A Day at the Beach with Kids is Still (Kind of) a Day at the Beach

It’s 6 AM, and my husband, my five-year-old twins and I are in the car on the way to Narragansett, Rhode Island, where we’ll board the Block Island ferry, spend the day, and then drive to Newport to spend the night. We’ve packed up the car with beach towels, sand toys, cover-ups, changes of clothes, coloring stuff, overnight bags and dreams of beating the brutal New England heat wave with the cool island breeze. We’ll spend a few hours splashing in the waves, building Ariel’s beach castle, and drinking Del’s frozen lemonade. We’ll eat lobster rolls and Point Judith calamari, shop along Thames Street tomorrow, and take it easy.

Or, something like that. While H counts her crayons and organizes her sand castle molds, and S shows off that she can count to 267, I lose track of how many times my head is about to explode…

1 mile traveled from home before one asks, “Are we there yet?” and the other drops all of her crayons in between her car seat and the door.

2 hours wasted missing the high-speed ferry by one space in line, waiting for the painfully-slow ferry, and finally docking in Block Island to wait for all the cars, trucks, motorcycles and bikes to get off first.

3 times H walks right out of her flip-flops – and doesn’t notice – on the half-mile walk from the ferry to Ballard’s Beach. (One of these days we’ll make it to the town beach instead.)

4 ounces of clam chowder H wears after somehow landing her elbow in her bowl, sending it flying everywhere, leaving me to explain to people that, no, she didn’t throw up all over herself; she just spilled her soup.

5 people staring when S runs through the puddle of water left after rinsing sand off her feet, falls out of her flip-flops, lands on her bottom and screams her head off. One guy laughs. Jerk.

6 mouthfuls of lobster roll S spits into her napkin while complaining there are shells in it, before we realize the crunchy stuff is supposed to be in there: it’s freaking celery.

Even though we’ve been traveling with kids for five-and-a-half years now, sometimes I still shake my head, throw my hands up in the air, and wonder why we bother leaving the house. And sometimes, I do this out loud. What fun is it being out and about, stopping every ten seconds to redirect the girls to keep them from walking into a herd of people coming off an elevator, or to keep myself from tripping over them? Zipping up my bag and walking five steps before somebody Needs Something Now, that amazingly, I don’t have? Mediating arguments over where to eat, which chair who wants to – and doesn’t want to – sit in at a restaurant? Who’s hot. Who’s cold. Whose feet hurt because there are rocks in the water. Who’s itchy from the sand. (We’re at the BEACH, for goodness sake!)

Our only real moments of peace included shady spots overlooking the ocean, cool enough breezes to make us snuggle up together, and Del’s frozen lemonade. And you know what? That’s all we really needed to make the craziness worthwhile.

Beach days are a little different than they used to be, but at least we’re getting there. And somehow, when they come to an end, the mishaps become adventures in the safety and comfort of my memory, and I realize that it’s actually pretty cool we can take “day trips” like this with our kids at all. They’re five, I have to remind myself. They fight me on what to wear, and why I must apply their sunscreen AGAIN, and they squawk at and tell on each other all the way through, but they jump in the car and buckle up enthusiastically, ready to go and see and do anything. Considering I’m their mother, I’m surprised they can go with the flow at all. Even if the “flow” feels more like a roller-coaster ride.

Don’t Lick Your Sister (and Other Things I Say Out Loud on Summer Vacation)

IMG_1790For H and S’s first summer, I alternated between figuring out how to be a mommy of newborn twins – and crying my eyes out every time “You’re Gonna Miss This” played on CMT.

OH, Trace Adkins. I know, I know! The days DO fly by, already. I try to hold onto the little moments, the newness, even the how-will-I-ever vulnerability. But the next minute I’m cursing at the breast pump or the Diaper Genie, while all three of us cry for entirely different reasons.

Fast forward five years: I hate to admit it, but this summer is feeling an awful lot like that one. But with a different soundtrack.

“Ma! She’s driving McQueen on me! Cars don’t drive on people!”

“Maaaaaaaa! She won’t get out of my way! I want to color on the easel!

“Mooommmmeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! She erased my picture!”

“How do you spell, ‘Wishing-you-lots-of-love-because-I-love-you?’”

“How come lunch is taking so long?”

Yup, school is out for the summer again. Before this year, all that meant to me was that the weather changed. This year, it arrived with a little more context (and emotion) as it marks our transition from preschool to kindergarten. (See “Here We (Let) Go Again: Goodbye, Pre-school)

And an unspoken demand that every day Must. Be. Exciting. It’s all, “I want to color and swim and play on the swings” and “I don’t want you to work or run errands or do anything else, except for watch me color and swim and play on the swings.” This. Minute. Their need for constant entertainment does not include watching me juggle all the things I used to do while they were in school with keeping them busy and content. I’m filling the days with swimming, crafts, play dates, frozen treats, day-trips and destinations and trying to spin grocery shopping as a fun family activity. (“Don’t look at me like that. You like to eat, don’t you?”) And they’re still whining, fighting – and bored. Raise your hand if you can still remember what that feels like.

While an official break from educational stuff is a good thing, it’s reduced my use of the English language to the following sentences:

“Stop yanking on the shades!”

“Don’t stick your fingers in there!”

“You can’t spin around in the aisles! You’re knocking stuff off the shelves!”

“Sing quietly! The whole store doesn’t want to be ‘Part of Your World.’”

“Don’t lick your sister!”

(“But I was pretending to be a puppy,” she replies, for which I have neither the words nor the energy left to reply.)

Often by 9 AM on any given day, I’ve heard, “Mommmyyyyy?” so many times for so many different reasons I’m ready to say, “Why do you keep calling me?!” Sometimes, I do.

That’s when I realize she came to find me (usually when I’m in the bathroom) because she’s made me a picture. That says, “Mommy, I love you the most.” She remembered how to spell the words all by herself. I feel like such a jerk. And I’m grateful for the chance to convince her I’m not – and to remember this summer for all the reasons we’re supposed to. For the “dolphin rides” I give them in our (temporary Intex) pool (that took my husband more time and effort to put up than a real pool would have.) A record number of visits to Crumbs Bake Shop and Peachwave (which we are making a good start on in Week Two!) Mid-afternoon snuggles even though the girls don’t take naps anymore. Mixing strawberry, blueberry and raspberry muffins, and picking out special things to make together when we go to the grocery store.

We’re making memories already. And while sometimes it’s easier to pull out my hair than to find humor in the girls’ aisle-spinning, scream-singing, sister-licking routine, I know one day I will miss this, too. Like at the end of August, when I’ll want to throw myself in front of the school bus instead of watching it drive my babies off to kindergarten.

But while I work on keeping it all in a healthy, happy perspective, it’ll be a little easier to kiss H and S goodbye at half-day camp next week. They need it: the freedom, the adventure, the time to appreciate coming home a little more. And maybe, just maybe, so do I.