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Summer dilemma: Is it even worth going to the beach with kids? (I.e., can you pull it off without wanting to pull out your hair?!)

Erin Zammett Ruddy

Anyone who’s taken little kids to the beach can tell you: It’s no day at the beach. But can it still be fun? Even a little fun? Is it worth all the effort? I like to think so but lately I’m just not so sure…

We had friends in town from Tennessee last week. They have a boy the same age as Alex and a girl the same age as Nora. It was perfect and, of course, pure chaos most hours of the day. On Friday morning Amy and I decided to take the boys and Nora to the local beach about five minutes from my house (Nick was working and Amy’s husband stayed home with her napping baby). Sounds easy, right? Well, it took an hour to pack our bags—homemade nutritious lunch included—and after turning around once for a forgotten backpack we arrived at around 11:30 a.m. Peak sun hours, which meant major sunscreen application. I also had to spend $30 for a beach pass just to get in the place.

We attempted to set up our towels in a nice flat area but it quickly became apparent that we wouldn’t be sitting so the state of our home base really didn’t matter. Nora is crawling all over the place and putting everything in her mouth which made it impossible to put her down. So for the next 45 minutes, we shuffled between the water, the showers, the bathrooms, the towel for shovels and to wipe sand from our hands and then, finally, we sat. For about three minutes.

I had quickly decided I would not be eating the lunch we’d packed (since I’ve started being more mindful about what I eat, I really like to enjoy my meals and there would be nothing enjoyable about eating a sandy sandwich one-handed). Fortunately Alex doesn’t mind getting sand all over himself. He actually dropped his sandwich at one point and then picked it up and kept eating it. I don’t really mind sand either, as long as it’s not in my food. I actually sat right down on the shoreline with Nora and let her splash around while the waves and sand rolled over us. How can you mind sand and be a mother at the beach?! The last time I was at the beach I was with a friend who doesn’t have children yet and Alex had gotten an ice cream cone and she watched it drip all over my leg without me even noticing and said, “So, when you’re a mom does that stuff just not bother you?” Here’s the thing: I think it would bother me if I let it but since I’ve officially declared this summer The Summer of Embracing Chaos, I’m actually OK with it.

So I think my answer to my own question is yes, it’s worth it to take your kids to the beach. Especially if that beach is only five minutes away. Yes, our car is covered in sand and you can always find a wet towel shoved in a bag somewhere and there is the massive schlepping and packing and unpacking to deal with, but it’s summer and we’re young and so what if we get a little dirty? Maybe taking kids to the beach is one big metaphor for motherhood. It’s messy and not very relaxing and never quite what you expect, but if you’re OK with getting a little sand in your bathing suit—and possibly your mouth—you can have a lot of fun. Especially if there are après-beach cocktails to look forward to!

Confession: As I watched Alex crunch on his sandwich and Nora try to fling herself out of my arms, I grabbed my cell and, with one finger, texted my babysitter: “Any chance you come to the house around 1:30 for a couple of hours? I’m desperate. It will be easy, I promise! Just the boys!” In a sign of true mercy she wrote back immediately, “Sure! You can leave all four kids if you want, no problem.” I texted her back that I love her and then the ice cream man came to the beach and we were off running to wait on an epic line to get a spiderman pop that stained Alex’s hand red. Lovely.

We were at the beach for a total of one hour and 15 minutes and we were spent. Granted we didn’t have our husbands with us which would have been a big help, but even if they were there it’s not like we would have been sunning ourselves or reading a magazine (the first time I took Alex to the beach, I actually brought an Us Weekly…ha!). But within minutes of being home, all three beach kids were napping and we were getting showered and ready to go have a boozy lunch. The husbands came with us and we sat on the harbor eating oysters and drinking beer and toasting to my babysitter, who saved us.

All in all, it was a great day. And I will definitely be going back to the beach. If only to make use of that $30 beach pass! Have you been taking your kids to the beach this summer? Any tricks for keeping your sanity? Obviously my babysitter bail-out was a special occasion thing so I’ll need some tips for next time!