It was mid-July when I realized we hadn't yet taken our 1-year-old daughter to the beach. I felt a momentary panic. After all, I loved the beach. I wanted Em to experience the beach. For the love of god, she was obligated to experience the beach. We live in New Jersey. We are the home of the Jersey Shore. As the saying goes: "We don't pump our gas. We pump our fists." Usually while at the beach.
"OK," I said to Michael. "Next weekend is my brother's wedding. The following weekend is that barbecue. We have to go to the beach one of the following two weekends."
But then Michael scheduled a work meeting for the next Saturday. I almost murdered him because, that Sunday, we had another barbecue. That left the following weekend, and I had to teach on Sunday afternoon.
"You guys have to leave before 9 AM," a friend told me. "To beat the traffic."
I tried to exercise restraint. Obviously, she did not have a 1-year-old.
I slept in the morning of the beach trip. We all did. But it was OK. There was no rush. I now had the entire morning to pack for our trip. And Em had breakfast and her morning nap and then lunch. And Michael had to run an errand at 10 AM.
"Can you pick up the beach umbrella from my mom's house, since you'll already be in the area?" I texted Michael while he was out, eyeing the already massive and rapidly expanding pile of items we needed for our trip.
Tote bag containing changes of clothes for mom, dad and baby, plus sunblock and bug spray, a plastic bag for wet bathing suits, a brush for my post-ocean hair, deodorant and the novel my husband was reading
Diaper bag containing regular diapers, swimming diapers, wipes, plastic bag for dirty diapers, maxi pads, tampons, baby baseball cap, baby sunglasses , mommy sunglasses, bib, shatterproof plate, sippy cup (to be filled with whole milk right before heading down to the beach, and to be given to Em immediately upon arrival), bottle of water (to pour into the sippy cup once milk was done to prevent dehydration), my wallet, my lip balm, travel-sized tissues, breath mints, my latest book of Lorrie Moore short stories, my house keys, my car keys and my cell phone
Plastic bucket and shovel
Two portable recliners
Three additional towels
The last shreds of my sanity
We left directly after lunch. Our drive coincided with Em's afternoon nap, so she slept most of the way. Though we hit traffic, it wasn't terrible and Em awoke as we approached the beach, ecstatic and clapping and filled with energy.
We'd only spent about an hour and a half on the beach though we'd left the house about seven hours earlier.
After finding a parking spot and changing Em's diaper in the trunk of our car, we managed to drag our asses (and our supplies and our baby) to the beach itself, loaded down like pack mules, bladders full to bursting. We paid $20 for two beach passes and then found an empty spot on the beach. I dropped my bags and spread out the beach blanket and set up my recliner and Michael tried to shove the stake of the beach umbrella into the sand and the wind blew it away and it nearly killed someone. After fixing that, Michael ran to the restroom while I kept an eye on Em. Then Michael returned and I ran to the restroom. Afterward, I could finally pull off my T-shirt and my shorts and contemplate the ocean.
"What time is it?" I asked Michael.
There was only an hour and a half until our parking pass expired.
I walked Em down to the ocean. I let the waves rush over my feet and then walked in deeper. Em looked concerned. I squatted down, trying to place her legs in the water. She hugged her knees to her chest, clinging to me desperately. I dropped to my knees, hoping the waves would eventually rush over her feet, making her less afraid. She seemed OK, but then a larger wave came and splashed her full-on in the face.
GIF via Tumblr
"Wheeeee!" I said, in a high, manic voice, bouncing her on my thigh, trying to convince her that this was all so exciting. She sputtered and blinked and seemed unconvinced, but at least she didn't cry.
We spent the rest of our time there sitting on our beach blanket, pouring sand and shells into her plastic bucket. A half hour before our parking ticket was to expire, we coordinated another tag-team expedition so we could change into dry clothes. Then we got back to our car, changed Em, loaded up the trunk and pulled out of the spot just in time.
From there, we drove to the boardwalk for dinner where I had uncomfortable flashbacks to my teen years. Nearby, the usual mating ritual was in progress. A girl primped and flirted and boasted about her pepper spray and her taser. A guy dared her to tase him. She did.
After dinner, I practically sprinted back to the car, slaloming the stroller around slow pedestrians in board shorts and string bikinis. Michael strapped her into her car seat, I flung the stroller into the trunk of my car and we headed home. We made it there by 7:45 PM. As we exited the car, I shook out my legs and stretched my arms to the sky.
We'd only spent about an hour and a half on the beach though we'd left the house about seven hours earlier. But still. The weather had been perfect. The waves had been warm(ish). The funnel cake had been delicious.
My husband and I looked at Em. We looked at each other. We smiled.