I miss my beach. When my children were growing up, we went to Manresa Beach during the first week in August each year as our beloved family vacation. We stayed in Kamping Kabins (because KOA has apparently misplaced the letter “C”) at the Santa Cruz KOA located one mile from the beach. This simple, low-budget vacation was our slice of heaven. Even now, after my children have grown and left home, I often make the trek to Manresa in August for a visit to our beach. Sometimes I take someone with me and sometimes I go by myself, which is fine with me. Manresa provides all the company I need. I travel so much lighter by myself. In days of yore, when I traveled with my children and their friends, I packed for the apocalypse. Anyone who has gone camping with teenagers can relate. A trip to Manresa on my own is a far cry from the major production number this jaunt once was.
Even though the Santa Cruz KOA and Manresa are technically in Watsonville, not Santa Cruz, we always referred to our annual vacation as “Going to Santa Cruz.” The way we talked about it all year long, you would think we were planning a five-star tour of the Caribbean or something exceptionally exotic. My children were overjoyed to get new beach towels at Christmas “for Santa Cruz.” They saved their allowance for weeks to spend “at Santa Cruz.” In the cold, dark days of winter, they reminisced about “Santa Cruz,” and when summer arrived they started to voice their plans “for Santa Cruz” that year. They pondered which friend to invite to “go to Santa Cruz” with them. They could each invite one friend along. That is, until they were teenagers and driving, and then they could bring as many friends as they could cram into whatever car they drove. We stacked the young folks up in Kamping Kabins (no “C” in sight) and packed in more food. Lots more food. Mountains of food. We were the Grand Tetons of food.
I spent acres of time before and during the “going to Santa Cruz” managing food. When you toss growing youngsters out in the fresh air in proximity to the ocean, they perfect the art of appetite. This is not rocket science. This is the Bagel and Cream Cheese Law of Growing Children. At the best of times, they eat anything not nailed down. At the beach they eat everything nailed down as well. Teenagers at the beach are equivalent to a plague of locusts of biblical proportions when in the vicinity of food. They have a bear’s ardor for a cooler. They never complained about carrying all that food onto the beach from the car. But I had to buy the food, transport the food to the KOA, prep the food (translation: sandwiches, chopped vegetables and watermelon, etc.), pack the food into the coolers, and estimate the volume and variety necessary. I did not wish to have to leave the beach mid-afternoon because I ran out of corn chips.
We could always punt when it came to dinner at Santa Cruz since this meal was easily foraged at a nearby restaurant. In those days, lucky for my children, I had not yet become a nutritionist, so breakfast was three tons of bagels and a gallon of cream cheese. Easy-peasy. It was the beach food needed to last all day long that kept me on my toes. And then, after dark, around the campfire, we resorted to the legendary, the prototypical, the incomparable s’mores. Graham crackers, chocolate, and fire-roasted marshmallows. Today I could not be prevailed upon to feed a child a marshmallow, and I ask forgiveness for ever having done so. I shudder to think what they put in those things. I imagine they contain refined white heart-attack sugar, pulverized pig hooves, genetically altered cornstarch (does corn really need eyeballs?), bleach, six exciting toxic chemical compounds cooked up in a former meth lab on the planet Zordac, and exhausted sofa cushions. (Or should I say kemikal kompounds and sofa kushions?) You can see that my children were extraordinarily lucky that I did not have time to study nutrition while I was raising them. They ate marshmallows in their s’mores summer after summer around the KOA kampfire. But I digress. This is part of the hazard of marshmallows.
Food aside, it was a crap shoot for me to figure out what might be desperately needed on the beach that I could miraculously produce from my beach bag on demand. The children’s amazement when I had just the thing they needed was my reward for bringing every conceivable object of everyday use with me. I have overheard them over the years speaking about it.
“She actually had surf wax in her bag.”
“So we got the kite back in the air because, go figure, Mom had masking tape, string, scissors, a stapler, and wire cutters in her bag.”
“Mom remembered the Frisbee. Horseshoes. Badminton rackets. Dictionary. Cards. Buckets. Shovel suitable for digging a hole to China.”
“Thank goodness she brought a spare sweatshirt. Sunscreen. Swiss Army Knife. Batteries. Hair tie. Binoculars. Bra. Shop vac. Sandpaper. Lactating goat.”
“And then, you would not believe this, but, she had a dehydrated helicopter in a Ziploc bag in the bottom of the cooler and she gave it to the lifeguard who added water and used it to rescue the drowning boy.”
I challenge you to be as prepared as I was every day on Manresa. I could have aced a job at NASA after just two years of prepping for a day at Manresa with my children and their buddies. But I don’t think NASA can fully appreciate the genius inherent in the job title “Beach Mom.” They have no idea how difficult it is to maintain teenagers at the beach for an afternoon, particularly without the availability of the letter “C.” (Khips anyone?) Someone please tell this to Kampsites of Amerika.
Our pilgrimage to Manresa had so many aspects, so many dimensions, and the vacation evolved over the years as the children grew and changed. We had our Santa Cruz traditions and we also did new and different things from one year to the next. At one point in time the dolphins began appearing in the surf near the shore, and so we began to watch for them eagerly and were never disappointed. Every year we spent an evening at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk where the whole gang played Laser Tag while I babysat the mound of jackets, handbags, hats, cameras, phones, and backpacks. Strangers would stop and ask me for a price on something, thinking I was a street vendor. One year we drove south to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. That was back when I admired the beauty of kelp gardens (no really, not celp gardens) without imagining how they would taste (with my nutritionist’s appetite for seaweed). Each year our vacation was different, but the one constant was the beach.
Always the beach. Building sandcastles, only to watch them lapped up by the water when the tide came in. Long walks on the edge of the surf. Finding sand dollars. Flying kites. Reading, playing cards, napping lazily. Chatting with my children and their friends so that I learned about the lives of these young people in great detail. In truth, I have ever depended on the ocean to give me pause for reflection, to bring me back to my true self, and to help me chart my course for the years ahead. This week, in the long, hot days of August, I imagine myself at Manresa. This is the week that we were usually there. How did I let the summer slip by without making the trek? Resolve: I will find a time in the coming months to run away to Manresa for restoration and renewal. Full speed ahead, and don’t spare the marshmallows.
View of my beloved Manresa Beach.