I know this will sound un-American, but I don’t like the beach.
I am far too OCD for sand, and kids get sand in places that would seem impossible to the average nonparent. I have never seen so much sand. I always stay where there is a pool. If we cannot find all the sand at the beach shower (we never do), I can just tell them to go swim in the pool for fifteen minutes.
That is my saving grace.
Of course, their love and my dislike for the beach is not my point. The challenge with a beach setting (and many other places) for a single mother is children never want to do the same thing. One kid wants to ride waves and the other kid wants to play in the sand. Then I have to make a decision. Do I stay with my son who is riding waves, but is somewhat proficient at staying out of trouble in the ocean, or do I go sit with my daughter who is playing in the sand?
In the occasional moments of paranoia that still plague me, I think about the perpetrators, the pedophiles and the exploiters. I know them; I grew up with them. I know how they operate.
They are the most observant people in any crowded place. They know how to manipulate people and situations. They look for people like me — outnumbered parents with divided attention.
Although I know that we have a tendency to manifest our greatest fears when we focus on them too much, I also know that my level of awareness is a deterrent for the exploiters. They don’t like attention. They avoid it at all costs. This is why abductions are less common in the United States. We have Amber Alert.
And so, I hover around my daughter. And I watch my son from a distance. I watch him get clobbered by one wave after another as he tries to imitate the older boys on his body board. On some level, I think he appreciates the space. On another level, I think he is a bit scared of tackling the ocean on his own. In the end, he masters several waves and runs back to me with a victorious smile. He doesn’t drown. He doesn’t lose a limb. And nobody runs off with him. We have another successful day at the beach (and one more year has been lifted off the end of my life).
I know there are other ways. I have done it differently in the past. In the early years, my kids had to take turns picking an activity. However, they are getting to the age where they are capable of doing their own thing without my constant hovering. And it is my job as the mother of growing children to respect their need for independence. And honestly, as a single mother, I don’t always have a choice.
So, the beach will inevitably be a balancing act. I will stand near one child while watching the other child from a short distance. I will try not to act like the overprotective hovering mother that I am. I will try not to show too much anxiety in front of my children, so they can hopefully live a life with less fear.
And for me, the beach will continue to be less about relaxing and more about conquering my insecurities about life in general. And one day, a vacation will be a vacation again.