A Scary Day at the Beach

The following intro on Wild Sensibility’s latest post made me think immediately of the beach. Granted, the beach is an odd thing to think about in the middle of December when I have to cover my rosemary every night so it doesn’t get too cold. But we do not always control the meanderings of the mind. Especially when they get a little direction.

If you spend time in the outdoors, eventually something will go wrong. It’s a law of nature. But if you survive, those epic failures become the best stories! We’ve all read about amazing accomplishments in the wild, but now it’s time to tell us about the not-so-great times and what you learned from them. Share your best #EpicTrailFail stories on your own page, include this paragraph as a header, and then provide a link in the comments here or here. We’ll curate and circulate the best stories in future posts. We can’t wait to read about what you’ve survived!
Arionis of Just A Small Cog and Rebecca of Wild Sensibility.

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Water and sand and play and sun.

The beach is supposed to be just plain fun.

How it almost turned deathly I cringe to recall.

What you must understand is that Sand Can Fall.

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I take you to the public beach in Boca Raton, Florida, where I in my young(er) and stupid(er) days brought three of my boys and had a terrible scare.

The key to understanding this situation is twofold.

  1. I am not a beach person, meaning I have not spent loads of time at beaches, which is to say I am unfamiliar with some of the inherent issues one finds at beaches which other people, less ignorant, would know from experience to be careful of.
  2. This particular beach was structured oddly. Normally a beach is flat and you walk on the sand straight into the water. The level of the sand sometimes drops off (sometimes considerably) when you venture a bit into the water, but normally it’s an easy, flat, level walk from your parked car to where you can get your toes wet.

Not in Boca.

There, for reasons I do not understand, the level of the sand drops off just before the sand meets the water, meaning you have to hop down if water is your goal. Likely this has to do with whether it’s high tide or low tide, but after this incident I admit I did not take time to look into it. I was too busy having heart palpitations.

A cross section looks something like this. At least in my still-trembling memory it looks like this.


It is not a big drop off. Maybe it wasn’t even that high. Maybe that’s just how I remember it in my nightmares. For my boys – Lincoln was about 10 and Bradley was 12 (and Samuel was too young to take part) – it was a great, fun jump, then a simple climb back up. Jump. Climb. Jump. Climb. In between splash around a bit. I was on the upper level, paying attention. So I thought.

They got tired of this jumping-and-climbing game and decided to dig. Wouldn’t it be fun to dig a tunnel from the bottom up and from the top down – at about a 45-degree angle – and wiggle through it? It wasn’t a long tunnel, maybe just a bit longer than my boys were tall. And the sand, being close to the water as it was, had enough moisture in it to hold the tunnel shape, like a sandcastle does until a wave washes over it. So I thought.

Then okay. Tunnel built. Lincoln crawled through. Triumph! Smiles, bravo, do it again.

beach tunnel (3)2mp.jpg

Lincoln is small, thin, agile, lithe. Always was.

Bradley’s turn. Bradley at age 12 had what you could call heft. He was a “big boy” – other descriptors include solid, wider than thin, robust.

You would surely see/anticipate/fear what I did not. The inner walls of the tunnel were likely compromised by Lincoln having gone through first. Plus, Bradley’s style of movement was more bull-in-a-china-shop than graceful or careful or any other style that might have prevented those tunnel walls from caving in.

In they caved indeed, with Bradley smack in the middle – no feet to be seen. No head!

Good God, he can’t breathe in there!

Now who was digging?! The foolish mother who let this happen, that’s who! Lincoln helped, as did a blessed bystander or two. It did not take long to uncover his face but it felt like eternity. Bradley was fine after gasping a breath or two, unfazed, emerging enthusiastically not unlike a jack-in-the-box. He jumped in the water to clean all the sand out of his hair and ears and played until we left as if nothing happened. A moratorium was called on tunnel-building though.

These are the moments a mother relives ad infinitum with a great deal of chiding and self-flagellation. Like Kennedy after the Bay of Pigs fiasco, I asked myself a gazillion times How could I have been so stupid? How could I have been so stupid?

Bradley always had an adventurous spirit. He loved skiing, having grown up in Vermont next to Smuggs and Stowe. He watched Warren Miller films – the ones showing crazy skiers in settings both gorgeous and treacherous – thinking Those guys are awesome rather than Those guys are crazy. He worked at Alta ski resort in Utah one winter just to be able to ski on his time off. You know, triple-black-diamond, around-the-trees-down-the-steepest-slopes kind of stuff. When he was about 20 he traveled for six months with his best friend Tim to southeast Asia, Fiji, Australia, New Zealand. They worked some, played a lot, tried to spear poisonous fish (perhaps succeeded), sent photos designed to unnerve me – Brad with a full beard on a park bench somewhere in Sydney holding a sign that said Will Work For Food comes to mind.

I never forgot the beach day though. Some years later while reviewing my parenting missteps (everyone does that, right?) I took the rap (should have been smarter, should have anticipated the tunnel collapse, etc.) and added, “Bradley, I think that’s as close as you’ve ever come to death.”

“Well, Mom,” he began, about to (I could tell) give me other, better examples of events that had nothing whatever to do with me – possibly an effort to relieve my guilt – events that made the day on the beach look like a walk in the park.

“I don’t wanna hear about it,” I said firmly.

As if I need more mental images of near-death that include any of my children. As if I need any mental images of near-death. But I know that danger is a part of every adventure, and I thank God we get through most of them unscathed. What lessons did I take away from Tunnel Terror? Nothing I didn’t know before. But all worth remembering.

  1. Sand falls. It is an unstable substance despite how solid it might look.
  2. Children do not have the best judgment sometimes. They forge ahead with no clue as to possible unwanted repercussions.
  3. Adults do not have the best judgment sometimes. They fail to anticipate possible unfortunate consequences.
  4. Life is precious. A death or near-death event (no matter whose, so long as we know the person) is one of the best reminders of how much we love the people we love, how much we cherish our time with them, how much the world would not be the same without them.
  5. We all do the best we can. Distractions, missteps, fatigue, confusion, fear and a multitude of other factors all complicate the picture, all color the diligent attentiveness and sound decision-making and responsible actions we want to think are ever-present, ever-applied. We’re just not perfect. We can’t know every risk, can’t stop every bad, can’t fix every hurt. We can just love each other, protect each other, forgive each other and deal with whatever life throws at us, each day, every day, as best as we can. That’s a tall enough order, I’d say.

4 thoughts on “A Scary Day at the Beach

  1. Whoa. Great story, knowing all ended well, but wow, I can imagine the racing heart and screaming internal voice as you dug and dug until you found Bradley’s head and he could breath again! While that was a closer call than you could have imagined, I say kudos to parents like you who let their kids test themselves and their ideas, as that’s where skill and confidence begins and builds. Clearly Bradley turned into a confident adult, and that reflects well on you. Thanks for contributing to our #epictrailfails collection!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Confident is a very good word to describe Bradley, yes! Thank you for your kind words. There are so many ways to look at parenting – I can only hope that when all is said and done, my children will be pleased with mine :). One of the most common phrases heard in the house was “You’ll figure it out.” Pretty much describes life, right? We just have to figure it out 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank goodness everything turned out okay. You shouldn’t blame yourself. Parents can’t know foresee everything that might happen. I know that I never would have thought about the possibility that the sand might cave in. At least you were nearby so you could dig him out – and sound the alarm so that others could help.


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