Frankly I knew it was inevitable. Life is always a Faustian trade of evils (or joys...depending on how rose colored your glasses are). When the two older kids left for their very Parisian-esque rural outsourcing of summer (see Bringing Up Bebe), I was tempted to think of all the amazing things I was going to accomplish. It’s hard to get anything done when you’re doing your best impression of zookeeper/professor/therapist twentyfour-seven for nine months of the year and I was much looking forward to the break.
Well I got it. Truly. From everything. No violin, no sports, no therapy, no school meetings, no staying up until midnight trying to grow rock crystals on a toothpick. I traded the busy life of four kids where I couldn't keep the house clean, but did accomplish important things (like how to take a booger out with tissue), to a the slower easier life of two kids where the house stays clean but not accomplish anything big. Mainly because you belatedly realize the younger two are stuck to you like glue without their built in entertainers and playmates. But going backwards in family size (temporarily) does have its fair list of perks. The laundry stays only one or two loads behind, the kitchen is almost always in a mildly presentable state (the fruit flies are suing for breach of contract), and the house actually gets vacuumed regularly. But I was kidding myself to think I could get any big mind-blowing projects accomplished. Thus it was with great difficulty I let go of my pipe dreams and resigned myself to sleeping in every morning, putzing around the house teaching my preschooler how to fold washcloths before finally going to the beach or pool.
I would like to say that I’m so organized that going to the beach is a painless affair, but instead it’s the opposite, I’m so unorganized going to the beach is a (mostly) painless affair. Of course I’ve got “science” to back up all of my justifications for this, and I thought I’d share them in case someone else is looking for a way to spend more time having fun and less time trying to get out the door.
Disclaimer: (If you are one of those uber prepared types that has a ziploc baggie for your ziploc baggie, then please close your eyes and don’t read this. The world needs more of you and less of me. In a Darwinian experiment I’m the first to die out i.e. I’m more than grateful for the times I’ve been helped by the preparers)
Don't bring sunblock or snacks and only bring a limited amount of water (or none if you know there's a drinking fountain)
I say this somewhat tongue in cheek because I do actually have a thing of sunblock that stays in my beach bag, but it usually takes us the whole summer to get through it. And the logic is this. Your body is an amazing machine that knows when it's hungry, tired, and had too much sun. Things like pretzels, doritos and sunblock override this built in safety mechanism which means you end up at home exhausted bloated, overly slathered with chemicals and cranky from the combination of artificial cheese flavor and that sunburned spot behind your knees you missed. Trust the human body to go “ugh, I’m really hot and hungry and I swear I can feel cancer cells forming on my body right now.” That’s when you know it’s time to load up the kids and head home. On the plus side, this usually means everyone gets their naps (or have gotten their naps), and you have time to plan dinner, paint your toes and eat bon bons. ( here is a harvard medical publication advocating the health benefits of moderate sun exposure).
Don't bring a picnic blanket, chairs or umbrella
In the book “Blue Mind” Wallace Nichols talks about the science behind going to the beach or even just being in water. Dopaminergic pathways, neuro plasticity, auditory cortex physiology, textural and vestibular input are all scientific ways to say the ocean is really good for you. The chemical makeup of the salt water, the minerals, the ebb and flow of the waves, and the sand are all incredibly soothing and healthy for your brain and body. I like to think of a little beach trip being like a soft reboot. Between all of that and the vitamin D, I also try to take my kids to a deserted beach when they’re under the weather. But back to the packing list… most of those things don’t work if you’re sitting on a chair, on a blanket, under an umbrella, with water shoes, rash guard and sun hat on. If you have kids who are low threshold on the sensory spectrum then they likely won’t want to budge out of the little fortress of protection against the dread elements and will take any suggestions to the contrary as torture of the highest degree with you as the grand inquisitor. It may take awhile, but they'll be happier in the long run. (note: ignore this if you have kids with severe processing disorders)
Don't load and unload the car
There’s no scientific theory behind this one, unless it’s Newton’s first law of motion (An object at rest remains at rest until mommy decides the towels are starting to smell). I use a big green plastic container from IKEA and that’s where the sand toys, floaties and towels live in the back of the car. The baby carrier also lives in the car so literally all that needs to be done to go to the beach or pool is getting in the car and leaving. (which if you have kids, you know is a feat in and of itself)
Do pack a magic sand eraser
There’s only one gimmicky item that’s made it into my super lazy...er minimalist beach container and that’s a bamboo swaddle blanket. I discovered this black magic entirely by accident last summer. West coast sand has these gold flakes in it that stick to skin like glitter (which isn’t nearly as pretty as it sounds). Anyone who has tried to get four kids rinsed and sand free before they get in the car, knows it’s on the same level as completing a triathlon (one armed with a wet cat zip tied to your leg). Once, in desperation I yanked the blanket off the weakest member of the tribe in an assuredly futile attempt to get at least some of the caked wet sand off…. and Lo and behold it worked! So the swaddle blanket earned itself a permanent spot in the beach bag. I have considered getting myself a booth at the county fair “Step right up and let me show you the one and only MAGIC SAND ERASER for a low low price of $49.99 today only!!”. If however you decide to get yourself three for that price on Amazon, it does have to be the bamboo one. The cotton ones don’t work as well for some reason.
And that’s it. Simple! Easy! (I’m kidding, we all know it’s never easy). And sometimes I do pack all of the foods and huddle under my friends umbrella and lust after all of the cool beach stuff everyone else has. But hey do whatever you gotta do. (and if you’re a preparer and you’ve made it to the end of this, then here’s a Valium and some wine, thank you for loving me).