simple stuff: beach toys.

August 17, 2023


By all accounts, we have not had a terribly spendy summer. Staying almost entirely out of the city means that the usual slow-drip from our wallets directly into those of ice cream and iced coffee and bagel vendors has largely been staunched. Instead of, on steamy walks home from the park, caving and ducking into a neighborhood restaurant for a dinner, we’ve mostly eaten at home. The few dates James and I have gone on have been heavily subsidized by free babysitting from grandparents. James was Calder’s primary companion this summer and small town summer camp, though still a major expense, has felt feasible this summer in a way it hasn’t ever felt back home. And yet, as August lingers and the weeks left until school starts continue to stretch before us, I’m noticing a certain kind of buyerly impulse burbling up.

What is that? The lure of the back-to-school bonanza? A promise of endless-summer shopping spree? Is it the fact that I’m currently solo-ing here in Connecticut with two kids while James solos with the other back in Brooklyn? Is it that old impulse to believe that maybe a purchase could make things just a little easier, make up for the deficit in organized activities and comprehensive childcare? (See also: a blow-up pool. See also: a kids’ kayak.)

After weeks of hot sun and hotter sand, the thirty-year-old beach toys I defended at the beginning of the summer have started to crack under the strain of heavy play. The buckets have sprung leaks, the sand molds—little used in the first place—have splintered.

The best beach toy is no beach toy, I say. Use your hands! I show my kids how to dribble the wet sand between their fingers until they’ve recreated Gaudi’s cathedral in miniature, studded with mussel shells and seaweed. I show them how to use the end of a whelk shell to carve lines in the wet sand, how to stack lengths of driftwood into drawbridges and barricades.


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