Life’s a Beach: What I Learned After My Phone Was Stolen

12 important lessons I learned after my phone was stolen out of my bag at the beach.I’m not gonna bring my phone, I thought, as I packed the bag for our trip to the beach yesterday. My daughter and I decided we’d go to Brighton for the afternoon, and with just the two of us going, that meant no one would be left to sit on the beach and watch our stuff while we were swimming. But I’ve never had a problem at the beach before, and I wasn’t going to bring anything of value.

I changed my mind, though, and packed my cell phone and my credit card. I don’t know why. Well, I know why I brought the credit card, because you just never know if you’ll need it in an emergency. But I don’t know why I changed my mind about bringing the phone. Partially it’s because I wanted to be able to take pictures, and partially it was because I wanted to be able to share those pictures – at least one – via social media. “Look everybody! We’re at the beach! Hey, if one of you was here with us, there would be enough people to take turns watching the bags!”

I knew not to bring my phone. It’s going to get sand in it, I thought. Then I thought, no, I’ve got this nice insulated bag that zips up, it’ll be fine. I had a vision of someone stealing my bag. I even thought about what I would do if my bag got stolen. It’ll be fine, I thought. The cops would get us home. I’ve got spare keys.

I don’t know why I was so fixated on the idea of my bag being stolen. I’ve never had a bag stolen from me in 13 years in New York. I’ve dropped my driver’s license on the street twice and had it mailed back to me by a kind stranger each time. A friend recently posted a story about how her son lost his wallet on the train and it was returned to him completely intact, even the cash. New York City is the safest big city in the world. But for whatever reason, I was hung up on the fact that I could be robbed, and in a sense I knew I would be robbed.

Some would call this manifestation, right? The Secret says what you believe and think comes true, therefore if you believe someone is going to steal your bag, your bag will be stolen. I dispute that idea for many reasons, the first and foremost being that I was not worried that someone was going to steal my bag, manifesting its theft through fear. I had a full-on premonition that someone was going to steal my bag. I don’t want to come right out and call myself a psychic, mostly because I don’t want to have to start dressing in mumus and wearing turbans, but I have always had a very strong sixth sense (without the dead people). My intuition is excellent, and every time I haven’t followed it has been a reminder for me to always, always, always follow your instincts.

So I knew not to bring my phone but I brought it anyway. And not just because I wanted to share a photo of my daughter and I on the beach, but because I love my daughter and I love to take pictures of her on the beach. I’ve come to a much more selective place with my social media shares in recent months, and so I’ve got lots of pictures on my phone that are just for me to be able to look through in a quiet moment or when I’m feeling down or when I miss my daughter if she’s visiting her dad.

When we got to the beach I set our stuff down near other families and we went in the water. It was freezing cold, so thankfully I didn’t feel like staying in very long. I kept looking at the bag, making sure it was safe. My daughter was having so much fun in the water and looked so happy, I had to get her photo. I grabbed a great shot of her jumping over a wave, then I asked her to pose. She did, but then said, “Mommy, put your phone away and play with me!”

Those words really struck me. “Mommy, put your phone away and play with me!” Why had I even brought the phone to begin with? We’ll both make better memories from living in the moment than photographing it. Luckily my daughter doesn’t have to ask me to put my phone away very often. I’m not the kind of parent who multitasks by “playing” and doing business at the same time. But I realized in that instant that I didn’t need to take a picture of our beach day at all. I didn’t need to take a photo to look at later, I needed to splash in the water now. I didn’t need to have a great photo for social media or to use in a killer blog post slideshow of my daughter at the beach in the same jumping pose over the years. I needed to play.

I put the phone away, sticking it at the bottom of the bag, hoping to deter someone from taking it. I headed back into the water. My daughter was running around in the surf and when a big wave hit her, she yelled, “I love Coney Island!”

This is where I should mention that instead of going to Brighton – a quieter, less populated beach – we decided to go to Coney so we wouldn’t have to transfer on the train. When I was packing the bag at home, another thought that allowed me to rationalize bringing the phone was that we were going to Brighton and no one would be there, so I didn’t have to worry. But Coney is an entirely different story. It’s usually swarming with people in the summer, which increases the opportunity for crime. It’s easy for a petty thief to snag something and run away unseen.

