Rain or Shine

“I’m sorry,” Beth said. We were embracing on the screened porch of our rental house early Sunday morning. “You have no idea how much.”

She had driven us to the beach the day before and she was heading straight back home. The Verizon strike that had started a week prior and caused her to work long hours and late nights ever since meant she had to skip our vacation. YaYa had elected not to come this year and my sister cancelled when she found out right before the trip that her cat had inoperable cancer so it was just me and Mom and the kids.

Now it would be unseemly to complain too much about a week at the beach with a grandmother to help, but it was still a sharp disappointment to find out within a few days of each other and right beforehand, that neither my partner nor my sister was coming. And to make matters worse, rain was predicted all week, after a very dry summer.

But the beach is the beach, rain or shine, and I was glad to be there. The kids and I had already made the best of a week without seeing much of Beth. We’d gone for a long creek walk, been to the pool, made chocolate-marshmallow candies from a kit, hosted two play dates and been to two drum lessons. We’d make the best of this week, too.

Beth drove away at 8:45, after taking June to play on the beach for a little while Noah and I read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on the screened porch. I watched the car go with a pang and kept on reading.

Later Mom and I worked out a set of menus and a grocery list. Both kids wanted to go shopping with her so I hit the beach. It was cloudy but not uniformly so. There were thick bands of dark clouds in the West but in the East there was just about every kind of sky you could imagine: patches of blue, puffy white clouds and big rapidly moving dark gray ones, scuttling in front of the lighter ones. I thought my swim could be cut short by a thunderstorm so I got in the water right away. I swam for an hour, until my fingers were wrinkly and I was all over gooseflesh.

I got home shortly before Mom and the kids, helped unpack the groceries and made lunch. Then June and I, who had been up for an hour and a half in the middle of the night because she could not sleep in an unfamiliar place, collapsed and slept for two hours. Every now and then I half-woke to hear Noah laughing as he and Grandmom played Roundabouts, but it was a pretty solid nap.

Afterward, I was energized enough to take the kids to Funland. Noah tried some new rides this year—the Freefall (which is one of those tower-like rides with seats that just take you up and drop you) and the Paratrooper (which looks like a Ferris Wheel except it tilts in addition to spinning). June stuck to her old standbys, but insisted on going on the mini-Ferris wheel alone, not with Noah and definitely not with me. She wanted to ride the Freefall, and she is tall enough, but I wasn’t quite ready to put her on it, and I also didn’t want to take away from Noah’s pride at riding it for the first time by having his little sister do it the very same year, so I told her next year. She’s the daredevil, if you hadn’t figured it out already, and he’s the cautious one.

It had started to rain hard while we were in Funland and it didn’t look like it was going to stop any time soon so we walked home in it. Even with umbrellas and June in a rain jacket we got soaked so when we got home Mom and the kids changed into pajamas and called it a pajama party. Noah even found the song “Pajama Time” on his iPod and played it while we cooked dinner.

After dinner it had cleared and the kids wanted to go to Candy Kitchen so I took them to the boardwalk in their pajamas (Noah pulled on a pair of shorts over his pajama bottoms). Before we were halfway there it started to rain again but the sun was still shining so we saw possibly the most amazing rainbow I have ever seen. It was huge, 180 degrees, right over the ocean. Everyone was taking pictures and I tried to take one with my phone but I couldn’t get the whole thing in the frame. Beth called while we were looking at it. It was hard to talk much because of the noise of the rain and the crowds, but she sounded sad.

We got fudge and a wide variety of gummy products (worms, frogs and teeth). On the way home it started to rain harder and we got soaked again. June needed a second pair of pajamas. We played Hex and checkers until bedtime and our first full day at the beach was over.

I’d wondered if my long nap would keep me up but I went right to sleep Sunday night and slept eight and a half hours, waking before June who slept until 7:25. The kids were sleeping upstairs in the attic bedroom and I was in a downstairs bedroom and I slept magnificently. The room was dark and quiet. I was not able to hear all their little sleep movements as I do when they are just next door to me at home. The kids and I played a hand of Go Fish after breakfast and were on the beach by 9:10.

