Beach House Diaries: The Kids are Alright

Posted Aug 22nd 2013 11:00 AMUpdated Aug 22nd 2013 02:16 PM

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girls mud facials
Susan MacCallum-Whitcomb

By this point in the summer I am so relaxed that I'm virtually comatose, yet the impending arrival of grade-school guests is enough to push my reset button. Part of the reason I slip back into an A-type frame of mind is that I'm concerned for the young ones' wellbeing. I fear underactive Xbox addicts and TV junkies may be pushed over sanity's edge on this off-the-grid island. On the other hand, I fear that overactive kids (like overactive adults) might unwittingly put themselves in harm's way, considering that my beach house has poison ivy to tumble into, highs bluffs to trip off of, boats to tip over... you get the picture.


My hubby's usual response is "don't worry, everything will be fine" and, much as I hate to say it, he's right. Looking back at the years when my own kids were small, I managed to keep any risk takers in line with the single tool in my parenting arsenal: "the Susan Look," a pair of raised eyebrows that simultaneously signals disapproval and disappointment. As for the rest, occupying them proved unexpectedly simple.

Little tykes, after all, can spend hours crouching over tidal pools watching hermit crab races or scanning the beach for sand dollars and seashells. Once, my friend Mary's three young sons spent an entire day digging a hole in the sand. (Sure, it was a hole of unprecedented proportions, but a plain hole nonetheless.) Meanwhile, back at the beach house, my son was amusing himself playing a game of his own invention called "wall ball," which involved moronically whacking a ball against a wall. On those rare occasions when more resourcefulness was needed, we could easily draw on the island's raw materials.

The signature red clay here, for instance, has frequently come in handy. When my daughter was tiny, she'd mold figurines out of it and sit patiently as they baked hard in the hot sun. Later, she and her friends developed a taste for spa treatments -- exfoliating clay facials to be exact -- which involved having their faces slathered with the gritty, mineral-rich goo, waiting for it to dry, then scrubbing it off with wedges of lemon that would otherwise have been swimming in my gin and tonic. The process did leave their skin baby soft. Then again, that might have been because the girls were practically babies themselves.

Even wet days went by smoothly: books would be read, board games played, and card tricks practiced as the rhythmic pounding of rain on the tin roof provided a soothing soundtrack. (Lest this seem too much like a sappy made-for-TV movie, I should add that kids would torment each other too; however, by pretending to nap I could ignore the squabbles.) Evenings were better still since s'more-making and star-gazing sessions -- perhaps punctuated by a firefly hunt -- are what beach house dreams are made of.

With friends and cousins clustered around, we'd often cap the night with a talent show, though our signature acts were of uneven quality. My husband's -- making a tumbler of scotch disappear -- was impressive. Ditto for my nieces' dazzling dance moves. But the same couldn't be said for my attempts to make shadow puppets or, worse yet, finger puppets from discarded lobster shells. My son's glam rock routine (complete with zebra-striped leggings) and my daughter's "drunken granny" monologue (an odd choice given her grandmother is a teetotaler) wouldn't have landed them on America's Got Talent either.

Ultimately it didn't matter because I believe any "homemade" entertainment is good entertainment -- well, anything except those scary, flashlight-in-the-face stories that are a fireside staple elsewhere. I know my personal aversion to them is silly. I mean, really: I summer on a Lilliputian island. It's not as if some chainsaw-toting maniac wearing a hockey mask can hop on the ferry unnoticed. And what's he going to do once he arrives? Cut my non-existent electrical lines? Even zombies aren't a threat in my neck of the woods. Anyone who saw World War Z knows Brad Pitt chose Nova Scotia as his family's safe zone.

So I guess what my ban on terrifying tales boils down to is this: humble as it is, the Pictou Island beach house represents my Happy Place. And while I may be powerless to protect children by keeping all bad things at bay in the world beyond it, here, at least, I am entitled to try.

<<Previous Week: The Call of the Wild
Beach House Diaries Home

Each week writer Susan MacCallum-Whitcomb will report on summer beach house life from her vacation home on Pictou Island, Nova Scotia. Follow along for a glimpse of the shore, plus tips on what to pack, how to entertain guests and how to relax at your own beach house.
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Filed Under: Beach, Family

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