I'll be the first to admit that I'm not exactly the outdoorsy type. I'm more the indoor, bookish type who considers nothing more fun than sitting at a bookstore searching through stacks of books. Arizona suits me perfectly with its completely hostile climate. But sometimes I have to leave Arizona and go on vacation. Then we drive west, to Southern California. And when we're there, I'm suddenly supposed to be a different person - I'm supposed to love being outside.
There are a few problems with this reasoning. First of all, from the minute I get out of our car, I'm freezing. After all, I just survived a 45 degree drop in temperature - from 115 degrees to 70. I'm wearing my winter coat. My teeth are chattering. Daughter is wearing mittens. I don't suddenly think, Hey, I think I'll throw my clothes off and go swimming in the Pacific Ocean.
Unfortunately, just when I'm finally comfortable again, bundled up in our hotel room, my husband and children appear before me in swimsuits, holding boogie boards. I feign a grave misunderstanding.
I say, "I thought we just came here to look at the beach."
But they're determined to actually go there and, for some reason, they seem to want me with them. I'd like to think this is because I'm essential to their existence but, after this trip, I know that I'm just their pack mule to haul their stuff down there and their guard dog to watch it all while they frolic in the waves.
My history of beach-going isn't so great. I grew up in Chicago during the era when Lake Michigan was clogged with dead birds and the shoreline dotted with broken glass. Despite all these drawbacks, my mother and aunts would schlep us down there so we could all "get some color," which, apparently, was any color other than our own. My cousins and I would play in the hot sand, watch the oil-slicked water, the dead birds floating, and slowly burn to a crisp. We ended up a different color: red.
I was going to outsmart the beach this time. If it was overcast, I'd bring along yoga pants and a jacket so I could sit comfortably and read. If it was sunny with a cool breeze, I would sit in a bathing suit with my new secret weapon: SPF 85 sunscreen. That strategy worked on the cool days but, finally, there was one day of gleaming sunshine, the kind of day that always makes me think that the pretty, nice sun is my friend. Of course, it's not. I sat in my bathing suit with my sunscreen on, my book in hand, guarding my family's possessions. I was cautiously optimistic. Maybe the outside world wasn't so bad after all.
Three hours of sand and seaweed later, of Frisbees thrown at my head, of every person on the beach shaking out their sandy towel onto me, like I was a still-life, and it was time to load me back up and head back to our place, all of us burned to crisps. Red.