The beach. As a childless adult, the beach is a source of great enjoyment. Oh how I long for the blissful days with the Banana Boat tanning oil liberally applied to every square inch of overly exposed skin as I sat leisurely in a chair. Only moving when it was time to lay down to give my back a chance to crisp up like a rotisserie chicken. Long gone are the days where my main priority was acquiring a tan that made me look like a photo negative. Now, my main goal in a beach trip is to make sure that both children make it out alive.
So far this summer we’ve been to the beach twice. Living in New Jersey means that it’s absolutely imperative to visit the beaches along the Shore to fully enjoy one’s summer. The first time we went as a family and because my expectations were so very low, the day ended up being a delight. That’s not to say it wasn’t work, because it was a lot of work. As parents, there are things we do with our kids – for our kids – that are so incredibly stressful, but yield that one moment where the stars align and you breathe a deep sigh of relief and say “this is why we did it.” Unsurprisingly, I was able to capture those moments.
There is much that I love about taking my kids to the beach: the smell of sunscreen in the air, the squeals of glee / terror as they flee oncoming waves, and the absolute exhaustion that overtakes them and makes bedtime a total lay-up.
Then there are the not so great things. Things that felt doubly more difficult this week as I took the kids to the beach solo to meet up with a group of friends and their kids.
Whether you are spending three hours, three days, or three weeks at the beach, the amount of crap that you will inevitably need to haul down there is astounding. The only thing that changes with the length of time you’re there for is the amount of clothes you need to pack. Forgo all hope of being able to look at your back window for oncoming cars as you drive to the beach. Jesus will need to take the wheel when you switch lanes as the piles of crap anticipating every potential beach scenario take up any available square footage not occupied by a human, completely cutting off your sight lines. There is the change of clothes, the snacks, the waters, the beach toys, the puddle jumpers, the beach chairs, the stroller, sunscreen, hats, more snacks, towels, umbrella, and a beach cart that will roughly weigh the same as an African elephant once you load it up. You may have noticed that there is nothing in that list that has to do with myself. That’s because my needs cease to matter. I will spend hours in a sweaty, damp bathing suit and take swigs from my children’s water bottles. There is simply no physical room in the car to accommodate my needs.
The drive to the beach
Is it okay to muzzle your children? Please someone say that it’s okay. Never have 80 minutes of my life been fraught with so much raw frustration and hopelessness. I only wanted to turn the car around roughly 12 times. The children decided that they would alternate being assholes, so I guess that’s the silver lining? AJR would whine about how long the trip was taking and enjoyed Rick James’ing the back of my seat while I gritted my teeth down to the gums:
I had high hopes that Olivia would fall asleep during our drive. Fool. Sleep was not only elusive, but in a fit of rage she decided to throw the three pacifiers I had given her only to start crying to have them back two seconds later. There was literally a 30-minute stretch of hysterical sobbing because she didn’t have a pacifier, was over-tired, and I was incapable of Stretch Armstronging my arm to reach one to throw to her. It was torture. Never trust me with classified information, United States of America, because if I ever had to endure that again I would spill every goddamn secret on the promise that they would make the crying stop.
Ideally this should have occurred in my own home where the screams of my children go unheard by anyone but myself and no one could witness the ridiculous, literal chase scene that erupts every time I take it out. However, since you’re ideally supposed to apply sunscreen 20 minutes before exposure, the hour and a half drive to the beach would have rendered the sunscreen useless and the hassle all for naught. Apparently the pricey BabyGanics sunscreen actually has battery acid listed as the first ingredient, which explains the shrill death screeches that emanated from my 3-year old as on-lookers shot concerned glances in my direction that I’m somehow abusing my child.
Setting Up Base Camp
You know all that stuff you packed into your car? Well now you have to take it up, load up the beach cart, haul it across burning hot sand, and take everything out. The walk from the car to the beach is grueling so by the time you get to where you want to sit you’re sweaty, out of breath, and questioning why you did this in the first place. As you work on setting up a lovely little area for the kids with ample shade, a beach toy haven, and chairs for “relaxing,” you have to deal with impatient toddlers that have been cooped up in the car and are ready to go. NOW.
3YO: “Can I go in the water?” (Pause) “Can I go in the water now?” (Shorter Pause) “Ok, I’m going in the water”
3-year old makes a run for it and you take off after him, praying that nothing flops out of your bathing suit. You bring him back and discover that the baby has somehow ingested minimum three cups of sand. And you only have one beach chair unpacked.
Fun & Anxiety
Toddlers and the Atlantic Ocean are a terrifying combination. A smile finally crept on my face when I heard happy shrieks coming from my son and his buddies as wave after wave lapped over their skinny boy legs. But then you watch as they get bolder and braver, embracing a fearlessness that can be dangerous and most certainly rules out any possibility of sitting in your beach chair. In a two-hour period at the beach, my FitBit told me I clocked 6,000 steps. You’ve got to keep your head on a swivel at all times. Being at the beach with two kids is like playing the most high-stakes game of “Where’s Waldo?” ever.
My children also have opposite interests at the beach. AJR only wants to be in the water. Olivia would prefer to be eating snacks and steering clear of the water entirely, occasionally dabbling in some sand play. This makes for one harried mommy. Going with a large group of friends helps. I knew AJR would stick close to a friend and if I needed to run back to get something for Olivia, I could ask a fellow mom to keep an eye on him briefly. But any longer than that and it’s a lot to ask of someone when the stakes are much higher than say, having them keep an eye on him at a relatively safe park. Water ain’t no joke. So, I ran back and forth from beach to ocean with Olivia on my hip and finally threw her into the stroller, wheeled it close to the water, and gave her a lollipop so I could play lifeguard to AJR. Parenting is all about making “would you rather” decisions: Would I rather my 3-year old drown, or my 20-month old’s baby teeth get cavities?
Before kids, I don’t ever remember the beach being so, well, sandy. Be prepared to take home half the beach with you. Especially if you have kids still in diapers. I pulled down Olivia’s swim diaper and sand just came raining down from her butt crack. I was honestly so very thankful that she didn’t poop as trying to change a ripe #2 on the beach is a special kind of hell.
The beach cart feels heavier this time around as you wheel it towards the car. The kids are exhausted and running on fumes, which gives them an odd burst of delirious energy and makes them that much harder to wrangle.
I gave up trying to strategically pack up the car. I threw shit in the trunk and decided as long as the door closed then it could be figured out later.
As I was breathlessly pulling the stroller with Olivia and all of our beach gear piled on top, an older woman passed me by and looked fondly at the hot mess that I was, saying: “Oh I remember these days! I used to take my little boys down here all the time. It goes by fast!” Did I need an IV of rosé after that beach trip? 100%. But, in the subsequent days when I finally vacuumed up all remaining granules of sand that came back with us, I was able to appreciate what fun summer memories we’re making.
I am a Midwestern gal, but my kids are East Coasters. The beach is going to be a big part of their childhoods and we may even become one of those families with the Garden State Parkway Exit # bumper sticker of our favorite beach on the car. As they get older, it’ll get easier. Until it’s actually easier, I’ll continue to do a beach day here and there and try not to creep the older moms out as I stare wistfully at them sitting casually in their beach chairs.