We proceeded to spend the longest chunk of time I think I’ve ever had on the beach with both kids—over three hours. I was the one who had to make them come home for lunch. They were in the water before I could even get sun block on them and I had to call them back to the towel. They jumped in the waves, made dribble castles and regular castles and dug a very deep moat around one of them. We watched a large pod of dolphins (the first of many we’d see that week). Noah buried his legs in the sand down to the knees and seemed to enjoy sitting and watching the ocean thus weighted down. June played in the water until she was shivering and her lips were blue. And even then she resisted coming up onto the sand for warming-up breaks. I snuck in a five-minute swim while they were building things in the sand, but I came out in a hurry when I saw them approach the water. The waves were better than the day before so I was sorry not to have a real swim, but it was a fun morning nonetheless. I think I could have even read or written a little if I had brought a book or writing supplies because they played independently for long stretches of time. It’s been a long time—a decade—since I’ve been able to read on the beach without getting someone to watch the kids. It was tantalizing to think it might be almost within my grasp again.

That afternoon, post-nap (June’s—I read to Noah while she slept as I did most days that week) we returned to Funland. Noah got bored quickly because his new favorite rides are not under the roof and kept getting shut down by the intermittent rain. He did get to ride the Freefall once more but he got drenched because it started to rain during the ride. June wanted to ride the helicopters, which are also outside and she waited in the line twice, only to have them shut down when she would have been in the next group. So we mostly stuck to the kiddie rides under the pavilion. Once again, we walked home in the rain and the kids ate dinner in their pajamas. We considered going to the boardwalk that evening but we decided to stay inside and dry. We talked to Beth on the phone, Noah played games on his iPod and read a 39 Clues book (http://www.the39clues.com/). Meanwhile June showed off her new mouse skills for Mom, playing phonics games on the Between the Lions web site. June went to bed at 8:45 and Noah at 9:15, but they were up talking until 9:45.

June slept in until 6:55 and when she woke me I saw my first glimpses of sun since we’d arrived. After two consecutive nights’ good sleep I was ambitious enough to make veggie bacon, eggs, toast and cantaloupe for my breakfast and June’s (Noah opted for cereal).

After the breakfast dishes were done and I’d started a load of laundry, I took the kids for a scooter ride on the boardwalk. Scooters are permitted on the boardwalk before 10 a.m. in the summer, or so I thought. Once we were on the boardwalk, I noticed the sign that said bikes are permitted before 10 a.m. but scooters are prohibited from May 15 to September 15. Why the distinction, I have no idea, but we turned off the boardwalk at Rehoboth Avenue (not before passing a police officer, but she didn’t seem to care about our lawless ways). We fortified ourselves with raspberry latte, chocolate milk, juice and a bagel with cream cheese (for June who was already in need of a second breakfast) before returning home via a non-boardwalk route, as much as that pained me.

At home June wanted to stay behind and act out medical dramas with Grandmom while Noah and I went to the beach. On the way I told him, “I’m glad you decided to come.”

“Why?” he asked.

“I always enjoy your company,’ I said.

“You do?”

“I do.”

“I thought so,” he said cheerfully.

We waded into the water together but the waves were breaking too close to shore so it was too rough at the depth where he’d normally play, plus the water was full of swirling sand and tiny pebbles so that the waves were really kind of unpleasant. I tried to coax him deeper into the water where the waves would be gentler and less gritty, but he wouldn’t come. So he went back to the shore to pile wet sand on his legs again while I swam. The waves were unsatisfying, so I floated on my back, feeling the coolness of the water around me and the warmth of the sun on my face. With my ears underwater the shouts of nearby swimmers were softer and the soothing sounds of the waves were more audible.

After fifteen minutes or so, I joined Noah on the sand and helped him bury the parts of his legs he couldn’t reach. Every so often the water rushed over him and washed away our work. Rebuilding it was a pleasant, mindless sort of task. A few times I asked him if he was comfortable—did he have too much sand in his suit, was the sand too heavy on his legs where it had eroded away under his calf and left it unsupported? He answered he was fine. We did this until it was time for lunch.

After lunch we read Harry Potter on the porch while June napped and we watched as for the second day in a row Mom set out for the beach around three, only to come right back because it had started to rain. When June woke, we returned to Funland for the third time in three days, where we met up with the Ground Beetle and her family (which we’d planned—I knew they were staying in nearby Lewes) and with the Field Mouse and his family (which was a happy accident). The Beetle and the Mouse have younger brothers so at one point there were five Purple School students or alumni riding in a row on the motorcycles. June and the Beetle were so happy to see each other they did not stop talking the entire time they were together. When they rode the carousel, they named their horses. The Beetle presented June with a small seashell with June’s name written on it in marker. The Beetle has been moving steadily up the wait list for the Spanish immersion program at June’s elementary school. Her parents are hoping she will get in sometime this school year. We do, too.

