Every summer my family joins my sister’s family for a week at the beach. Cousins can’t wait to see one another and do exactly the same things as last year. Dads man up to see who can find the most sea glass or the coolest treasure. (The taunting started around Christmas.) Us moms just look forward to sitting and doing nothing against the backdrop of a blue sea.
Then we arrive at the beach cottage and reality sets in. The kids run free like the wild horses on one of the islands, and we kind of still have parenting to do. And four kids somehow seems unequal to four parents who desperately want to relax.
Day 1: There was no denying when our troupe of eight arrived at the beach. As my brother-in-law put it, we looked like the Griswolds with our beach paraphernalia strapped to backs and shoulders: chairs, buckets, shovels, umbrellas, coolers, boogie boards, a skim board, towels, a football, and whatever else the kids snuck in their bags. Anyone in our vicinity who wanted peace and quiet was in for a rude awakening with all the shouting, flying sand, and obnoxious laughter.
Day 2: The expensive umbrella we bought for last year’s trip didn’t last through last year’s trip. We bought a cheap one this time. We were driving down the road our second day and fwoomp!everything on the roof had blown off. My sister’s umbrella and boogie boards landed in the middle of a five-lane road. So of course at the beach that day, my umbrella kept falling apart and hers stood strong.
Day 3: “Red Solo cup. Let’s fill it up. Let’s have a paaar-teeee. Let’s have a paaar-teeee.” Every year, everyone thinks it’s clever to latch onto one song so it gets stuck in everyone’s head the entire week. Four kids singing (the wrong lyrics) off-key day after day became mind numbing. When I heard it on the radio today and realized it was a real song and not some silly words the kids strung together, I nearly fell off my chair.
Day 4: Riding in a van with eight people can be lots of fun. When four of them are kids, it can also not be. At times I’m certain there were eight different conversations going on. I’m not sure how that was possible since I wasn’t part of any of them. My favorite was “Let’s copy Karen” and the kids would repeat everything I said. I hate that game. Then we played the quiet game and my husband gave the winner a quarter. Kids really aren’t so good at that. I got the quarter.
Day 5: My kids have never been taught proper beach bathroom etiquette. I grew up near a beach. If there weren’t bathrooms, you simply got up, waded into the ocean, and did your thing. My kids think this is disgusting. The same kids who lick their shoes and eat things from their nose. Seriously. Go in the water along with millions of marine wildlife.
Day 6: The kids and their cousins begged us to go go-karting. This activity provides no thrills for me. It’s not NASCAR. It’s not bumper cars. My kids fight over who has to ride with me because I always finish last. I don’t want to shell out $20 to drive my kids around a track so they can complain about it. I do that at home for free.
Day 7: Packing up, the kids got in some last games together. They told one another good-bye. And the adults were already making plans for next year’s trip.
We came home exhausted, filled with sand, and covered in peeling skin. A mountain of laundry sat as tall as the washing machine. The refrigerator held nothing for dinner. Normal life had returned.
But when we looked at the photos, we remembered: that first year when the kids were so small, songs from years past, giant sea glass, running down the dunes, and always getting soaked that first night on the beach. Every year the kids get older and bigger. So do the memories.
That’s why we do it.