We get there at about ten, and have the beach nearly to ourselves. The lifeguards aren’t there yet, which surprises me. I forgot that today was a weekday. I was also surprised to discover that the beach was all raked. I wonder who does that–rakes the beach? It seems like a futile act.
We set up shop right at the water’s edge, not far from the lifeguard stand. Selam takes a run into the water and emerges grinning and pretending to be shocked that it was cold. She dumps her bag of sand toys and begins to play kitchen at the beach. I sample sand soup, sand yogurt, sand pudding and sand mommy-food. I have no idea what mommy-food is–it’s clearly something mushy, though. Then I read while she creates a small house and an elaborate road system leading to it. She runs in and out of the waves, shrieking each time. We crack open the Pri-gles, and I feed them to her one by one while her hands dry. We amble to the snack bar and get lunch. I let her get a vit*min water, which is her latest favorite thing. We usually bring a picnic lunch, and Selam hadn’t realized there was a snack bar. I may regret letting her in on the secret.
“No mumblemumble on the beach!” the lifeguards yell. Nobody can tell what they’re outlawing. Selam and I fill in the blanks for ourselves. “No french toast on the beach, no giraffes on the beach, no televisions on the beach”…. this entertains us for a long time. I bury her in sand to her neck. We dig a huge hole and build a small mountain on each side of it. We name one mountain America, and one Africa. A small pink bucket becomes an airplane, and we travel from one to the other. “Goodbye, Nannies” she called out. “Hello Gramma and Bapa.”
People walk by, and Selam comments on them. She means no harm, but I have to remind her to whisper. “That man is furry. That woman has cherries on her leg. That man might be a spy. That woman thinks she forgot to lock her car.”
She lies down flat on her belly and stares into the sand. “There used to be fish inside each shell,” she reminds me. She looks for any hangers on, but finds none.
The sun climbs higher in the sky and the high tide chases swimmers back toward the beach house. We can touch the water, now, from our little tent, and our mountains are underwater. The beach is filling up, and the sand is getting hot. “I want to go home now,” she announces. I’m surprised. “Why?”
“I don’t feel like sharing the beach.”
It takes me forever to get the little tent lassoed back into its bag, and Selam lies on her back singing some song from camp. Finally, I get loaded down with our supplies and Selam hoists the red bag of sand toys onto her shoulder. We shuffle along the boardwalk into the bright ocean of cars. Behind us, the seagulls circle, and the salty waves run toward home. The lifeguards blow their whistles. “No mumble on the beach,” they shout.
“Ostriches” I say.
“Monkeys.” Her tiny hand grabs my wrist as we cross the road. She is so big these days, but that hand is still so small.