There’s a popular meme that pops up on the internet from time to time with that scene from the original Jurassic Park movie where one of the characters stands with his arms splayed out as he carefully backs away from the group of vicious velociraptors that are encircling him.
This image is not unlike the scene that my fellow beach goers saw when we took our kids to the beach last week. Handling a group of hungry man-eating dinosaurs might have been easier.
I have two boys, ages eight and one. Yes, that’s a big age gap, and no, my husband and I didn’t mean to have such a gap between our kids, but they get along well and we love their relationship. We’ve taken our older son to the beach twice before, but he’s never been one to wander away from us. In the past he has contentedly played in the sand or at the water’s edge. We were never “off-duty” as parents, but we could trade off if one of us wanted to read a book or doze in the sun while the other one played and swam with our son.
I knew our trip would be different this year. I mean, our 1 year old is already known for being quite adventurous. And by adventurous, I mean dangerous. He puts everything in his mouth no matter where we are. Electrical cords, food off the ground, rocks, dirt, bugs, grass, leaves, tissues (used of course). These are just a few of the things I have pulled from his mouth over the past few months. He’s fast, too. I watch him very closely, but let’s just say that Poison Control recently became a contact on my phone.
This baby has also done everything early. He sat up alone at 5 months, crawled at 6 months, walked (nay, RAN) at 10 months. He climbs furniture so quickly, that it’s nothing to turn my head for a mere few seconds and find him standing on top of the toy box or the table. He even pushes things around so that he can climb to whatever height he is aiming for. He has no fear.
I knew he would be a handful at the beach. I knew this. And yet, I still thought I could keep him corralled with some buckets and shovels and endless amounts of sand. Of course he’ll eat the sand, but that’s just a little extra fiber, right? It will toughen up his immune system. We can still have a nice, relaxing time at the beach, I thought to myself. I even packed a couple of books to read because I have always taken books to the beach, and I usually finish a couple before week’s end.
Our condo, rented by my mother-in-law who was with us, sat directly in the sand facing the beautiful shore of Orange Beach, Alabama. The sand is pristinely white, and the ocean is a captivating combination of blues and greens so clear that you can see the tiny minnows swimming around your ankles when you’re standing in it. The jaunt through the sand to the actual waterline looked a bit long from our balcony view, but hey, we survived the 9 hour drive (which turned out to be 12 hours, because—kids), so what’s a little further to walk when the beach is RIGHT THERE? No big thing. We’re young. Or youngish.
Our first morning began early because my kids are early risers. Also, I’m positive the sun rose and shone only and directly into the window of their room. After reviving myself with a giant cup of coffee, I began the thirty minute ritual of rubbing each child down with tons of sunblock, laying out swimming gear, getting myself ready while my husband loaded himself down with chairs and bags and a cooler. I put the little one in his swim diaper only to (of course) change it just as we were leaving our condo because that is the exact moment he felt compelled to fill his diaper.
Finally, only an hour later than planned, we were on the elevator and heading down six floors, down a hall, through the pool area, across the boardwalk, and shuffling through about a quarter of a mile of sandy beach before we dropped all of our gear. We weren’t moving to the beach, but it looked like we were. My arms ached with the weight of the thirty pound baby I’d hefted on my left hip, but the sound of the crashing waves was apparently too much for him and he climbed up my body while I tried unsuccessfully to set him down. I don’t know how children can physically climb another human being, but they can. I think my little one is part squirrel. And octopus, because I’m certain he grew a few extra arms while wrapping his body around my carotid artery.
My eight year old was ecstatically calling out “Watch me, Mom! Come on, Dad! Watch this! Come get in, Mom!” as he dove and swam into the waves. Meanwhile, my husband set up our chairs, towels, bags, and beach toys, while I worked at prying the squirrel-octopus baby from my neck. When I finally got his feet to touch the sand, his brain must have computed “FREEDOM,” and he took off away from me and the water, picking up anything of interest that could possibly pass for a snack. Sea grass? Yum. Especially when washed down with the stagnant sea water from the lukewarm tide pool where he finally plopped down—”tidepool” being a glorified term for beach puddle that a thousand feet had walked through and contained the added bonus of a stray a cigarette butt floating in it.
