Mothers and daughters Gail Parker...

A MEMORABLE PLACE

July 02, 2000

A MEMORABLE PLACE

Mothers and daughters

Gail Parker

SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It's 4 p.m. on the beach, the golden hour. This is my second day in Ocean City, and already the waves have lulled me into that hypnotic state that says ahhh.

I'm flanked on either side by two friends from Baltimore, and scattered around us on colorful towels are our daughters, eight in all.

Our husbands are home in Baltimore enjoying the quiet that comes only when all their women vacate the premises. They don't care for the beach. They get bored. They're always asking us what our plans are.

We don't make plans -- except for what to eat for dinner each night. We've come to escape plans.

It all started 14 years ago, when a friend from the young mothers' group at church was moaning about the long summer ahead with little kids at home.

"We could go to Ocean City for a day," I offered.

"A day?" said another. "How about a week?"

A week it was. We found a place with three bedrooms and two bathrooms (very important) and thus began the annual Girls Just Want to Have Fun week at the beach for us three moms and our daughters. The oldest was 8 back then, the youngest just 14 months.

We've evolved over the years. The Barbies and My Little Pony figures we carted to the beach each day have been replaced by tape players and Seventeen magazine.

For years we got into the water with our girls while they played in the waves. Then, as they grew older, we discovered we could watch them from our comfortable sand chairs at the water's edge. Now, we watch like hawks as buff guys on boogie boards cluster around them.

We used to take our daughters by the hand on the boardwalk and tackle the dime arcade machines and rides and come home with hermit crabs and cheapie treasures.

Now we send them all off on the bus with reminders of their curfew and the warning, "Don't even think about getting anything pierced," while we go shopping or settle in for an evening of M&Ms and chick-flick videos.

We've watched them go from the big hair and Cyndi Lauper outfits of the '80s to the sleek hair and tank tops -- the "Friends" look -- of today. We moms have kept up with the times, too, but with added wrinkles on our faces -- probably from all that sun -- and gray in our hair.

In the 14 years we've been doing this, we've survived jellyfish stings, injuries from the undertow, illnesses and squabbles. We've laughed, cried, annoyed each other and consoled one another. We've dissected all our relationships in the bright light of the sun and listened to each other's heartaches while walking in the surf by moonlight.

I suspect we'll be doing this until we're ancient, grumbling about our aching joints and yammering on about how our daughters are raising our grandchildren. For me, the beach will always beckon, and I hope to be there, my friends at my side.

Gail Parker lives in Timonium.

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