I have romantic images of family beach vacations swimming in my head. My siblings and I would play pretend in the dune grasses and find sand dollars at low tide. We would ride our bikes down to the village for ice cream, and at least once every trip we would go in to the city to buy saltwater taffy and seafoam—that crackling, airy, sugary delight—dipped in chocolate.
The Instagram filter of my childhood ocean vacations is sutro, that one where the colors are faded but deepened, brightest in the middle and soft around the edges.
Now it’s my turn to immerse my children in the salt-water sweetness of the Oregon Coast.
I had images of the boys in bathing suits with ice cream melting down their faces in my mind as I loaded up the car with our supplies and the used bike-trailer-stroller that would wheel everything down to the sand for 4th of July week.
But, as many of you already know, gremlins may turn psychotic when removed from their normal routines and surroundings. They snatch candy from holiday parades and hide it in secret corners of hotel rooms. They scream and yell and claw at you when you are helping them make memories, and instead of napping they may rearrange furniture to create launch pads to hurtle themselves onto beds.
Once after college I spent a summer in Houston and went to the beach at Galveston for the day with friends. I looked on derisively as beat-up minivans backed onto the sand close to the water, then unlatched their trunks–giant coolers, cases of soda, children, and boom boxes tumbling out.
This was not the classy, eclectic magic of the Pacific. This was an anarchist explosion on the shore. I was happy to leave those trashy images behind.
Oh karma, you beautiful beast.
Ten years later I am unlatching the Velcro of my hand-me-down bike-trailer-stroller and letting coolers filled with pepperoni and beer tumble out, setting up a Bedouin tent city for our assault on the beach, camp chairs and a giant shade umbrella anchoring the set-up, a $19.99 blow-up boat and a garage-sale kite keeping company nearby.
Each day we would shove our bike-buggy near the freshwater creek heading to the ocean, just far enough off the beach path so that others could get by on their way to long, romantic walks. We weren’t ambitious enough to turn the corner to where we could see the waves. Instead we looked across at our hotel, where we could run to when we had forgotten a bottle opener, or a gremlin needed to use the bathroom.
And the ice cream.
By the time we remembered the ice cream, the gremlins had been banned from sugar for the rest of the trip. So my mom and I snuck off during nap time and she bought cones for the two of us. We ate them on the ledge of a planter by the general store, hidden from passersby, lest our secret be exposed by a wandering family member.
The next day, it was my husband’s turn. He left to get a scoop of Tillamook marionberry pie ice cream while I stood guard back at the room.
And those were the best ice cream cones we’ve ever eaten.
I don’t mean to leave you thinking there wasn’t magic in this trip. There was. It’s just that the image I often have in my head about what something should be like is just that. It’s an image reflecting a set of expectations that may not be realistic.
I always think of Chevy Chase in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, as his romanticized holiday is going up in flames and the family is starting to jump ship: “Nobody’s walking out on this fun, old-fashioned family Christmas. No, no. We’re all in this together… We’re gonna press on, and we’re gonna have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny f*cking Kaye.”