The beach is my happy place. The sand, the beauty of the ocean meeting the sky in the horizon, the smell of salty air, it makes me giddy just thinking about it. Each year, my husband and I meticulously plan our summer beach excursion in search of much needed relaxation and family bonding.
In a time far gone, READ: before children, we would plan our days around sea kayaking adventures, spa amenities and the time the pool bar opened. Our nitty gritty planning two kids later now consists of answering the following questions: How long of a flight will we have to endure with a toddler who despises being still longer than 4 ½ minutes? How long is the drive from the airport to the beach house with a toddler who also despises car seats? Does the house or condo have an equipped kitchen so we can avoid eating out three meals a day, again with a toddler who despises being still longer than 4 ½ minutes? How far will we have to schlep the beach gear to feel the sand under our toes? How far away is the nearest grocery store where we can stock up on beach toys, band aids, SPF 200 sunscreen, whole milk, diapers, pool snacks, beach snacks, car snacks, return flight home snacks, oh and wine? Don’t forget the wine. Simple enough, right?!?
Each year as we press send on the reservation, we fantasize of lounging next to the waves while our children peacefully play amongst the sand, building a science fair worthy castle in their perfect Mini Boden swimsuits and coordinating floppy hats. We conveniently forget, however, a family vacation is actual work. Cooking and cleaning three meals a day, laundering smelly beach towels, no sleep kind of work.
The Preparation: Vacation prep is no joke. Plan on spending at least three full days cleaning the house to avoid returning to a smelly heap of dirt, meticulously planning and coordinating everyone’s outfits, purchasing travel size everything and lugging suitcases up from the basement. Realize you cannot find the kids’ birth certificates and spend the next 12 hours in a frantic state of delusion ripping the clean house apart to find them. Hint: they can always be found in a random drawer.
The Arrival: After a long flight where the kids eat the equivalent of a dump truck worth of sugar, all in hopes they will be decent, they are ready to hit the ground running, literally. Oh, but wait, now it’s time to retrieve four suitcases, the rental car, install the car seats. At this point, if you make it out of the humid, coastal parking lot alive without sweating or yelling to death you’ve won at life. On the way to the beach house, do not forget about stopping by the local grocery store because there’s nothing that says well behaved kids like a trip to the store after a two hour flight and subsequent drive.
The “Vacation”: Ah, it’s finally here. You all run to the sand as fast as possible. And by run, I mean the kids bound there without a care in the world while the parents carry coolers, chairs, umbrellas, toys, snacks, sunscreen, diapers, hats, and beach bags like the mule horses we are. But alas, the cool ocean air hits and for a moment all is forgotten, until everyone decides they are hungry. P.S. don’t count on glorious mornings of sleeping in during the vacation. Your toddler will refuse to sleep at night unless it is directly on top of your face, ready to rage again at 5 a.m.
The Departure: At this point, everything you own is covered in sand and smells like mildew. It’s fine. Shove it all in the suitcase and hope it gets lost at the airport so you will never have to do the eleven loads of laundry that await once returned to home. Pack up any leftover snacks, which probably includes only the bad ones, and pray you make it home alive. Actually, at this point, you will be so exhausted you won’t even notice if everyone is screaming the entire flight.
The Return/Vacation Hangover: The vacation hangover is the real deal. It’s similar to the Christmas hangover we endure every year, but worse. They have been treated to seven days of late bedtimes, bribes to behave in public, junk for every meal and a lack of any and all rules. The moment their little paws hit the front step of home it’s what we call “Operation Break Their Spirit.” Our overly tired kids are hit hard with regimen, healthful choices and required sleep schedules. Their reactions can be compared to that of a college student the day after his 21st birthday. They are moody, nauseous and want to spend all day on the couch watching cartoons and eating Doritos. Sorry kids, vacation is over. Go grab an apple and pretend to like one another.
Perhaps it’s that our children are still under the age of six and not yet independent enough to make themselves a sandwich or play without us wondering how much sand ingestion is worthy of a call to the pediatrician. Or maybe this is simply our new version of vacation. It is work. It is also fun.
Despite the sweatshop amount of hours we logged (literally and figuratively) trying to make it perfect for our kids, we smiled every morning as our kids bounded out of bed ready to hit the waves. We laughed endlessly at their antics in the sand. The looks on their faces as they spotted a stingray and a sea turtle in the ocean will be forever engrained in our minds. And the hugs they piled on each night after saying “we LOVE vacations!” let us know they were showing appreciation the only way they knew how, by enjoying life and living in the moment.
Even though they may never remember, we will. Throughout our vacation I found myself stopping to revel at their chubby toes feeling the sand. I stopped, without distraction, and watched them. I really watched them. The giggling, the excitement and the wonder in their eyes let us know it was all worth it. I can’t wait for the next round.