I’m not a huge beach person, especially now that I have four kids. By the time I load up the SUV in the morning with all the assorted child-related essential paraphernalia, from towels and wipes to buckets and diapers, I could have spent hours relaxing at home with the kids by the pool. Plus, despite how much fun we have playing in the hot midday sand, burying each other up to our necks, flirting with the surf and throwing a football, our wet and sandy exodus back to the car, loaded down with overstuffed bags, feels interminable. I know the natural beauty of the Hamptons beaches is simply unparalleled, but with all the kids in tow during the day, I never seem to see farther than the closest BPA-free, organic sunscreen bottle.
But there’s one time of the summer when going to the ocean is at the top of my list. Ever since I was a child growing up in the Hamptons, I’ve been a part of our family friends’ barbecue tradition on Georgica Beach. I have faded pictures, in decades-old photo albums, peeling off the paper boards behind plastic sleeves, of my little brother and me, dressed up in matching jeans and L.L. Bean sweaters, barefoot in the sand, smiling and laughing with our family friends. My parents sit in their crusty, metal, folded-up plaid beach chairs, drinks in hand, deep in conversation with friends, college babysitters scattered about watching all of the kids, a Billy Joel tape playing on the boom box beside them. Not only am I still in touch with many of the kids and families in the setting sun pictures, but now we’ve resumed the tradition with our own children.
On Sunday nights in July and August, about a dozen families, many second-generation Georgica barbecuegoers, come marching down the hill from the parking lot, gear in tow, to a makeshift folding table loaded down with goodies. Each week we have our assignments: pizza from Sam’s, chips and salsa, cheese from Eataly, rosé wine: a must. Bags of Tate’s cookies are tossed on the table with some optimistically placed crudités, which all the kids will ignore. The children search for sticks and wood planks to make a fire pit in the sand for after-dinner s’mores.
And then, quite simply, they frolic. These are the same kids who are routinely schlepped to chess tournaments, travel baseball games, piano lessons, even coding class. But these Sunday nights, they forget all of that. They kick a soccer ball around. They try to raise a stubborn kite. They climb up the lifeguard’s chair only to bound off it into a giant sand pile. (No broken bones so far.) They chase each other in intense rounds of tag and build an occasional sandcastle, complete with moat. They act like the kids they are, the kids they should be, not the overscheduled kids they’ve become. Their smiles are infectious, their laughs drowning out the pounding waves. And the grown-ups, just like my parents in the early ’80s, sit and chat, drinks in hand, talking to each other.
And there I am, right in the middle of it, laughing and chatting, making sure my kids are okay. My long, sun-bleached, almost-blond ponytail and tan, smooth skin from childhood have been replaced by eyes lined with crow’s feet and shoulder-length dark brown hair. (Well, a celebrity hair colorist in L.A. tried to add “natural” blond highlights recently, but honestly, I think it still looks exactly the same.) I’m approaching a milestone birthday (you do the math) and recently got divorced. Life hasn’t exactly played out the way I thought it would, back when I was the one frolicking in the waves. Some things have exceeded my wildest dreams, like my amazing, beautiful children, and my blessed, entirely undeserved lifestyle, while others, like my career perhaps, haven’t turned out exactly as I’d hoped. At least, not yet.
But despite it all, the ups and downs, the losses and loves, the illnesses and challenges that everyone in the group has faced, we’re still there, week after week, sunset after sunset, s’more after s’more, weathering it all together. And for that, I am beyond grateful. We might not all be best friends, but we’re in it together. Making it through. Finding joy in the smallest details, the simplest pleasures, our children growing up together, just like we did.
So this summer, even though I’ll only have the kids every other Sunday night, I’ll look forward to every single barbecue I can attend. After all, it’s not really so different from when I was young. Billy Joel is still playing at Madison Square Garden. The conversations are similar. But my friends and I have taken the place of our (somewhat) aging parents for the time being, enjoying our moment at the beach as “the grown-ups” until our kids, the next group, displace us too with their own broods. I only pray I’ll be around to pull out my digital photos from these summers and remind my kids of their happy place, how simple it all was. Our spot in the sand. Our moment in the sun. Overflowing with love. Knowing how soon it will all end. Relishing every minute. Even the sandy exoduses at the end of the night. Blessed to be on Georgica Beach on Sunday nights. Year after year. For the longest time. ✦
Photos by Zibby Schwarzman