Sometimes parenting-type things go so wrong that you recognize that the responsible thing to do is distance yourself from the experience; to give it a day or two, or eight in this case, before rehashing the details.
Oftentimes I find myself approaching outings with the kids in a risk vs. reward kind of way. So much so that when I pack the van full of children and sunscreen, lunches and sand pails, I've thought it through...thoroughly. On top of it all, when we go to our beach I know where to park; that at our beach at 10:00AM I will be guaranteed a second row spot that will quell complaints of hot pavement and heavy loads. I know how many quarters I need to avoid another parking ticket. I know that four frozen bottles of water will keep us hydrated and maximize cooler space. I know who will complain that their eyes sting or their butt is itchy. I've estimated water temperatures and know who will get cold first as well as who will refuse to stop boogie boarding. I know who will whine and who will be my trooper. I know when and where I will get my iced coffee for the ride home.
The problem last week was that I completely miscalculated. I figured a trip to the ocean is a trip to the ocean; what could possibly go wrong if we didn't go to our beach? I assumed that since this wasn't our first trip to the beach this year, it'd be no problem. I assumed that since the kids are that much older this year, they'd be champion helpers and phenomenal listeners; all around great sports. I assumed that trying a new-ish beach wouldn't impact our beach-going routine at all.
(House Island, Portland Harbor, Casco Bay, Maine)
(Looking for crabs...Plum Island, Massachusetts)
When we arrived at this other beach I was greeted by a lovely older gentleman who gave me the rundown on parking payment. Admittedly I wasn't paying much attention because I had started to panic. I couldn't see beach anywhere. I saw rocks, a marina, jetties and causeways. I dreaded the sight to my right...that of a long, long, long winding path leading to the beach.
(Long winding path, Plum Island, Massachusetts)
Putting on my best "what have I done" smile I parked the van and began unloading. Coincidentally that was when I realized my first mistake. Too much stuff for one pack mule and three kids to carry. But, since it was all shoved into the back of the van, there was no getting out of bringing the skim board, two boogie boards, the Puddle Jumper, the cooler, the ginormous bag full of chips, towels, hats and sunscreen. The beach chair. The beach pails and shovels. My phone. My keys. My wallet. A watch.
It was a task just crossing the lot to pay for parking. For a second I contemplated leaving. But the eye rolls and snorts I got when I suggested we pack up and go find a new parking lot sent a distinct message. There was no going back.
I inserted my card, paid my fee and the kiosk spat out a ticket I needed to place IN THE VAN, which was of course all the way across the parking lot. I almost cried, big self-pitying tears that would reflect my frustration and the gut feeling I had that this day was going to go all wrong. I knew there would be no reward.
I dropped all of our stuff, and told the kids "wait here, DO NOT move." I made it half way back to the van before I needed to modify my original instructions. "Please move out of that man's way so he can use the machine. But don't go ANYWHERE else." I yelled across the parking lot. My son was being literal. Minutes before he had stood in my way, practically under my armpit, watching the process of paying for parking. He was still standing directly in front of the kiosk, exactly where I had left him. The baffled man was trying to insert his credit card above Quinn's head. From an arm's reach. Trying to process his transaction without losing his receipt in the rat's nest perched on top of my son's head. The man's lips were moving and I wondered what he was saying. By the time I got back to the kids, I didn't care.
The walk to the beach was nothing short of excruciating. There were whiners on the way IN. There were no champion helpers. And the only phenomenal listener was the woman reading her magazine next to me.
Maintaining the theme of something new, I suggested a walk down the jetty. It was traumatic. Sophie who has the gracefulness and dexterity of a water buffalo started and stopped, stumbling the entire way. How that child didn't snap both of her ankles is beyond me. But the little bugger kept up with her brother. Who happens to be part mountain goat.
I lagged behind with a death grip on Gillian's hand. Unfortunately with all of the sunscreen I had applied to her, she was beyond slippery. It was like trying to hold onto a bunch of greased breakfast sausages. I couldn't keep my grasp. To make matters worse I couldn't keep my eyes on the older two, so far ahead, because I couldn't take my eyes of where my own feet were going.
I've climbed mountains all my life. I've carried sleeping babies up mountains, I've lugged injured dogs down mountains. I began climbing mountains at five years old; I've climbed mountains pregnant. But there was a moment where I thought there was no way I would ever get off that pile of rocks at the beach.
