There a million lovely things about being a WAH/SAH parent. There are a million and two things about it that can suck on a soul draining level. And then there’s those things that straddles both sides of the fence.
Bringing a toddler – at least, a toddler like Ben – to the beach is one of those things.
As the weather became nicer out this spring I heard from several friends how they thought of me each sunny day with envy, knowing that I would likely be spending the majority of the day outdoors. They weren’t wrong, as Ben and I do try to make it outside as much as humanly possible during the precious months of Minnesota spring and summer. And yes, it is awesome to spend more time outside than in. However, for the majority of the year we are trapped indoors as the grey sleet and snow comes down around us, making us stir crazy for the days when sunset happens later than 4:11p.m., but that’s another post for another day.
While the access to fresh air and sunshine is definitely on the “pro” SAH list, bringing a toddler to the beach for the day is not a relaxing experience. Sometimes it isn’t even fun for the adult because guess what? Being with kids is work. Taking care of kids is hard work. Keeping kids safe is really hard work. Here is what my “relaxing” beach day typically looks like with Ben:
Wake up to screaming toddler between 5:30-6a.m. Change toddler into dry diaper while he kicks at me and rolls wildly around the changing table.
Feed starving toddler breakfast. Cut up banana so he has something to satisfy him while I try to make eggs or peanut butter toast. Stop one hundred times to decipher what he’s anxiously gesturing “more, please” at.
Eat cold eggs and toast while Ben paces around the kitchen table. Half of my food ends up in his mouth, even though he insisted he was done eating off his own tray.
Stand in kitchen and pack lunch and snack for the beach. While cutting fruit Ben decides he’s still hungry, so every third piece goes to the toddler sitting on my feet. Every time I open the fridge toddler needs to help put something in (like his truck) or take something out (like the glass bottle of steak sauce).
Ice toes after glass bottle is dropped on my feet. Make mental note that he can reach the top shelf now.
Use bathroom and get my swimming suit on. Help Ben brush his teeth, then his hair, then retrieve the brush from the bathtub after he is finished brushing his hair. Keep one hand on the flatiron and repeatedly say “no touch” while chubby little fingers desire nothing more than second degree burns.
Tell Ben that it’s time to get his suit on so we can go bye-bye. Curse as he runs to the gate at the top of the stairs, adamant that bye-bye is happening NOW. Try to coax willful toddler into his bedroom to the dreaded changing table. When that fails, pick toddler up in a defensive stance as arms and legs go flying. Sacrifice shoulder to a defiant chomping in order to keep legs and knees from kicking pregnant stomach.
More sobs and screams on changing table. Try singing favorite songs, which has a 50% success rate of calming Ben down. Take a few more kicks and punches as he fights for freedom. Totally deflate his hopes when he realizes that getting the swimming trunks and swim shirt on were only half the battle – next comes sunscreen.
Dodge bites and generally wiggly-ness while trying to protect toddler from future wrinkles and skin cancer.
Set toddler free, who immediately runs to the gate demanding to be set loose. Listen to shrieking and sobbing while I tell him that I have to take Ace outside to go potty before we can leave. Get fingers pinched in gate as he shakes it while I sneak past with the dog. Offer distractions (go find your fishies! Go get your books! Where’s your animal puzzle?) to no avail.
Listen to Ben scream while Ace takes her time to pee.
Get dog in kennel while Ben sobs “bye-bye”. Reassure toddler that I didn’t ditch him.
Open gate for Ben and remind him a thousand times to go down the stairs on his tummy. On his tummy. On his – pick up crying Ben and make sure the stumble down the last step didn’t do any serious damage.
Sit Ben down on bench and wrestle on shoes. Check beach bag for: hat, towels, sunscreen, water bottle, sippy cup, sand toys, swim diapers, regular diapers, wipes and dry change of clothes. Carry Ben and bag to the car, get Ben buckled into car seat.
Go back inside for keys and cell phone that I forgot on kitchen counter.
Drive to beach and unload belongings and Ben. Remind Ben that if he wants to walk he has to hold my hand. We’ll argue about this several times before we finally get to the sand.
Pick our spot and unload towels and sand toys. Enjoy 10-15 minutes of Ben being entertained by the sheer joy of the water, the sand, filling up his bucket on the shore. Wonder if today is the day that he’ll be content playing like the other kiddos –
Nope. Chase Ben as he tries to run to the parking lot. Redirect to the beach. Redirect to the beach. Redirect. To. The. Goddamn. Beach.
Walk with Ben to the water (lasts for 10 minutes). Build castles for him to destroy (lasts for 5 minutes). Show him how to sift sand (lasts for 5 minutes). Redirect to the beach. We’re playing at the beach. AT THE BEACH.
Open up lunches. Ben gets to eat while I remind him to sit on his bottom. Sneak in stray bites when he is engaged in his food. Realize that I’m starving, but push the hunger aside as Ben takes off toward the parking lot.
Carry a screaming Ben back, get bit twice. Encourage him to rediscover the water or his toys. Enjoy 10-15 more minutes of Ben playing within my line of sight. Sneak in a few more bites of lunch that has gotten warm and mushy, but hey, food is food.
Redirect Ben to the beach for a dunking to clean off as much sand as possible. Carrying angry toddler to dry towel (get bit or kicked 2-5 times). Pin down toddler while peeling off second layer of skin swim diaper off of wet body. Dodge kicks while dressing in dry clothes. Hastily throw my shit in the beach bag without taking an assessment that I’ve grabbed everything while holding Ben’s arm with one hand.
Remind him of the holding hands rule while we walk to the car.
Drive home, carry sleeping toddler into his room. He smells like sun and sunscreen and a childhood spent outside, driving his mama crazy while he explores his world. Kiss him a few hundred times before lowering him into bed. Feel exhausted, sore, grimy with sand…and strangely happy. I’m the opposite of relaxed, but the days of laying in the sun reading a book and dozing on and off seem like a distant dream. I’m on toddler time now, which comes with a hell of a lot of ups and downs.
And plenty of sunshine.