This past Monday was Labor Day in the US, a national holiday that started about 130 years ago to celebrate the contribution that workers make to society. Most workers are given the day off and the usual suspects make an appearance – parades, picnics, barbecues, fireworks. It is generally seen as marking the end of summer. It is the last weekend before schools start, the sprinklers in the playgrounds are switched off, New Yorkers who shot off to The Hamptons some time back in June scuttle back to The Big Apple and vacation rentals suddenly become affordable. Meanwhile, retailers miss the point and take the opportunity to make their staff work harder than usual by putting on Labor Day sales.
My family and I spent the weekend doing as little labo(u)r as possible. Thanks to some lovely friends who invited us to their weekend rental, we spent two days on Fire Island, which has become a favourite place of ours during our time in New York. The hardest Mr Applepip worked was turning some burgers and a couple of sausages over on the grill (although apparently the amount of skill involved in the perfect barbecue is not to be underestimated, according to many (male) people. It also requires several onlookers, also male, and preferably with beer in hand. Female onlookers are not possible, as they are too busy in the kitchen putting together a wide range of salad choices, sweetcorn, relishes and other accompaniments, although they are allowed a brief look as they rush outside to provide plates to the barbecuing males. But only if they also comment on how well the males are doing). Anyway, I digress. Obviously the barbecue was a hive of activity, but other than that I didn’t do much either. At one point I looked up long enough from my book to put sunscreen on the kids.
Fire Island is a long, narrow island south east of Manhattan, just south of Long Island, and in many ways it feels like it belongs to a different era. Life is simple there: the houses are wooden constructions with simple interiors and functional furniture; there are no cars on the island so paths take the place of roads; there is just a handful of restaurants and shops; the only thing to do, really, is to go to the beach. This means that wherever you go, whether you are on the beach or not, there is always a pile of sand. You spend the whole time with it stuck to some part of your body. You have to make your peace with grainy bedsheets very quickly.
Bigger and Littler splashed delightedly in the sea, screeching with joy as they got drenched by the waves. Mr Applepip and I swam, chatted with our friends and relaxed in the evening with glasses of wine in our hands and sand stuck to our feet.
The weekend wasn’t without incident of course, there being two four-year-old boys and two two-year-old boys in the party. Each of them faced their own unique brush with danger: one fell off a bench and only avoided plunging four feet to the ground because his head got wedged between the bench and the wall behind him on the way down; another came face-to-face with three curious deer on the beach, thereby putting himself in danger of deer ticks and potential contraction of Lyme disease; another almost got washed away by a particularly forceful wave, and the last one nearly got left on the beach at the end of the day. The moral of these stories, of course, is that parents must not allow themselves a single moment’s relaxation. That way lies trouble. Even on Labor Day, parents must not stop labouring – but on Fire Island, it doesn’t feel like that much work.