15 February 2006

At The Beach

I was sitting quietly, reflecting on why children seem constitutionally incapable of going in or near large bodies of water without screeching at the top of their lungs, when a small boy let loose with a horrendous scream that made the normal hubbub sound like sotto voce library whispers. It wasn't a brief scream, either; in fact, it kept on and on, until nearly everyone at the beach was craning their neck to see what kind of torture could possibly be going on.

A young mother, it turned out, had decided it was time to introduce her three year old to the joys of splashing about in the water on a sunny day. Unfortunately, she had failed to consult with Junior as to his opinion about this enterprise, and Junior was loudly and firmly letting her know that he was not in favour of it.

"Come on," she urged, "it's nice and cool and refreshing." If he knew what these words meant, he showed no sign of being enticed by them; as she tried to drag him into the water, he kicked and punched at her, screaming all the while. The further she managed to immerse him in the water, the louder and more violent he got. "Lady," I desperately wanted to tell her, "you're going to make some psychiatrist a rich man one day."

Despite her best efforts, she still hadn't got the poor kid more than halfway submerged when its vile and fat older sister waded in to help. She held the little boy's arms so he couldn't move, laughing at him all the while, while the mother scooped up some water with her hands and splashed it over his his head. "There, isn't that nice?" she cooed. The poor kid broke the sound barrier at that point, and it was all I could do to restrain myself from smacking both mother and sister in the mouth.

I realise that this is not the healthiest reaction, but it just brought up too many painful memories of my own childhood, of adults telling me, "You're really going to like this," or "This will be really good for you," or "Isn't this fun?" when I had done everything in my power to let them know that I didn't like it, didn't care if it was good for me, and wanted nothing to do with their idea of fun. I used to think that maybe it was because I was too inhibited and didn't scream and shout loud enough, but this kid, who had dwarfed any of my childhood noisemaking efforts, had just proved that it doesn't matter how much you protest: there will always be some grownup who thinks he or she knows better.

Ironically, when sadistic mum and sis finally grew bored of torturing the child and set him down on the sand, he crawled off into the water on his own, to explore it at his own pace. He was happily splashing about, but of course the evil duo couldn't leave well enough alone. "See, I told you the water was nice, didn't I," said Mum as she tried to drag him out to sea again and he burst into tears. Sis threw water at him to complete the miserable spectacle.

As I say, I probably have issues about this particular sort of thing, something which was brought home to me a bit later as I watched the couple sitting on the blanket next to me. Without saying a word, without asking or telling, the woman picked up the bottle of sunscreen and began slathering it up and down her partner's legs and back. He lay there passively, not complaining, but not exactly expressing gratitude or joy, either.

Now I know you'll say it's none of my business, and you'd be right, but it still bothered me. I mean, if the guy was a child, his mother would be perfectly right to put sunscreen on him whether he wanted it or not, either that or take him into the shade. Skin cancer is a very serious issue in Australia, and young children are especially vulnerable.

But this guy was not a child, he was a grown man, and the woman was not his mother, she was obviously his girlfriend or wife. On one hand, I could think, "Isn't that lovely? They're so close and so understanding of each other's needs that no one even has to say anything; she just notices that he needs more sunscreen and puts it on him without waiting to be asked." On the other hand, it made my flesh crawl; it reminded me of when mothers spit on their handkerchief and start cleaning a stubborn spot of dirt off your face just as you're walking into church.

Most of all, I realised why I was spending yet another Valentine's Day on my own: because I just don't fancy (or at least I'm convinced I don't) being pawed over and petted as though I were some mentally defective child and/or puppy, and it seems that this is a precondition to most if not all romantic relationships. I suppose it's not completely unbearable if it's the right person, but the overwhelming majority of people seem to be paired up with someone distinctly other than the right person. More like the person who will have to do for now until someone better comes along, and pardon my cynicism, but it wasn't me who made up the divorce statistics.

Anyway, for all of you who are happily coupled, and who might even enjoy your other half poking, prodding and otherwise whipping you into shape or out of it as the case may be, happy belated Valentine's Day. All I ask is that if or when you start cranking out the children, try not to torture them too much, whether for your own amusement or because "it'll be good for them." Future generations will thank you, and we might even enjoy a bit more peace and quiet at the beach.

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