The little crab scuttled sideways down the beach, and Steven hovered over it in the kind of half-sitting position you can only accomplish with young knees. The crab stopped when a frothy wave rolled up onto the sand.
The wave retreated toward the ocean and Steven reached out with a tentative finger.
“Don’t touch him!” I said from the comfortable Dan-shaped depression I’d wiggled into the sugar-fine sand. “He’s going to pinch your finger!”
Steven pulled his hand back just as another wave swept in from somewhere far away. When it washed back out, the little crab was gone.
Steven stared out at the ocean.
“I was going to put him in the castle,” he said with a note of sadness. “He was going to be the dragon!” The blue-green color of his swimsuit matched the color of the water perfectly, and the orange and white image of Nemo was a happy bonus.
Calypso music was coming from somewhere down the beach. It would have sounded out of place pretty much anywhere in Minnesota, but here it was perfect.
My back was starting to tingle from an afternoon in the sun. It was my cue to add another coating of Coppertone to Steven’s unspoiled 5-year-old skin.
“Dad! You just did that!” he protested as I pulled a bottle of sunblock out of a beach bag that also held towels, a couple of bottles of water, and a kid-sized sailor’s hat like the one Gilligan used to wear.
“I know,” I said. “But I don’t want you getting sunburned. Turn around …”
He reluctantly did as I asked. I squirted a dollop of sunblock into my hand and rubbed it on his back and shoulders, and refreshed the coating I’d left earlier on the tips of his ears.
“OK, other side,” I said. He turned around … a little less reluctantly this time … and I rubbed sunblock on his chest and tummy. I added the tickle under his chin just for fun and got the reaction I was hoping for.
I tucked the bottle of sunblock back into the beach bag. “Let’s finish our sand castle,” I said.
We’d used a makeshift collection of plastic shovels, Cool-Whip containers and Styrofoam “Holiday Inn” coffee cups to build a medieval fortress worthy of “Game Of Thrones,” complete with walls, battlements, ramparts and a water-filled hole we proclaimed “The Dungeon.”
A sprig of seaweed served as a pennant atop the tallest tower, and a hand-dug moat surrounded the entire stronghold.
It was a castle that would stand up against any invader.
Never turn your back on the ocean.
A three-foot wave probably doesn’t qualify as a tsunami unless you’re 5 years old. It arrived unexpectedly, causing a chorus of shrieks and laughter that echoed up and down the beach as sun bathers suddenly because swimmers.
The wave knocked Steven onto the seat of his Nemo swim trunks, and when the wave returned to the ocean all that remained of the castle was a mound of sodden sand.
“Our castle!” Steven said, rubbing water from his eyes with the heels of his hands. “It got wrecked! That was our best sand castle EVER!” His chin quivered the way chins do when tears are imminent.
“It’s OK,” I said. “We’ll build a new one … and make it even better!”
“I don’t want to!” he said. “It will just get wrecked like the other one!”
“If it does, it does!” I said philosophically. “We’ll just make a new one. The fun part is building it!”
I filled a Holiday Inn cup with damp sand, packed it tightly and slapped it down onto the beach with a muffled thud. I raised the cup, and the new castle’s first battlement was in place.
Twenty minutes later, we finalized construction of our second castle with a sprig of seaweed. We probably could have finished it sooner, but Steven took a break to follow a familiar crab down the slope of the beach until it disappeared into the surf.
“Turn around,” I said when Steven came back from the edge of the water. I squeezed a dollop of sunscreen into my hand.
“That’s a nice castle,” he said as I coated the tips of his ears. ”Even better than the first one.”
He was right. It was a castle that would stand up against any invader.
Without a word, Steven jumped over the moat, landing in the middle of the castle and reducing it to a crater with two tiny footprints in the middle.
“What did you do THAT for?!” I asked in an embarrassingly high-pitched voice.
“Now we can build a new one!” he said with a smile that was brighter than the sunshine dancing on the water.
“A better one!” I said.
Steven packed damp sand into a Styrofoam cup.
I put a dollop of sunscreen on the tips of my ears.