“Let’s have a mud fight,” Andrew said.
“Yes, Papa,” agreed 3-year-old cousin Nora.
My hands were tied, but they wouldn’t be for long. To say “no” would be like not digging for sand crabs or gathering sand dollars. Is there is a greater pleasure for a child than pelting an adult with a mixture of mud, tiny clamshells and the occasional sand crab?
Recently, we went to the beach. Like many people from the Valley, we are drawn to the same place every year because it is both a repository of old memories and a place fertile enough to make new ones.
Del Mar is our spot, but where you go doesn’t matter only that it has sand, water and waves crashing, ocean music.
There is nothing better than the beach for big kids and small ones. Rules don’t apply. Inland rules. On the beach, freedom rules.
The ocean has its own rules: Go out too far and get thrashed by the white water. Forget to shuffle in the shallow water and risk getting stung by a stingray. It’s simple.
“No hitting people as they walk by,” I said in an effort to spare innocent beach walkers a mud pie sandwich as well as to reassure parents that an adult was nominally in charge.
Close-in, hand-to-hand combat soon gave way to drifting down the beach in search for better sand, wetter sand. Fifty yards, 75, how far would the children go? Then, as if on cue, they turned around as if to say, it’s time to return to the fight, Tommy Bahama beach chairs and snacks in the new, blue pop-up tent.
The pop-up tent. Made to seem so easily popped up in the instructions and the photo on the outside of the box but cause for consternation the first four times it is erected. Would it kill the tent companies to include a second bag that is twice as big as the first bag the tent comes in?
Not that the 4- and 3-year-old care because they don’t. Their time is coming but that time is not now.
What matters is the snack that includes Cheez-Its, Fig Newtons and sliced strawberries.
After the snack, they drag the boogie board to the water's edge. Neither is ready to ride a wave and they resist all suggestions to do so. They want to play the way they want to play and right now playing means standing on the board and let the onrushing wave, if it is strong enough, lift them off the sand.
When liftoff occurs, there is squealing, laughing and screaming.
No rules against squealing, screaming and laughing. Not now. Not with nominal adult supervision.
They play for hours. They could play for days. This is better than lunch, dinner and bedtime. Better than growing up and all the stuff that comes with it.
The next morning the wind blew from the south. You could see it in the tops of the tall palms. You could see it in the steady lap of the waves leaning north.
With wind comes change. Change of weather. Change of seasons. This season, the little ones are 4, 3 and 2.
Soon they will walk farther down the beach. Past the point, past the last lifeguard tower and past the crumbling cliffs. Past where they can hear instructions from well meaning parents but parents nonetheless.
Change seems to unfold over the years, but it doesn’t. It happens in a minute, a season, a summer. One day, they will be packing snacks, dragging the chairs through the warm sand and putting up the tent.
They will have their own mud fight. One with wet sand mixed with broken clam shells and pebbles from across the sea. Granted one wish, it would be this. May this mud fight never end.