The Beach vs. The Pool

A year ago this month, my wife and I took our daughters to North Carolina's Outer Banks for their first extended beach vacation. My 6-year-old might as well have been Alice in Wonderland (minus that mean queen) and my younger daughter (almost 3) . . . was completely petrified. Which, in a twisted sense, is what makes the beach so magical. Find a swimming pool for some tranquility and sunshine. Go to the beach -- any beach -- for tranquility, sunshine, and adventure.

The size, sound, and scent of a beach cannot be replicated. As if the enormity of the ocean weren't enough to intimidate a young child, the volume from waves crashing ashore may as well be the roar of a faceless, frightening Salt Creature. (Someday soon, my sweet Elena will learn that the sounds of the ocean are actually recorded for therapeutic purposes.)

Unless you have the summer's best novel in your hands, sitting poolside more than 30 minutes is a prescription for boredom. The first bored beachcomber has yet to be found. Finished leaping waves for now? Start a sand castle (and if you think you're too old to build a sand castle, consider your youth officially D.O.A.). Or gather some seashells, all the while searching for that diamond-in-the-sand, a shark's tooth. Not enough? See who's the first to find a jellyfish(!) washed ashore. Bonus points if you land a stingray.

Ah, but your beach adventure is only scratching the surface until you return to the water. And let me assure you, we didn't need Jaws to spin our imagination silly once we've submerged ourselves in one of Mother Nature's splash parks. (Was that a shell I just stepped on . . . or did it move?!) Swimming in a body of water that moves you -- both literally and figuratively -- is among the most tangible measures we have to remind us how vast and powerful the earth is. And once beyond the break of the waves, floating on your back with, say, the Atlantic as your waterbed? Find this sensation at a swimming pool and I'll show you some hallucinogens.

Have a problem with sand in your suit? As the captain told his whining sailor before the treasure-hunting ship set sail . . . Get off the boat, laddie.

-- Frank Murtaugh

Certain things come to mind when one thinks of the beach. Vacations, relaxing, fun in the sun. All of these things are good, if all the elements come together perfectly.

Thanks to a certain movie called Jaws, I've never been able to really relax at the beach. How can you, jerking your head around every few seconds, checking for shadows underneath or dorsal fins peeking from the water? Jellyfish aren't all that friendly, either, so watch out for them too. Whatever you do, don't fall asleep floating on your raft, lest you find yourself in, say, Cuba. And yes, the beach is beautiful and majestic, but so is not being eaten alive by a fish.

For my money, nothing's more relaxing than a day at the pool.

Pools are beautiful. Perfect, blue havens from the heat. You can even control the water temperature. Want some adventure? Put up a slide and a diving board; heck, put in a waterfall. There's almost nothing that can't be done these days. Best of all, when you want a snack, need a new magazine, or feel like another glass of iced tea, just walk a few feet to the house and get it.

Do you hear that? That's the sound of silence. There are no crowds at your pool. No frat dudes lobbing Frisbees and footballs just a bit too close to your head, no seagulls dive bombing for snacks or mistaking your head for a toilet, and no one else's Celine Dion blasting through a boombox. At your pool, you're in charge. And you can go any time you want.

Know what else doesn't happen at your pool? Hurricanes. If it rains for a week straight at your pool, go inside and watch a movie. (I recommend Jaws). The beach is only as good as the weather, and there's no telling what fickle Mother Nature will do. But say you brave the odds and take off for sandy shores. The beach does not care if your family drove nine hours for the only time off you'll get all year. The beach can unleash globs of seaweed that choke the coast, armies of jellyfish, and dangerous levels of bacteria and ruin your entire vacation. . . unless your hotel has a pool, of course.

--Mary Helen Tibbs


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