We spent this whole past weekend on the beach. It was fantastic and I was in heaven. I absolutely love everything about the beach. I love the feel of the sand under my feet and between my toes, the chill of the ocean water in June, the smell of the salt as it sticks to my skin, the sound of kids yelling as they jump around in the surf. By the end of a good beach day I am just a little crispy and a little tired and my hair is extra curly. If it is a great day I get to see the diamond sparkles from the sun reflecting on the water as I go over the bridge, and it all just makes my soul happy.
I don’t even mind that getting my entire family onto the beach can be a cartoonish endeavor. There is lunch for seven (picture twenty slices of bread on the counter… that’s one sandwich each, plus one for the ride home for the boys and Sheepdog – the boys are always so hungry!), drinks and snacks, the cart, the tent, the blanket for laying in the tent, the giant cooler on wheels, the chairs, the plastic toys, the beach towels, the boogie boards, and the frame backpack to carry Kid E. And let me point out that my family is not one bit unique in bringing all of this stuff down to the beach. We are surrounded by almost a hundred families who are toting around the same stuff for a glorious day of sun, surf and sand.
And those of us who love it will do it day after day after day after day. All summer long if you’d let us.
I remember my very first beach day with Kid A. She was born in January so she was just about six months old when good beach weather rolled around. I was bound and determined to navigate the beach with kids as easily as I did when I was young and single and would take the NJ Transit bus from Absecon to Atlantic City with only my beach chair and a tiny beach bag. And I was determined to do it by myself because Sheepdog does not love the beach as much as I do.
I found a parking spot just a couple of blocks back. I had a pack-n-play cabana thing (it had a cover for shade – awesome!) with wheels on one side that I decided to open up and pile everything into so I could just wheel it down to the beach. I carried Kid A on my hip and the plan actually worked really well. Until we got to the beach block and I smelled something horrible. Kid A had a blow-out and, as a result, both of us were now covered in baby poop. I was just seconds from crying (alright, I totally broke down in the middle of the street) when some angel woman who lived there invited us in, gave me a clean shirt and let me get Kid A cleaned up.
Many years of trial and error and so much new gear later (some indispensable – like the frame backpack, some a complete waste of money – like the Happy Cabana), I have a system that works. Sheepdog is still not as much of a beach fan, so it has continued to be important for me to do it single parent style. It has gotten easier with time because the kids require less stuff as they get bigger and they can help me carry things now too.
But despite the years of practice at planning and packing for the beach, even the best of us can mess it up sometimes. After seeing a flying ad banner from WaWa about Hoagiefest, yesterday I heard a mom next to us sigh, “Oh crap, I totally forgot the sandwiches!” I often forget to bring a camera or the extra beach chair (which means someone is sitting on the cooler). When the kids were little I would forget to bring extra diapers or a change of clothes (trust me – this is key for keeping them safe from sand rash on the drive home), or enough towels, or something else that seems critical when you forget it.
But then there are the awesome days. These are the days when you bring everything you need and nothing you don’t. The days when you get a great parking spot. The days when you not only remember the beach badges, but you have enough for everyone in your party. The days when the seagulls stay away from your lunch and you brought enough food to satisfy even the hungriest kids (and Sheepdog!). The days when the water is just cold enough to cool you off and there aren’t too many shells on the ground or flotsam and jetsam in the waves. The days when you get a great spot near the lifeguard stand and nobody comes and sets up their camp right on top of you and proceeds to smoke stinky cigarettes all day long. The sun is out, but occasionally some cloud cover drifts by to cool things off. There are no bugs, but not too much wind. The kids play hard in the surf all morning, then chill out in the afternoon.
These are the beach days that bring me joy. That I get to spend them with all of my kids (and Sheepdog!) makes it that much more special. I actually prefer it this way over the days when it was just me and my one beach chair. And after two really great beach days in a row, my soul is extremely happy.
Wish me luck for tomorrow…