Bittersweet Summer

(This essay originally appeared in Main Line Today magazine.)

There comes a time every summer when you finally get your well-deserved week at the Jersey shore. You’ve managed to squeeze a week in between sports, dance, sleep-away, and tennis camps and the beginning of school. Your packed and overloaded family car resembles a suburban version of the Beverly Hillbillies as you careen joyously into Avalon or Stone Harbor or Ocean City, the entire family singing along to the soundtrack of The Sound of Music. Summer vacation is here at last – the kids have no scheduled activities, you and your husband have coordinated a week off, and the sun is shimmering benevolently over the Boardwalk. Aahh, the dog days of summer…

Fast forward one week. You never noticed it before but it is quite possible that you are the only truly sane, normal person in your family. How this fact has eluded you when you have lived with these people for decades is a mystery. You start thinking that maybe, just maybe, it is time to go home. If you have experienced any of the following phenomena, then perhaps you truly have been at the Jersey shore too long.
…When you take off your bathing suit top after a day at the beach, powdered sugar donut crumbs fall out.
…Cocktail hour keeps getting moved up a half-hour each day.
…The Fun Zone has become your major cultural destination.
…Your family’s four food groups are now caramel corn, funnel cakes, hot dog on a stick, and frozen custard.
…You or someone in your family has started to resemble one of the following: the old lady in the movie There’s Something About Mary, Tony Soprano’s long lost brother Vinny, or someone in Britney Spears’ family.
…The cheap cigars the guy next to you on the beach smokes start to smell good.
…Your idea of good, mind-expanding literature becomes limited to Danielle Steel, Nora Roberts, and the cheap paperback mysteries with brittle yellowing pages you find in the place you rented.
…You begin to think it’s normal to do four hundred loads of wash in a week.
…Your days become more influenced by the tide times rather than real time.
…You begin to reflect that maybe your own relatives aren’t really as weird as you once thought, at least not by New Jersey standards.
…You start looking forward to a rousing, competitive game of miniature golf, and ruthlessly try to beat your ten year-old, making him cry.
…You find yourself outside Mallon’s Bakery at 6:59 a.m., your hands shaking. Must have sticky buns, must have sticky buns.
…You realize that soon your rear end will need its own zip code.
…Decorating the outdoors with flags designating your school and nationality suddenly seems like a really festive and meaningful decorating concept.
…Deep fried broccoli starts to make sense.
Of course, time at the shore doesn’t last forever, and before you know it, you are re-packing the car. (Didn’t all this stuff fit in here when we came down?) You glance longingly out the window at the last fudge shop, the glittering Atlantic now in your rear view mirror. The car is suddenly quiet – no one is singing. You are all thinking your own private vacation thoughts. You still have sand between your toes. Your one thought now that it is over is – I can’t wait until we come back.

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