What It’s Really Like to Pack up the Kids to Bring Them to the Beach

The weatherman’s forecast is so perfect you barely flinch as you’re blinded by the glare of his unnaturally pearly whites and think, we should go to the beach today. Drinking your coffee, you glance over at your earliest risers zombied out in front of cartoons and make a game plan to start preparations without them knowing what you’re up to. This quiet moment might be your last for the next sixteen hours.


You tiptoe through the house to discreetly hunt down sunscreen, pulling it from junk drawers, soccer bags, and under the bathroom sink, dropping your collection of half-full bottles into a soft canvas tote. Next, you slip into the garage and dig a path through scooters, rakes, shovels, and bags of donation clothes you keep meaning to drop off, to the cobweb-coated rolling beach caddy, saying a little prayer that its wheels still work. Yes, it’d be helpful if your husband were awake to help you with this, but he’d think it’d be genuinely fun to get the kids involved in this project and you honestly can’t quite handle that yet.

With a few muttered curses and some flop sweat, you manage to free it from its spot. Piece by piece you sift through the crap that everyone shoved inside the last time you used it, checking to see whether the pails have holes, the toys are intact, and the shovels still have handles. This is when you discover a plastic bag you automatically open to peek inside, only to understand far too late that your children seem to have packed a to-go bag of sea creatures last year that only became more pungent with age. After a sprint to the outside garbage bin, a few dry heaves, and gulps of fresh air, you return to your task, ensuring the chairs still work and there are enough for everyone. But where is the beach umbrella?

You scour the sports equipment bins, floor, and shelves of the garage: nothing. You slip back into the house to peer into every closet, the playroom: nope. You grab a hamper under the guise of doing laundry and head to the basement, knowing your tots won’t follow you towards a chore. After peering into the messy storage space to no avail, something bright catches your eye: a fort in the corner built from cardboard boxes and a striped umbrella. Bingo! You shove it to the side of your body opposite the kids might see as you dash past them again upstairs, and tuck it away with everything else you’ve stacked together.

There’s a rumbling in the kitchen. All the kids are up now. There’s another task before the trip that they need to be a part of. Your sneaky time is over. While everyone eats breakfast, you brace yourself with one more mug of joe before making an announcement. “When you’re done eating and have brushed your teeth, I need everyone to find a swimsuit and swim shirt that fits and put them on.”

This is when the screaming begins.

The kitchen erupts as everyone sprints to their closets, tossing clothes around their rooms, trying on suits backward, which don’t belong to them, or that should have been handed down years ago. As you shove yourself into the only one you have that rarely gives you wedgies, you remember that all of the beach towels were lost in the great vomitplosion of last winter’s flu outbreak. Your husband is woken by the anarchic background noise, and suggests you use a couple flat sheets and the biggest bath towels in the closet, saving the day. This gets piled at the top of the stairs, then you go from room to room checking to make sure everyone’s parts are covered properly by their swimsuit of choice, then hustle them back down to strap on sandals for themselves while you pack the cooler.

Well, while you find the cooler. Then pack it.

Turns out the cooler was inexplicably shoved at the top of the coat closet, but the nice thing is that as you yank it down, hats shower down with it, reminding you to yell, “Everyone needs a hat, too!” Letting them fight over who gets which one, you cram a few ice packs inside, cover them with water bottles and juice boxes, slap together some sandwiches, then basketball-toss whatever snacks are left in the cabinet on top of it all. Thankfully you were too lazy to clean out the pack of hand wipes and stash of napkins from the front pocket the last time you used it, so you’re all set.

You tag your husband into being the solo player of Trunk Tetris to get everything into the car so you can begin the sunscreen wrestling match. One by one you lob a kid into the bathroom to do their business, tackle them with SPF 50 on their way out, then send them to the car. Everyone is buckled in, the A/C is on, and you get in. Then you get out to grab two more things: a bottle of baby powder because of a video you saw about it getting sand off the kids, and the bin of summer reading books everyone can entertain themselves with on the road because they’re about to find out you’ve banned devices for the day. Weee!

The car hurries to the highway to the tune of your kids’ complaints about screen-free time, then it sits in traffic with everyone else who had the sunny day plans. A couple hours in, there’s an emergency pee stop.  This turns into an emergency snack stop, too, because you can’t access the cooler until the trunk is completely unpacked. After a bit more four-wheeled crawling, you arrive and spend another hour seeking a parking spot. As soon as you pull in, two of your kids are fast asleep. Of course.

Hell-bent on having fun, you wrangle everyone out of the car, to the beach, all of them running ahead as you pull a loaded cart behind you with one hand and haul everything else on your back and shoulders. You unpack it all, setting up a spot close enough to access the water’s edge but far enough back that the tide won’t overtake you before it’s time to leave, then make the kids line-up for you to spray them with another coating of sunscreen (now that their base layer has been smeared all over the minivan).

What It Is Really Like to Pack up the Kids to Bring Them to the Beach

At last, you release them into the sand and sea.

And count their heads.

Sit for just a minute.

Then count their heads.

Help build a sand castle.

Then count their heads.

“Watch this, Mom!”

Then count their heads.

Realize a head is missing.

Realize that the moat being dug on the other side of the sand castle is MUCH deeper than you thought.

Recover from panic attack.

Steal a juicebox.

Then count their heads.

Scoop sand out of a swimsuit bottom that isn’t yours.

Then count their heads.

Use hand signals and Mom Face to remind your kid to share their beach toys with the new kid who’s enviously eyeing them.

Then count their heads.

Round them up for lunch.

Watch them feed the fruit to the birds and sand.

Another sunscreen spray line-up.

Send them back off.

Sit down again.

Then count their heads.

Apologize to the young childless couples around you who keep getting sprayed with residual sand each time your kids run up to tell or show you something.

Then count their heads.

Fix goggles.

Then count their heads.

Bring particularly damp and sand-covered child to hot bathroom to breathe in air thick with farts and aerosol sunscreen as she takes the longest poop of her life.

Join her in the sea to wash away that experience.

Then count their heads.

Distribute more snacks they shove down their throats before dashing back to play.

Then count their heads.

Let the littlest one crawl into your lap in sweaty exhaustion until she falls asleep.

Then count their heads.

See that your husband has dozed off, too, and smile at how happy you are right now with the sun beginning to dip over the delighted squeals around you.

Then count their heads, putting off gathering everyone for the ride home just a little bit longer while you relish in the moment.