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.

Back to School (or Back to the Beach?)

Summer isn’t officially over. Not yet. My inner-child wants to kick and scream and remain in denial for as long as I can. I think I can reasonably pull this off for a few more weekends, and try to cram in the beach trips we didn’t get to and the pool days that real life (and Mother Nature) managed to interrupt. Granted, I have to send my daughters to pre-school this week, but I can at least pretend that fall isn’t in the air (and that Christmas isn’t about to light up the retail world too soon.)

I know I said this (Mommy’s Time Out ) and I admit I’m sick of flying insects, humidity and applying sunscreen. Still, as the last few hours of summer vacation fade into memories (and some awesome photos) I’m just not ready to be done with it. Temper tantrums and all. Okay, I can seriously do without those. But let’s be honest: there are PLENTY of hours in a day, back to school or not, for my kids to bring on the drama!

H and S are young enough to be oblivious to the change I’m resisting. They can’t wait to go to school. Since neighbors and friends have gone back over the last couple of weeks, they’ve been asking, “When do we go?” They miss their friends and music and science classes – and having something that’s all their own.

Thankfully for this overly emotional mother, I have the benefit of having sent them to school before. They’re even going back to the same place. Their new teacher was their science teacher last year. A friend they have frequent play dates with is in their class. There’s a better-than-average chance I won’t be standing outside their classroom on the first day, waiting for the tears to stop flowing so I can say goodbye. (I should have enough composure by now to make it back to my car.)

Last night while playing “Simon Says” – and in between screaming fits at the sight of bees – the girls gave me a HUGE double-hug.

“I’m gonna miss you when you go back to school!” I said, in an unexpected moment of weakness. “Who wants to stay with Mommy?”

Meanwhile, my husband stopped watering the hydrangeas and beach roses to give me a look that said, “Are you crazy? How long before THAT comes back to bite you?” But I couldn’t help myself. I made a sad face. S took my face in her hands.

“Mommy,” she said. “You’ll have lots of quiet, and there won’t be toys on the floor for you to trip on for a little while.”

“We’ll come right back, and give you lots of hugs,” H assured me.

On top of loving summer, hating winter, and sucking at change and transition, I’m awe-struck by how quickly another year has passed, by how much the girls have changed and grown up. Summer was my safety net between school years, letting me dwell on having four-year-olds before they hurry up and grow even more. This time of year is a trigger for me to look back at what I’m going to miss, instead of all we have to look forward to. It’s when I have to remind myself that we had children to raise little people, to share our world with them one stage at a time – not to have babies forever. That watching them grow is a gift.

I’m grateful to have just enough experience to know that before long, this crazy emotional business will pass (until next time.) New comforts will come (and eventually, go again.) I’ll surrender to that little part of me that’s been craving a schedule, a routine, and time on my own. I have work to do, projects to tackle – and if all else fails, two enthusiastic little girls to inspire me.

That is, if I didn’t change their minds and ruin it for all of us! Keeping my fingers crossed for that – and for all of you who are sending your babies off to school. Wishing you happiness, peace and new reasons to smile.

Mommy’s Time-Out

I won’t lie: my kids are driving me crazy today and I need a time-out. And I don’t mean the lock-myself-in-the-bathroom kind, where I sit against the wall for two minutes with my head in my hands (or my fingers in my ears) and block out the screaming, banging and sometimes-kicking that ensues, without fail, on the other side of the door.

I need some relief. At the moment, my time-out fantasy looks like a lounge chair perched right where the waves roll in on Seven Mile Beach in Grand Cayman, a tropical drink in my hand, and nothing to do and nowhere to go. And please, dear God, the ability to shut out my to-do list and obsessions for a precious little while.

A slight shift from two straight weeks of scheduled, but fun-filled summer days with kids. Dance camp, swimming lessons, play dates, family time. A morning that started out with S screaming at me for waking her up, and H asking for a present because for the first time in two weeks, she went back to sleeping in her own bed. An on-the-floor temper tantrum over something I’ve already forgotten, and a protest over running my errands and a simultaneous request for another play date, and time in the pool.

Impatient pleas to watch Miss Spider, or “NO, MOMMY!” to turn on Olivia instead. Whose identical seagull from Finding Nemo is whose, and whose it most definitely isn’t. Reminders that, after twenty seconds, someone is “still waiting” for a snack, or for me to replace the refill in the hands-free soap dispenser. A shouting, pinching and swatting match over one of a hundred toys, and a report every other minute on who’s sharing (and who isn’t.)

I’m caught in the middle of counting the days until school starts (although I can’t believe I’m saying that) and that slow, sneaking feeling of dread that settles in when suddenly, there are three weeks left of summer – and all of its promise and freedom. The lazy beach days, splashing in the waves and chasing sea gulls, eating steamed clams and lobster rolls, snapping photographs, making memories.

On days like today, I know the end of summer and the return to routine won’t be entirely bad. In the meantime, while I can’t jet off to the Caribbean to find my happy place, I’ll try to settle for some practical alternatives. There’s a pitcher of sangria in the fridge, left over from the weekend…

Maybe a bad day with the kids is the push I need to get to exercise class tonight, or to get up for an early morning run tomorrow before my husband leaves for work. I could use the spa gift card I’ve been carrying around for six months and get a manicure or massage, or take my shopping list to Target, all by myself.

Whatever shape my “time-out” takes, I know one thing. Before long, two smiles and two pairs of outstretched arms will complete my reset – and help me shift my perspective from, “What the hell?!” to “Ah, yes. THIS is why I do this!”

But I think I’ll have a glass of sangria anyway.