And just like that, there he is.
My older son, Ben. All graduated from high school.
And of course it was grand. And of course we were so proud. I was guilty of maudlin Facebook posting and over-hugging and generally following the young man around wondering how it had all happened so fast.
But all of the pomp and circumstance and nostalgia came to a crashing halt thanks to…
Beach Week is a thing, and it has been a thing for many years, even dating back to when I graduated from high school. In case you are unfamiliar with the Beach Week concept, it’s pretty simple. Beach Week is when recent high-school graduates decamp for a seaside location to engage in all of the behaviors that they spent their school years learning that they should not engage in. (And yes, for the more prudish among you this does include putt-putt.)
In concept, therefore, Beach Week has remained largely unchanged since the days of yore. In actual implementation, things are, shall we say, just a bit different.
Before diving into some of the ways Beach Week has changed in a generation, I must make full disclosure. I did not actually attend my own Beach Week. I had something else to do. I just can’t remember what. (And no, there is no truth to the oft-repeated rumor that I spent those days wandering the Blue Ridge in search of the apocryphal Mountain Week while all of my sunburned classmates toasted my absence with beer bongs.) Thanks to the recollections of friends, and to the unassailable memory of my wife, Dena (who did, in fact, attend her Beach Week), I am able to present, with a moderately high degree of confidence, a detailed picture of Beach Week – then and now.
Planning. In the olden days, planning for Beach Week began when someone got the idea to go to Beach Week, which was normally about ten o’clock in the morning of the day you scraped up enough gas money to actually leave for Beach Week. Accommodations would either materialize in the form of hotel rooms or a beachside bungalow, or else cars and sleeping bags would suffice. Now, planning for Beach Week begins sometime around the eighth grade, with Facebook groups and SignUpGenius forms and TripAdvisor evaluations. And that’s just for the chaperones. Speaking of whom…
Chaperones. Then: nonexistent. Back in the day, the so-called chaperones looked at Beach Week as an opportunity to enjoy a kid-free week and indulge in behavior every bit as questionable as the beach-bound kids. Now: A veritable chorus line of chaperones rotates through Beach Week. Chaperones are so numerous, and come and go with such frequency and complexity of schedule that off-duty air traffic controllers are enlisted to manage the congestion.
Behavior (expected). Then: Debauchery and rampaging. Now: Each of the boys and his parents were required to sign a five-page Beach Week Contract that covered ten specific codes of conduct, including drinking, controlled substances, room assignments, curfew, and damages. This contract was circulated, reviewed in individual families, and then gone over again in an all-hands-on meeting that took place a few days before Beach Week. It was finally signed and ratified in a joint session of Congress, and the parties that achieved this success have now been put to work on the Iran nuclear deal.
Behavior (actual). Then: See Behavior (expected). Actual stories that have been reported to me by my peers include revelers so sick that a housecalling doctor was summoned to administer suppositories to the most stricken (now that’s what every young resident dreams of when imagining the glory of being a medical professional) and a beach house deck so overloaded with partying kids that it simply gave way and collapsed into the dune below. And nobody even noticed. Now: Well, that’s where my research is still ongoing. The only thing that endures as strongly as the Beach Week tradition is the Beach Week covenant that what happens at Beach Week stays at Beach Week. What I can report is that our young man returned without a criminal record and chirpily reporting that he applied sunscreen twice a day like a champ. I will plan to file an update report in ten years, after the rest of the story has had time to emerge.
Over the course of researching all of the differences between then and now, one thing became clear. Beach Week has not changed. Newly-minted high-school graduates have not changed. What has changed, of course, is us, the parents. Young people always handled (or didn’t, as the case may be) Beach Week just fine. They still handle (or don’t) Beach Week just fine. I’m not certain all of the structure and planning we have imposed has actually accomplished anything except for providing worried parents with some illusion of control.
Perhaps, if you are reading this as the parent of a young child, you hold out hope that between now and the time your little precious graduates, Beach Week will evolve into something more sensible, like Public Service Week, but good luck on that. A recent scientific study found that in the event of a nuclear apocalypse, the only things reasonably certain to survive would be cockroaches and Beach Week.