Act 151: Share your umbrella.
This past week, I spent 5 days with 5 girlfriends (and our 9 children) on a pristine beach on the Emerald Isle of Florida. We rented a house with a spectacular view a few short steps from the ocean and our lazy, daily routine consisted of waking up, filling ourselves with coffee and our kids with eggs cooked every imaginable way, and then succumbing to the beckoning of the crashing waves. In an effort to appease the only non-sun-worshipper in the group (that would be me), for the entire week, we rented 6 beach chairs and 3 beach umbrellas that provided moms with the perfect shady, fruity-umbrella-drink-sipping respite as our offspring dug holes to China and jumped powerful waves.
We had called to make arrangements for the chair and umbrella rentals and were assured that they would be set up for us at a predetermined location with a large tag bearing our name attached to one of the chairs. On our first day we excitedly went searching for what would be our base camp for the next week, quickly found the dark blue striped umbrellas bearing the name of one of my girlfriends, and began to unload our bountiful supplies of snacks, drinks, and sunblock. Suddenly two snarky women lounging nearby approached us demanding to know where we were staying, and quickly pointed out that we were on a private, exclusive beach, and had to move immediately. They were not nice, to say the least, and they scared our children. To make a long story short, the rental company set up our base camp just a few feet beyond an imaginary private beach line and we had to move our children and our beach stash to a more permissible location. It was a somewhat humiliating experience. We were made to feel like social outcasts who were breaking some law (actually, we probably were), who were not worthy of being on this special section of the beach. It bothered us greatly for a few moments, but our discontent quickly disappeared with just a few sips of passion fruit cocktail and the infectious laughter of our kids.
Two days later my five-year old and I decided to leave the pool party back at our rental clubhouse to get an early start on the beach. As we approached our now familiar blue-striped base camp, we stopped dead in our tracks. Someone (well actually three someones) were lounging in our chairs! My son didn't miss a beat and pointed out, Mama, why are those strangers in our chairs? I forced a polite smile and plopped our belongings on one of the three remaining chairs. My son began to engage me in a water gun battle, but inside I was fuming. The audacity of these non-paying people to just welcome themselves into our chairs! I not-so-subtly began marking my territory with colorful beach towels, and speaking just loud enough for our unwelcome guests to hear: Aren't you glad we have these chairs for the entire week? The family (that looked like three generations of women, with the youngest being a cute 7-year old girl) didn't budge. They started eating their snacks in our base camp! I began to notice that the two older women - most likely the 7-year old's mother and grandmother were not speaking English. On the outside I was smiling as I helped my son build a sandcastle, but inside I was still furious. I began imagining every possible scenario to try to get rid of them, although at that point, my son and I had absolutely no use for those chairs. Should I call the rental company? Should I just tell them that they were in our chairs? And just when I was about to take action, the 7-year old girl walked over and asked if she could help us build our sandcastle. Her English was perfect. The three of us spent the next half hour talking, laughing, digging, and sculpting sand while her mother and grandmother watched us adoringly from what suddenly became our joint base camp.
I never exchanged words with the older women and before the rest of my friends made it down to the beach, the family packed up their belongings and left, causing absolutely no disturbance to our base camp or our overall beach experience that day. In fact, my son made a new friend and we had delightful help building our sand castle - something we would have missed out on entirely if I had treated these people exactly the way we hated being treated just a few days earlier. I still don't know what the family was thinking. Were they in the wrong spot? Did they think that the chairs were for public use? Was their cultural norm for beach etiquette different than ours? Whatever the reasons, it didn't really matter. What mattered is how quickly I forgot the way we were made to feel when we were kicked off an exclusive beach just two days earlier. How quickly I transformed into those two snarky women who made us feel as small as the grains of sand we were standing on. How close I was to setting a very, very sad and embarrassing example for my son about exclusivity and privilege, and basic human decency. How I almost missed an opportunity to model to my son, the beauty of welcoming others into your basecamp, and sharing your shady respite.