When you think of the beach, I'm sure your mind conjures up images of white(ish) sand and blue-green water. Maybe some waves, some gulls, some kids with buckets and shovels. The one dude carrying around a surfboard to impress women.
That's what I think of - and thats what the kids in our youth group thought of when we told them we were going to take them to the beach.
"Beach" may have been false advertising.
We have several kids who had never seen the ocean in all their 13 years of living. Dan and I decided this was a shame - and that we would love to be the ones to introduce them to the wonderfulness of ocean. We counted the cost and decided it would be worth it to drive a tad out of the way, adding about 2 hours(we thought) to our trip, to take our kids to the beach. Gracious, no?
Well it began to unravel before we even left camp. The internet went out, leaving us with no specific beach to head towards, and without any directions except for our basic knowledge of US geography. Florida and Alabama touch the Gulf. That's what we knew - and we went with it.
Somewhere near Tallahassee we decided to get off the highway and head "towards water." Theoretical water. We received directions "to the beach" from a gas station attendant, a burger king employee, and a man grilling catfish on the side of the road. "Just go straight down this road and you'll see it," they all said. Bunch of dirty freaking liars.
We went "down that road" and back up it three or four times before the kids in the back of the van started asking questions. We went over a bridge, which boosted morale and bought us another few minutes. We passed about 6 swamps, 3 rivers, and a pond. And then, mercifully, a sign. "Mash's Island Beach."
We unloaded in a tiny, cul-de-sac of a parking lot and found a sign that read:
"We participate in the 'Healthy Beaches' program. Please visit the bath house for information about water quality and conditions."
Oh. My. Word.
The beach was narrow, with lots of asphalt chunks from the parking lot, driftwood, oyster shells, and PINECONES all over the sand. No waves, no dudes with surfboards. In fact, there was a giant yellow floating divider about a quarter-mile out - the kind the separates the swimming area from the boating area IN MAN-MADE LAKES. There were maybe three other families there; none of them were in the water.
Still, for the sake of the kids, trying to stay positive.
Undaunted, our middle schoolers plunged in. Almost immediately I heard a scream, "Ouch! ouch! ouch!" I watched as they turned around and made high-knees back out of the water. The WHOLE bottom was covered in rocks and oyster shells. As they emerged, they showed me their slices, like long, deep paper-cuts, all over their hands, feet, and legs.
Three brave boys ventured on - the rest came out to nurse their wounds. We all sat in a sad little row, on asphalt chunks, next to the pinecones, pouring bottled water over our bloodied feet.
A woman and her dog walked by, "Oh, if you go around the bend the bottom over there is sandy. You just got in at the wrong spot," she offered.
We called our three brave boys back in, and told everyone to change into their dry clothes.
"I forgot to pack mine in the van - they're in my suitcase."
"On top of your suitcase?"
"No, at the bottom."
Of course. Sigh. We open the back of the van to reveal a teetering pile of luggage. "Okay, which one is your suitcase?"
"The one at the bottom."
"I forgot mine too...."
I'M GOING TO KILL ALL THE MIDDLE SCHOOLERS.
An HOUR LATER we have retrieved everyone's dry clothing. They are changed, the luggage is packed back into the van, and we are driving the two hours back to the highway. The kids are griping, "The beach stinks. This is nothing like you see on TV. I don't ever want to go to the beach again."
I am sitting in the front seat clenching my fists so that I don't punch Dan for taking us here in the first place. He was trying to do a loving, gracious thing, and it backfired. Plain and simple. You can't win 'em all.
But let me tell you - there is a bit of redemption at the end of all this.
We have one boy, one tough boy from a tough home who had a tough time at camp. Who had never seen the ocean before in his life. Never been more than two hours from home. And as I showed him oyster shells, and explained about barnacles, and we looked out to the horizon and tried to imagine Mexico down there somewhere, I got to see WONDER in his eyes. He didn't care about the pinecones or the rocks. I saw wonder.
Here's a visual of our three brave boys - guess who's leading the pack. :)
It reminded me of the end of The Awakening. This teenage boy experiencing something entirely new and wonderful - and he just went further, and further, and further until he couldn't go any more. It may have been the worst beach trip ever, but I'm really glad we went.