(Pile of rocks...House Island, Portland Harbor, Casco Bay, Maine)
For the rest of the afternoon Sophie wanted to boogie board. Quinn wanted to skim board, but kept falling face first into the sand. Gillian wanted to swim as far out into the Atlantic as she could. I should have pumped them full of shark attack stories. I held my breath while trying to keep track of the three of them. Eventually Gillian got cold. Sophie found a friend. Quinn found a skim board assistant. And I sat at the water's edge snuggling the littlest, keeping my left eye on Sophie, and my right on Quinn.
There were moments when it was good. But they were fleeting. Lunch was good until a seagull dragged our bag of trash down the beach. Building sand castles was good, until Quinn stomped on them all...and had to rebuild 25 more just so Sophie could stomp on his.
And yet, isn't there a saying about leaving being the hardest part?
Reading ourselves to go, I rinsed feet. I poured water over bodies who were suddenly petrified to rinse off in the ocean because the seaweed had shifted our way. I rinsed more feet, and then I rinsed them over again, because those feet kept stepping off of the clean, sand free blanket. I wrapped bodies, both hot and shivering at the same time, in towels. I rinsed toys, and then knocked them over into the sand. I loaded kids up with items to carry. I separated wet things from dry things. Trash from food not yet eaten. We were good to go.
And we made it three steps before the wheels fell off. Gillian had an ever loving fit. Quinn worked himself into a frenzy. I was so stinking hot sweat was running into the crack of my arse. My sunglasses were so full of steam that I couldn't see in front of me. And it became Mommy-Rotten.
I dropped everything I was carrying right there on the beach and stormed off...a little bit. I left Gillian crying in the sand with Quinn trying to console her in his Quinn way. I got the look from other parents. I got blank stares from the lifeguards, and honest to God giggles from the singles. I caught up to Sophie who had made good headway, but who was also in trouble just because. I hollered back to the other two, who hadn't managed to take a step in the right direction yet. I stormed back down the path to the beach, shoved my seagull slobbered trash in with my clean clothes and half eaten bag of potato chips. I tied boogie board string to the bottom of my bathing suit and hoped like hell I didn't end up pantsing myself. I hoarded sand toys in my arm pits and shoved a shovel down my shirt. I over loaded my only competent child and implored her to "just FRICKING move!" I was so angry that when the police officer pedaling by did a double take, instead of looking down in shame, I gave him my best stink-eyed sneer and marched on. I was getting OFF that damn beach.
As we reached the van I began my speech. I saw my kid's eyes glaze over, but I kept on ranting anyway. I sat Gillian on the cooler and told them never again. Never again would we try something new. Never again would I take them to the beach. Never again would we leave the house. And just to prove how angry I was, I told them they had to ride home in their wet bathing suits...oh the horror!
As I was entering Phase Four of my lunacy I picked up my beach chair, swung it up and over Gillian's head and lost my grip. I dropped my beach chair on her sweet little head. I picked her up and put her in the van instinctively knowing she was fine, and secretly praying that no one was on the phone with Child Protection Services. I took a minute to pack up the rest of the van, took a deep, DEEP breath, and returned to my children.
I hugged and parted hair to look for cuts. I soothed and help change in the car. I dusted bodies with baby powder, and quietly giggled when Gillian yelled to Quinn "I can see your wiener!" I turned the tunes on and the A/C up. I apologized. I gave the thumbs up and got two out of three thumbs up in return. We regrouped. We loved. We moved on.
I wasn't even onto the main road and Gillian was asleep. I knew a nap would really screw with bedtime. But I needed it. I nearly ran out of gas on the Turnpike, but took the task of filling up as an opportunity to take the incredibly scenic route home, pointing out where I used to live, and what beach we would try next time. I savored every moment in the cool quietness of the van. I found my iced coffee. I got my beach going groove back. I had spent a beautiful summer day on a beach in Maine. With my kids.
Perhaps Gillian had done some reflecting on her own. She summed it up best when as I was putting her to bed that night she whispered to me "you're my best Momma in the whole world...but sometimes you're mean."
There is reward after all.
As a side note, none of the pictures included in this post are from our recent trip to the beach.
I had forgotten my camera in the car.