After an hour and a half of keeping the baby from wandering off and climbing into a plethora of strangers’ beach chairs where he would stand and squeal at the amounts of sand he was gifting to the owners of the chairs, I carried him back through the considerable length of sand, through the pool area, down the hall, up six floors on the elevator, and back to our room where I stripped him down in the tub and fruitlessly tried to shower all the sand from his body before redressing him, giving him a snack, and putting him down for a nap. My mother-in-law generously stayed with him so I could have some time with my older son and husband, which required another commute to the beach. Less than an hour later I made the trip back to the room with them and pulled out the lunch fixings in time to hear the baby wake from his nap. After feeding and cleaning him up, I began the entire sunblock/swimming suits/gear gathering process all over again. For four days we repeated this dance.
It was exhausting.
The baby ate more sand than I thought he would, drank enough sea water to fill his sippy cup, toddled over to more strangers to play with their beach toys or stand in their beach chairs, rubbed the soothing combination of sunblock, sand, and seawater into his eyes with regularity, and cried when the waves were too loud.
I read zero words from any of my books.
I laid out in the sun once.
I saved the baby’s life about seventeen hundred times.
I was in bed every night by 9:15 because I surely walked five miles a day if you add up all the trips to and from the beach—and all carrying about 40 extra pounds of baby and gear.
I sat in crowded beachy restaurants after waiting an hour in the heat for a table, and wanted to cry with defeat from entertaining a loud, busy, loud, curious–and did I mention loud–one year old among groups of other cranky, hungry guests who had to wait in the heat while listening to somebody’s loud toddler.
And at the end of the week, I had to pack up the suitcases and endure another long car ride home with tired kids in the back of the van–but with piles and piles of laundry waiting at the end of the trip instead of a beach vacation.
But you know what else I did?
I stood on a stunning, white sand beach with my husband and my kids and watched the tireless beauty of the mighty ocean crash at our feet over and over again.
I built sandcastles with my toddler just to see his unadulterated joy in knocking them down.
I strapped on a pair of goggles and dove beneath the waves with my eight year old to dig up shells and look at the schools of fish swimming around us.
I enjoyed the first date night with my husband in over six months while his mother kept the kids. We held hands and walked the beach after eating a meal together that didn’t require either of us cutting up anyone’s food or cleaning up a spilled drink or apologizing for the Cheerios that may or may not have flown through the air.
I watched my oldest discover a deep love for fried shrimp, and we laughed our heads off while tossing French fries to the sea gulls flying around the outdoor restaurant that we visited on our last night.
I learned to use the boogie board with my big kid and laughed hysterically when the waves tumbled us out on the shore, swimsuits full of sand and knees scraped raw and faces filled with happiness.
I ate the best blackened fish sandwich I’ve ever had, and luxuriously shared some Key Lime Pie with my mother-in-law.
I came back surprisingly rested and amazingly enough—evenly tanned—although my definition of sunbathing has been reduced to chasing a toddler on the beach and toting buckets of water from the shore to the piles of sand my kids were playing in.
I soaked in all the smiles and kind looks that people graciously gave to my kids when they were loud in restaurants and full of curiosity at the beach. The steady stream of remarks that began with “Your kids are adorable!” kept me sane and reminded me that yes, my kids ARE adorable little humans who fill my heart and have all of my love and who make a trip to the beach unbelievably memorable.
I took a baby to the beach. It was work. It was hard.
It was also worth it.
And it is beautifully carved into my heart with memories I will cherish forever.
About the Author
Glenna loves being the mother of her two energetic boys after years of infertility. She and her husband live in Missouri where she writes about adoption, parenting, faith, and living with chronic pain. Connect with Glenna on her website, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.