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The Jolly Rancher: Back to the  (dreaded) beach

When living in a place like Lakewood Ranch, it can be easy to take things for granted. But taking the beach for granted is a special Floridian privilege.

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  • | 2:20 p.m. May 20, 2021
  • East County
  • LWR Life
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ur house came with a pool. We weren’t really looking for a house with a pool, but it seems like it’s harder to find a house without a pool in Lakewood Ranch than one without a useless palm tree or a glass front door. Because who doesn’t love making awkward eye contact with the Amazon delivery driver twice a day while roaming the house disheveled? And yes, I realize the palm tree is there by regulation — to make our friends up north feel bad about their life choices — but there are many better ways of doing that while also having a tree that provides shade or fruit or doing literally anything besides being a maintenance nightmare. 

In any case, we ended up with a pool, though, much like the palm tree, it is also mostly there for spite. It’s not long enough to swim laps in, deep enough to dive into or warm enough to use most of the year — and it certainly also is a maintenance nightmare. But there is one thing it actually turned out to be good for, and that is to burn the kids’ copious energy reserves in the summer, in a way that doesn’t involve us all melting into the asphalt. 

It’s still a lot more work than just letting them play in the yard or even going to the playground. You have to dig up swimsuits; apply sunscreen; inflate a dozen things per kid; keep the toddler from eating the pool noodles and guzzling pool water; put on, take off, tighten or loosen goggles every 10 minutes; entertain empty promises of really cool water tricks; replace broken pool toys; rinse the pool water off at the end; and then spend 20 minutes fishing all the stuff out of the water and putting it all back in the bin. 

Right now you might be thinking, “Didn’t he say it turned out to be good?” Very perceptive, intrepid reader! Because as much work as all of that is, it’s still much, much preferable to the dreaded beach day. 

Most of us who have grown up in Florida think of the beach the way New Yorkers think of the Statue of Liberty: It’s something we take visitors from far away to see because we’ve been a thousand times, we still see it more than you need to, and it’s a whole thing to get there. The problem is that, as a parent to small kids, I actually live with those far-away visitors. They haven’t grown up here yet, they think the floury white sand and gentle waves are the coolest things in the world, and they want to go any time the subject comes up. Inexplicably, so does their mother, who has literally spent her entire life in Florida and basically grew up at the beach. 

And so it came to pass that a majority of our family — the faction not responsible for logistics — has passed a binding resolution to make a pilgrimage to Siesta Key not less than once a month, for the entire duration of the off-season. At first, it started out simple: bringing a couple towels and toys and water bottles in a bag, staying for a while and coming home. And then spending the next week getting the sand out of the car and all manner of other surprising places. But the beach is — contrary to some real estate agents’ claims — an astonishing 40 minutes from the Ranch. It is literally faster to get to downtown St. Petersburg than it is to Siesta, and Lido and Anna Maria aren’t any faster — and certainly not better. 

It then follows that a calculus was made to see what length stay would make that magnitude of round trip worth it, and the consensus was at least two hours. But you can’t spend that much time there with just some toys and water. The excursion has graduated to a whole other level. You need shade and sunscreen and more toys and a cooler filled with juice and snacks. We bought a Sport-brella, which actually is really cool and makes for a neat half-tent kind of thing, but it is big. For a while, I was loaded up like a pack animal from the parking lot to the water, umbrella strapped to my chest, some cumbersome water contraption in one hand, a couple bags on the shoulder, a cooler in the other hand, feet sinking from the weight on the long trek across the dunes.

Then I wised up and started cramming the kids’ Radio Flyer into the trunk, so I could put all the stuff in it — and it was an improvement for sure, but boy, do those wheels not turn in the fine white sand. The next summer, I saw someone with a wagon that was actually made for the beach, with all-terrain wheels and collapsible to actually fit in the trunk easily. I ordered one as soon as I got home, and I still remember my tears of joy seeing the delivery driver through the glass door when it arrived. 

Since then, I’ve also realized that none of us really lies on the beach towels or under the umbrella because all the kids want to do is swim or play at the water’s edge, so I started bringing foldable beach chairs instead, all packed neatly in the beach wagon with the cooler and toys and goggles and nets and boards. It takes awhile to load and unload it all twice, and I get home at noon thoroughly exhausted, but it’s all worth it knowing that someday, not too far in the future, my kids will also take the beach for granted.