Noah had originally decided against another trip to Funland but he changed his mind so Mom brought him. He was rewarded with clear skies and working rides. He rode the Freefall twice and the Paratroopers once.

After Funland we went out to dinner. We intended to go out for Mexican but there was a 35-45 minute wait so we went looking for other options and ended up at a café where we ate crepes (me and Noah), grilled cheese (June) and fajitas (Mom). I tried to call the Mexican place to cancel our table, but the #7 on my phone was malfunctioning and there was a 7 in the number so I couldn’t call. We had some downtime waiting for our food so we called Beth. Noah had the brilliant idea of having her call the restaurant to cancel our seating. Dinner was followed by frozen custard for the womenfolk and a chocolate-dipped frozen banana for Noah. We at them on the beach while admiring the sunset. June and I waded too deep into the water (at her continual urging to go “a little deeper”). On the way home, June, in a sleeveless dress, sopping wet to the waist and having just eaten a frozen custard, was freezing. (It had been not just rainy but cool all week.) We hurried the kids home and off to bed and our beach week was half over.

Wednesday was another sunny morning and I had good news in my email. Beth, who had been planning to drive out on Friday evening, now thought she might be able to come Thursday night instead. This was exciting news.

Mom took the kids to Jungle Jim’s water park (http://www.funatjunglejims.com/) and I had a few hours of long-awaited alone time. Thanks, Mom! I puttered around the house a bit, finishing the breakfast dishes and then set off on some errands. We needed sun block and while I was along a commercial stretch I ended buying a caramel latte and a secret stash of chocolate crabs for myself and a t-shirt for June. I was drawn to it right away when I saw it in the store window. It’s pink with a skull-and-crossbones wearing a heart-shaped eye patch and a bow on top of the skull. It says “Pirate Girl.”

Next it was time for the beach. I decided to stay near the food establishments on the boardwalk so I could have lunch. It was more crowded than our regular stretch of beach, but I found a place for my towel. I swam and read a few chapters of the Agatha Christie novel I started at Chadd’s Ford (and hadn’t picked up since then). I watched dolphins and swam again. Around 12:45, I went up to the boardwalk and stood in an extremely slow-moving line for fried clams for ten minutes before giving up and getting fries elsewhere. Then I headed back to the house, where Mom and the kids had just returned. Mom said the kids liked the river ride best and did it six or seven times. June went with Mom first and then alone. This was not exactly on purpose as they got separated. June found this a very satisfactory outcome, but Mom was more than a little scared by the experience.

June’s nap started later than usual so I had to wake her around 3:40. Mom was at the beach for the first time and we were supposed to meet her there but neither of the kids felt like going so I decided to get a jump on dinner. I made a pasta sauce from fresh tomatoes, garlic, Portobello mushrooms, basil (from our garden), and black olives. Then I told June she had to go to the beach (we left Noah to practice his drums and read) and we left.

Once we were there, June made a beeline for the water and was soon jumping up and down in the water yelling, “I love the beach! I love the beach!” After fifteen minutes the lifeguard blew the five o’ clock whistle, meaning everyone had to get out of the water while they go off duty. On our way out of the water, June and I spied an enormous sand sculpture of a lobster we’d somehow missed on our way into the water. She went right to work building her own miniature replica while I went back into the water. The waves were not big (there were no big waves all week, alas) but they were rolling in a pleasant rhythm out beyond the breakers so I stayed there. As I bobbed in the water, I could see Mom in her chair and June huddled over her sand creation and the big lobster and a big sand castle that ascended in a spiral pattern and the iconic orange Dolles sign far down the boardwalk. I had to wrench myself away to go home for dinner.

I wanted to finish dinner in time for another boardwalk jaunt because Noah had decided early in the week that this was the year he was going to try to Haunted Mansion and we hadn’t yet been to Funland in the evening when it’s open. As it happened, we didn’t get there until 7:15, which was later than I’d hoped (though we had a nice walk, seeing both a rabbit and more dolphins). By 7:20 I’d purchased tickets and Noah and I were in line. My original plan was to take a test ride by myself because Noah had a really bad experience in a haunted house when he was seven (see my 11/05/08 post) but when I saw the line, I knew we’d have to take the plunge together. Based on the ages of the kids in line (many younger than Noah and a few not much older than June) I thought it would be fine. And it was. Noah was keyed up throughout the entire forty-minute wait, but in a happy way. He kept noting our progress through the line and pointing our details on the exterior (a vulture I’d missed, a severed arm over the sign that says to keep your arms in the car) and when were seated, he said, “We’re really going in the Haunted Mansion!”

