beach babies plain janeAs a kid, piling into our big, powder-blue station wagon for our annual family trip to the beach was the highlight of my summer. I could always tell when we were close to Ocean City because it was just about the time my mother would threaten to pull the car over if we kids didn’t stop bickering. What fun we had!

Oh, I’ll never forget those long days at the beach—the air thick with a mixture of salt spray, pizza, and caramel corn. Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 was blaring from the AM radio on a nearby blanket. It was the kid equivalent of heaven. Except for just one thing: My mother forced me to wear an oversized T-shirt as a form of prehistoric sunscreen. Problem #1: It weighed me down in the ocean like a cement poncho. Problem #2: Upon emerging from the sea it would suck in with a terrible force and cling to me like a roll of cellophane. No amount of pulling or tugging would release the shirt from my skin. On the up side, it made a super-gross (great) noise as I tried to free myself from its insidious grasp. 

During the vacation, my family would ride bikes on the boardwalk at sunrise, search for shells, poke seaweed with a stick, make castles, and bury my brother in the sand. And, after each jam-packed day, we would shower . . . outside. What could be better?

Fast Forward

Years later, I am determined to re-create those magical memories and give my kids the joy of the family beach experience at Ocean City. We begin with a round of mini golf and dine on all-you-can-eat crabs the night before our big day at the ocean. My husband and I even hold hands (I know!) as we stroll back with our little ones to the hotel. Tomorrow would be the best day ever. 

After a late breakfast, I pack for the day’s outing while my boys whine, “Can we go now?” But, no, we can’t “go now,” because preparing for a day at the beach with kids is more time consuming than I thought it would be. I gathered umbrellas, sandals, and aqua socks. I packed the cooler with snacks and drinks. I crammed sand castle-building equipment, sunscreen, towels, extra shirts, chairs, boogie boards, goggles, fins, snorkels, and cash into a dozen giant totes. Finally, there was one last thing to do: the dreaded pre-beach sunscreen application. 

I’m fairly certain I would get less resistance from my boys if I told them I was going to put live leeches on their skin. 

As I cover them with sunblock, they gripe, they wiggle, they vibrate, and they fake-cry. While one is screaming he’s going blind because a speck of SPF 50 got near his eye, the other is making a big, slobbery production because he swears he got some in his mouth. Two hours of my life are now gone as we begin the act of dragging what seems like every possession we own three blocks to the shore. More whining, but this time it’s me.

Exhausted and nearly dying from heat stroke, we find our perfect spot on the beach. As we set up our traveling circus, the kids, who can’t swim very well, beg us to let them go into the water alone. No way. So we drop everything in a heap and we head to the surf. Funny thing about the ocean? It’s sandy and salty. “I have sand in my suit!” the older one protests. “This water tastes gross!” the little one cries. Like the waves crashing over us, the complaints roll in. 

Then, suddenly, the tide turns. “I think I see a dolphin! Look at that ship! Can we go in deeper?” From there on, it’s all smiles. By day’s end we had done every beach-y thing on my list and was I feeling like a superstar. Especially when the boys declared this “the best vacation ever.” 

My smug self-satisfaction is short-lived. Squelched the moment I sit down and feel a twinge of pain. Guess who forgot to put on sunscreen? Looks like tomorrow I’ll be wearing an oversized t-shirt once again. ‚Ä®Fingers crossed it still makes that gross (great) noise. 

Jane Suter is one funny mom. To share some of your own parenting experiences with Jane, write to her.

Does Jane's story remind you of your own experiences at the beach? Please share!