Next Year will be Entirely Different

“This year will be tough,” I thought to myself, anticipating the summer beach trips at my mom’s beloved but entirely toddler-unfriendly beach house, “but next year… just wait until next year!” The glass-topped tables, the readily accessible stairs, the breakable lamps attached to tuggable cords, the vulnerable trinkets, the vertical blinds, the unlatched cabinets, the massive canvas painting hung within swatting distance above the sofa, the media console with an array of enticing buttons… so much to safeguard from my bumbling tike. But being at the beach makes it all worthwhile.

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Summer 2016

I envisioned my long, memory-filled, sand-dusted, sun-soaked days wrangling my kindergartener and preschooler while simultaneously chasing my toddler on the beach, at the pool, on the playground, and then at the beach house. I recounted the strain of having no childproofed place I can safely place my littlest so that I can cook dinner, pack the beach cooler, make snacks, go to the bathroom, or just sit for a beat. I remembered how I woke up every day at 6AM on vacation and popped him — wailing — into the pack-and-play so that I could wearily pump, set out breakfasts, and pack for the day’s beach excursion before the rest of the house awoke. I remembered the sinking dread I felt at the prediction of a rainstorm that would keep us trapped inside.

This year, I’ll have to wean from pumping before we take our trips and I’ll have to wear him whenever we’re in the house, because a pack-and-play will no longer stand as an impeding obstacle to my athletic tot. I will be on duty from wake-up to bedtime. I will enjoy it. I will treasure it. I will end the season with a multitude of photos and a plethora of cherished memories. I will be exhausted in the best and most depleting way. “Just push through this year,” I reassured myself, “next year will be entirely different.”

Then it struck me: next year will be entirely different. It will be easier, but next year they’ll all be older. My herd will be 7, 5, and 3. 7… 7-years old! The better part of a decade? And my middle son a burgeoning kindergartener?? No more baby? No more toddler? Tears welled. My throat grew tight. They’re growing too fast! Make it stop!

Sure, life will still be loud and chaotic, because that is our familial heartbeat. Vacations will still be life relocated. I will still fight the descent into anarchy by planning and packing, scheduling and routine. My “vacation” will happen each night during the two hours between the kids’ bedtime and my own. I will, no doubt, still referee and soothe, corral and amuse, but I won’t be needed in that primal way. That exhausting, rewarding, wholly taxing manner that both fills the soul and drains all mental capacity.

And with that I stopped coaching myself to “just push through this year” but, instead, to savor it. Because next year will be entirely different.

10 Things NOT to Pack for a Family Beach Trip

As a first-time-mom, packing for my child’s first trip to the beach, I overpacked. I packed for the 7-day getaway the way Imelda Marcos did seasonal shoe-shopping. Nearly 5 years and two additonal kids later, these are the top 10 things I have learned not to bother packing when going on a week-long beach vacation.

1) Changing pads: why did I think my little snowflake could only have her diaper changed on a changing pad? Why did I think a towel would not suffice? Ditch the changing pad… your little petunia will do just fine having her drawers freshened on a towel.

2) Numerous perfectly coordinated outfits: 3 to 4 outfits should suit baby, in addition to a few swimsuits and a couple pajamas. You’ll be doing laundry every day anyway, so there will be quick laundry turnaround.

3) Diapers and wipes: just buy them there or ship some via Amazon to your location. Do pack a few in the car for the drive there, of course

4) Magazines/books: there will be no poolside lounging or beachfront lazing. Don’t kid yourself (see #10.)

6) A beach blanket: your child will be a sand-coated land beast within 15 minutes of your toes touching the dunes. You could choose to either accept your sandy fate or spend your entire beachside outing dusting, clearing, and securing a destined-to-be-gritty beach blanket. Bring some foldable beach chairs for brief sitting stints but, otherwise, don’t be a diva: become one with the sand. (See this post for sand removal tips.) Note: If you have a newborn, stick to a foldable beach tent with a standable stroller fan tucked inside, and a baby carrier to contain your little nugget.

6) Pricey beach toys: any toy on which you spent more than $1.50 or which requires multiple pieces to remain intact to be functional, should be reconsidered. Beach toys get lost, broken, and/or stolen by the ocean. Keep it simple… and cheap.

7) Motherhood-unfriendly attire: that strapless one-piece that baby can pull down faster than you can sneeze? Those dangling earrings that just scream “yank me”? Those shorts you tug on every few steps? Forget about them. Save suitcase space for a pair of beach flip flops, a pair of functional-but-cute sandals, close-toed shoes you could wear on a mulched playground, a couple pairs of shorts, underwear that doesn’t ride up your nethers, a few kid-friendly swimsuits, a zip-up swim cover-up, and a few tops or (if you’re nursing) a handful of nursing tanks. If you’re feeling extra hopeful, throw in a sundress just in case you maybe go somewhere that doesn’t ask if you want crayons with your menu.

8) Hygiene items: just buy them there and save yourself some packing drama. You’re going to have to do a grocery run upon arrival anyway. The adults and kids can share the same shampoo, conditioner, facial cleanser, bodywash, and moisturizer for one trip. Go simple, scent-free, and gentle to keep everyone’s skin (and eyes) happy.

9) The hope to sleep in: maybe — just maybe — your child will be the glimmering, rainbow-farting unicorn of an infant who actually sleeps better on vacation. That’s a big “maybe.” A better bet would be to accept some adjustment roughness for the first night or two. It’s survivable, especially if you anticipate it.

10) The expectation for relaxation: enter into this expedition knowing you will be on your feet most of the time. Any reprieve will be a bonus. Don’t fight it; just accept it. You’ll be happier in the end. Think of it as quality time with your kid(s) with built-in exercise!

Family vacations are memory-making, calorie-shredding, laughter-breeding, utterly exhausting experiences. You will simultaneously love and loathe the trip, and you won’t be alone wading through that emotional juxtaposition. All of us vacationing parents feel it too. Appreciate all you can, commit every magic moment to memory, and let the unsavory wash away with the tide.

Soak it in!