It was quite tame. There were a great many skeletons popping out at you—the one that came out of the picture frame actually startled me—Frankenstein’s monster, and some big spiders, but no gore. I kept my hand resting lightly on his thigh, but he never took it. Afterward he said it was “nice,” which I thought was a funny description of a haunted house, but it was nice, scary enough to make him feel brave, but not traumatized, which is after all what we want from scary things.

We tried to call Beth from the boardwalk so he could tell her all about it but now my phone was inserting random 7s into any number I tried to dial, so I had to write her an email about it when we got home.

Thursday morning I took the kids for a walk on the boardwalk and down Rehoboth Avenue to get Noah his annual t-shirt from the T-shirt Factory. I knew it would take him a long time to select a shirt and a design to have applied to it, given the sheer number of choices, so to keep June occupied (and because we’d left her backpack full of toys at home) I let her pick one toy. I thought she’d go for the set of four plastic mermaids with different colored hair (pink, purple, red and blue) and a tiny brush and comb, but she picked a fuchsia and white striped stuffed rodent of an undetermined species. (June thought it was a squirrel.) She named it Fruity. Finally Noah selected a design of two bare footprints and the words, “Rehoboth Beach, Delaware” and had them applied to a white t-shirt. We celebrated a successful shopping trip with a café con leche, two chocolate milks, a muffin and a bagel at Café a GoGo, where the coffee is heavenly but where I normally won’t even take the kids because we have gotten too many dark looks from the stern Mexican owner when they’ve been too boisterous. But they had been well behaved all week so I chanced it. They sat down immediately, gave me their orders and wouldn’t even come to the counter to look at the pastries because they were a bit intimidated by previous experience.

We went home, got changed and headed to the beach. After playing in the water, we built a pool for June that filled with water whenever a big wave rolled up on the shore. I decorated the back wall with dribble castles. It was quite an elaborate production.

After nap and Harry Potter, I made a tostada filling out of zucchini, yellow squash and tomatoes for dinner and we all joined Mom at the beach. It was the first time all four of us had been down there at the same time. The kids and I played in the water until June decided she wanted to look for crabs, shells and pebbles with Grandmom. They found no crabs and not a whole lot of shells but a lot of pretty pebbles, which June collected in a pail to decorate her sandbox at home. Noah was befriended by a younger boy who attached himself to him. I couldn’t tell if Noah wanted the attention or not. He seemed a bit puzzled as to why the boy was talking to him at first but then he relaxed and they played in the waves together. With both kids occupied I was free to take a brief swim. Coming out of the water, I noticed another sand sculpture, this one a swordfish.

We went home, had dinner and then went out for ice cream. On the way we stopped at a shop on the boardwalk that sold the same mermaid set June saw in the t-shirt shop. She’d had buyers’ remorse about the stuffed animal because she “really, really” wanted the mermaids now. I suggested she use her own money. June’s been getting an allowance since she turned five in March but she had yet to spend any of it. I don’t think she realized she could. And I still don’t think she gets it because even after I purchased the mermaids, saying she could pay me back at home, she kept asking why I got them when I said she could only have one toy.

On the way home we walked on the beach. We admired elaborate sand castles and the kids jumped into a big pit someone had dug and climbed on the lifeguards’ chair. Noah leapt off it and after some consideration, June did too. It was a big jump for her and she was pleased with herself.

We got home to an email from Beth saying she was on her way, so I stayed up late (for me), talking to Mom and waiting for Beth. She arrived just before eleven and we had a lot of catching up to do so we’d only just fallen asleep around midnight when there was a thump from the other side of the big attic bedroom. We thought it was June because she’d been sleeping horizontally across the bed with her legs hanging over the side, but it was Noah. I found him sitting on the floor, so disoriented he didn’t know what to do so I helped him back into bed. In the morning he had no memory of this.

At one a.m. I gave up trying to sleep in the upstairs double bed with Beth (we’re used to sleeping in a queen) and went downstairs to my bedroom. I heard movement upstairs at 6:30 and by 7:00, the kids were piled in bed with Beth and I was sitting on the edge of the bed as Beth combed mermaid hair and we planned out our last full day at the beach. She’d work in the morning, and in the afternoon, we’d make a final trip to Funland (where the kids would use up the last of the 88 tickets we bought over the course of the week and Noah would ride the Freefall with Beth watching) and we’d have pizza at Grotto’s. Beth couldn’t stop smiling at us. It was good to have her back. She’s the one that I want with me, rain or shine.