I kept looking back to the beach, making sure no one had touched my bag. I thought of that Ani Difranco lyric she wrote years ago while she was living in New York: “We lose sight of everything when we have to keep checking our backs/I think we should just smile, come clean and relax.” It’s from a song called Anticipate, the chorus of which is, “Someone you don’t know is someone you don’t know, get a firm grip girl before you let go, for every hand extended another lies in wait, keep your eye on that one, anticipate.” The song is about never allowing yourself to live in the moment, and since that’s what I was at the beach to do, I decided to ease up a little bit. I went back to our spot and laid down and my daughter started burying my feet with sand. The people next to us offered her a cup to dig with. They’re keeping an eye on our stuff, it’s safe, they’re looking out for us, I thought, so we went back in the water a final time.

I had gotten used to the frigid temperature by then and wanted to really relish in the feel of the salt water on my skin. I finally let myself breathe in the smell of the beach air and feel the grit of the sand on my chest. I played a game with my daughter involving jumping over the first wave then running away from the next one. We were laughing and having fun. I got my face wet. I felt that healing feeling I usually do from the ocean. I was happy.

I noticed the kid was starting to get cold so I said it was time to get out. I looked up at the beach for my green bag. It was gone. I knew it. I wasn’t looking in the wrong spot, it hadn’t just blown or tipped over so that I couldn’t see it, it was gone. I ran up to our spot, my daughter right behind me, and asked our friendly neighbors, “Did someone steal my bag?” They said it had just been right there, they turned around for one second, they didn’t see anybody come. My animal brain had already taken over, scanning the beach further toward the boardwalk. I saw it about 200 feet away. It was still zipped up but clearly tossed away. I ran.

I grabbed the bag out of the sand and asked the two women sitting right near it, “Did you see the person who tossed this bag here?” “No,” they replied, trying to catch up. I was already rifling through. I knew the phone and the card would be gone, but did they leave me my keys? They did. “They stole my credit card and my phone,” I said. “Go tell a cop,” the woman urged. “There’s undercovers all over the boardwalk. My cousin is a cop. I’m sorry, mami. What a bastard.”

I went back to our spot where my daughter was playing with the family next to us. It reminded me of the very first time we went to Coney Island, when we sat in much the same spot, my daughter the same age then as the baby she was playing with now. That first visit to Coney we made friends with the couple sitting next to us, and their daughter – who was the same age then my daughter is now – was playing with my baby. The circle of life. People. Friendliness. Comaraderie. Summertime. Joy. Trust. Delight.

“They stole my credit card and my phone,” I reported. “Why didn’t you ask us to watch your stuff? We would have,” the mother said. “I don’t know, I never had a problem before,” I offered. “Do you want to use my phone to call your credit card company?,” she asked. I did. I reported my phone stolen, too. I thanked the family for their help, grabbed our stuff and headed to the boardwalk with my daughter. I told some police officers what happened, they told me where to file a report.

As we walked back to the street against the backdrop of the amusement park, I thought about the pictures. That was the only thing I was upset about. I just don’t understand why anyone in this day and age would steal anything from anybody. Bank accounts and credit lines can be shut down immediately, phones get shut down and don’t really have any resale value. (It was a Windows Phone, not an iPhone.) Data can be wiped, and if a thief uses a card or the phone they’ll be traced and caught. It’s just a way to be mean, really, to violate someone.

It’s funny – I think I knew to check for the bag after years of working with Wendy Ho, whose comedy song “Bitch, I Stole Yo Purse” taught me that most criminals leave the shit they don’t want behind. (Thank you, kind sir, for leaving me my keys! I hope it was the fact that I’m a single mother that tugged at your heartstrings enough not to leave me stranded outside my home. I truly appreciate it. I only wish something had moved you not to take my phone when you saw my daughter’s tiny little skirt and shoes sitting there in the sand. But seriously, dude, a Windows Phone? Really? Cheers to you for being a totally geeky thug. p.s. – You can have the credit card. It only had $10 left on it, anyway.)

I understand that this story in-and-of-itself is maybe not the most compelling crime drama, but that’s not why I wanted to tell it. I wanted to tell it because I learned so many lessons through this experience, and not just, “Don’t leave your bags unattended in a big city, idiot.” Many of the lessons are listed above, but some of them aren’t. In either case, I thought I’d break them all down for you below so that you can take something away from my experience like the guy (or gal, let’s not be sexist against criminals now!) who took my phone:

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Main photo: iStock/PicMonkey


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