I went to the beach a few days ago in the middle of the week, all by myself. (Don't hate me. I can't help it if I live in Miami.) Anyway, no sooner had I planted my little beach chair in the sand under the shade of a palm tree, placed my single chilled water bottle in the canvas cup-holder, and opened a book to read, than a young mother and her three children descended upon the very same stretch of shoreline that only moments earlier I had enjoyed all to myself. Drat.
My peaceful reverie having been permanently squashed, there was no point in trying to concentrate on my book, so I put it away entirely and turned my attention to the spectacle that was unfolding just a scant ten yards from where I sat.
You wouldn't believe what this woman had brought along for a half-day outing. Honestly, the Joads themselves didn't pile this much junk on the truck when they headed off to California in "The Grapes of Wrath.” There were picnic igloos and beverage coolers; umbrellas, wind tarps, beach chairs, boogie boards, "noodles”, inflatable rafts, swim floaties and life vests; blankets and towels; eight bottles of sunscreen and bug repellant; buckets, shovels and pails, Frisbees and kites, and even a paperback novel (what an optimist!)
As I watched her spread her wares out all over the beach, I began sort of taking a silent inventory of her stuff and running a little checklist of my own. Where were the dry clothes for the car ride home? Was there an extra Lunchable for the kid who dropped his in the sand? What about hand sanitizer? Did she remember to bring along some meat tenderizer, just in case somebody got stung by a jellyfish?
Next, as if signing on as her virtual supply officer wasn't bad enough, I started counting heads – you know, the way you subconsciously do when your children scatter to play in a park, or splash in a pool, and certainly to swim in the ocean. Only these weren't my heads to count. I didn't even know these kids! What's more, this mother seemed perfectly capable of keeping track of her own brood. She certainly didn't need me double-teaming her from thirty feet away. I was supposed to be enjoying a relaxing trip to the beach. Why on earth was I doing this?
The answer is simple. I was doing it because I'm a Mom, and as anybody who's ever been one will tell you – once that "Mom Button” is switched on, it's almost impossible to turn it off! Let me give you a couple of examples of what I mean.
Say you're driving along in your car, and have to make a sudden stop. Does your right arm instinctively swing over to brace whoever's riding in the passenger seat – even when there's NOBODY sitting there? If so, your Mom Button is still on.
When you hear a child call out "Mommy” in the mall, do your ears perk up like a deer on the first day of hunting season, despite the fact that your own children are in their thirties and living fifteen hundred miles away? It's that pesky Mom Button again.
Have you ever watched the icy glares directed at a young mother as she boards your plane with two screaming toddlers in tow, and genuinely felt sorry for the poor girl? Chalk it up to your Mom Button. On the other hand, if you found yourself truly longing to be in her shoes again, then I only have one thing to say: You must be some kind of a nut!
The only thing crazier than a person yearning to endure the torture of a six-hour nonstop flight with fussy toddlers, is a person who would elect to remain seated in close proximity to three wild little hooligans running amuck on Miami Beach.
Personally I wouldn't know anything about that. Remember the family that invaded my patch of sand? Well within minutes of their arrival I had stopped counting unfamiliar little heads, picked up my beach chair, and moved it down the shoreline – and by the time the very first Lunchable was doled out, I was half a mile away, sitting under the shade of a different palm tree, peacefully engrossed in my novel, sipping cold water with my sunglasses on – and my Mom Button turned completely off.
Actually, that's not entirely true. It was sort of on mute. After all, I did have my cell phone in my lap, you know, just in case one of my own kids should call...