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.

Better to be Over-packed than Under(wear-less)


If I’ve been around when you needed a Band-Aid, you already know I carry a first-aid kit with Neosporin spray, sting-free boo-boo wipes and bandages of all shapes and sizes (and Disney characters). I also have hand sanitizer, the kind that kills stomach viruses because they don’t all, and wipes for hands, faces and runny noses. I probably have a toilet seat cover or six, Alleve, Lysol wipes and Imodium for emergencies.

That’s just my day-to-day stash. It gets better when I Go Somewhere. You know, when there’s a real reason to pack.

“It would be so much easier if you didn’t try to bring the whole house,” my husband says in his best if-you-would-just-listen-to-me voice, as he steps over suitcases filled with clothes, essentials, options and (Ziploc bags of) just-in-case.

His version of packing: throwing some clothes into a suitcase, and making sure he has his Clinique face scrub, a toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, daily medications, a swimsuit and shoes. It takes ten minutes. He uses whatever shampoo, conditioner and body wash is in the hotel shower (or he steals mine, even if it smells like cotton candy.) The only reason his bag reaches the 50-pound weight limit is his stash of magazines (because somehow, no matter which kid he’s sitting with, he manages to be able to read on the plane. And to nap, long enough to snore. Loudly. One day, I must watch and learn.)

In spite of his amusement, there is logic to my obsession (except for the part where I match my Alex & Ani bracelets to my outfits and intended mood.) When we leave, we have everything we need to avoid any grief and wasted time locating random things that would have just been easier to bring. The house is clean and as organized as it’s gonna get, the mail is stopped, the bills are paid and I’m not leaving anything behind that’s going to haunt me while I’m Trying to Relax.

H and S are five now. We’re free from diapers, bottles, formula and jars of baby food. But there are new essentials to replace them with: changes of clothes, sweatshirts, S’s “Raffey,” H’s special blanket, their Leap Pads and games, books and crayons and coloring pads. Travel-size crafts and random surprises to whip out when, five minutes into a flight (or a much-anticipated dinner) one of the girls whines, “I’m bored.” In That Voice.

There are snacks and drinks, vitamins and medicines and sensitive skin bath products. Aveeno packets for when (not if) H’s eczema acts up after long days enjoying sandy beaches and swimming pools. Extra sunscreen. Stain remover and laundry detergent for the sink and the washing machine, and I hardly ever come home with leftovers.

Do I overpack? Yes. Maybe. But I’ve traveled enough to know that if our plane sits on a runway for hours waiting out a storm, or flies around in circles awaiting the clearance of air traffic, or hit turbulence the minute one of the girls opens a bottle of cranberry juice, we’re all better off having it covered. I just can’t promise it’ll curb my use of four-letter words under my breath while dealing with said annoyance.

And when we arrive at our destination, right on cue, my husband will ask, “Do you have allergy medicine/aloe/an extra charger?” Of course, I will. But apparently, I don’t think of everything…

On a recent business trip, he called home while settling into his hotel room.

“I have to go shopping,” he said.

“I thought you had a meeting.”

“I do. But I forgot to pack underwear.”

Can’t say I would’ve had an extra stash of that. What? Even I have my limits.