Every summer my parents would pack my two sisters and I into our station wagon and head to Ocean City for a couple days. I remember munching on McDonald’s Happy Meals (don’t judge), being wedged tight as sardines next to our luggage, playing “I spy” out the window or hooking our Game Boys together for tandem Tetris matches.
Next thing I knew we were at the beach, bathing suits on, purple Zinc on our noses, running full tilt down the beach to dive into the ocean. Most of my beach trip memories are blissful, with the occasional blip on the memory radar of getting sand in my eyes and pouting on the blanket, or being embarrassed at having to change on the beach while my Mom held a towel around me. But overall, those were great times!
So my perception of a day at the beach with our kids was that of easy-going, fun-filled happiness. But what I didn’t take into account is the reality of what my parents had to deal with on those fun trips. I experienced it first-hand recently when we took a family day-trip to Ocean City with our two toddler boys.
First of all, getting to the beach is way more stressful than I ever remember it as a kid. There are all the things to pack! Luckily we have a much larger vehicle than my parents did, but it still seemed like I had more bags than necessary for just one day. Our cooler was also jam packed. But after a quick trip to Dunkin Donuts (don’t judge), we were on our way. We had lots of help keeping the boys occupied on the drive as my mother-in-law and 13-year old niece were with us. It ended up being a long drive thanks to road construction, and the kids were definitely restless.
When we finally arrived, it was quite challenging to get them into their bathing suits and suntan lotion on. An eternity later, we met up with family who were already down at the beach and started our fun-filled day, or so I thought.
Our oldest son, James, is what we like to call a “spirited” child, who is extremely passionate about his feelings, which can be a blessing and a curse. He’s also 3 years old, which I think speaks for itself. He was so excited about going to the beach, but my visions of him gleefully running out onto the sand and splashing into the waves were quickly replaced with him stomping off down the beach away from us, mad at who-knows-what. It took him quite a while to come around, but he finally did, and had a super fun time building sand castles with his grandma and cousins, splashing in the waves and searching for seashells with his little wagon.
His younger brother, Luke, who is almost 2 years old, is going through that clingy separation-anxiety stage where I usually have him glued to my leg. It was a glorious surprise to have him spend the day content to play in the sand. He would occasionally climb into my lap, bringing half of the beach with him, to sit and watch the waves, which I loved. It seemed like they were always eating something, which made me grateful I had packed such a full cooler.
Despite attempts to get our little Luke to sleep on the blanket, we ended up having a nap-less day, which tends to be recipe for disaster. We started packing up around 4 p.m., collecting shovels, shaking off blankets and wiping down the sticky fingers from the obligatory ice cream truck treats.
My thought was to do a quick rinse-off at the hose near our van, change clothes, be on the road in time to grab dinner on-the-go and arrive home by bedtime. I hadn’t anticipated the complete sleep-deprived, cold-water-induced tantrum that was going to ensue as we attempted to hose the kids off. It was pretty epic. I received some great post-trip advice from a friend that baby powder takes sand right off. We will be doing that next time for sure.
As we packed the grumpy, overly tired, semi-cleaned off kids into the van and headed towards home, I couldn’t help but think how my memories as a mom are going to be so different than those my children will have of these awesome trips. Sure I’ll remember their smiles, giggles and their sand-caked eyelashes looking up at me as we made drip castles together. But I’ll also remember all the tears I had to wipe, time-outs I had to give and reminders to stop kicking sand on people. I’ll remember it all, and one day when my boys take me along on their family beach trips (which they will because it’s always so much better with grandparents along), I’ll smile and remember the inconsolable cries of our James begging us to turn around and go back to the beach because he wanted to “stay there forever!”
Click here to find a beach close by that the kids will love.
Mandy Watts is a stay-at-home mom who lives in Crownsville with her husband, Justin, who runs their family business, and their two sons, 3-year-old James and 1-year-old Luke.