Lessons from Beach Evacuation

Well, the kids experienced their first beach evacuation. And it taught me a lot about my family, myself, and others.

Hoards of people hurriedly packing up sandy beach gear, streaming up and over the dunes, swarming across the streets and highway while thunder claps, lightening crackles, and warm rain pours. It’s a beach life milestone and a memory-maker, for sure. But it’s also a test of character.

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I was on the beach solo with my three children — aged 7, 5, and 3 — while The Hubs popped into town to grab some yummy cold brew coffee for him and me. I saw the gray clouds and, knowing the fickle nature of seaside weather, began to pack the beach cart with presently unused items as the kids played. Soon I felt rain and called my brood close to start getting flip flops on feet and chairs folded. Just as I heaved the mesh laundry bag of toys into the beach cart: thunder. The lifeguard blew the whistle signaling the evacuation.

Swimmers herded like soggy cattle from the ocean to the sand. People in large groups and simple pairs grabbed their gear and swarmed to the exit. Just as the first few sandy evacuees crested the dunes, The Hubs walked down the hill carrying two cups of sweating cold brew coffee.

He made his way to us. The kids were just about ready to depart but there was still some packing to do. “You take the kids. Get them out of here. I’ll finish this and meet you in the parking lot,” I told The Hubs. He briefly disputed, kindly saying he’d shoulder the burden of packing up but he had the kid cart attached to his bike, so it only made sense that he get the kids off the sand and away to safety. “I want them out of here,” I told him. I knew how dangerous thunderstorms were on the beach.

As plump raindrops fell heavy and thunder grumbled, off went my herd over the dunes while I completed the last bits of clean up. The whole time I checked about me, cognizant of my neighbors. In these snapshots of perception, I felt an almost voyeuristic, telling awareness of them.

What you see in your fellow beachgoers is generally limited at best. If anyone looks up from their book or sandwich or ocean view it’s usually only for a brief glance or a passing nicety. Emotional sharing and soul baring is not the stuff of seaside tourists. And unintentionally unveiling one’s true inner self is most certainly not commonplace.

But in that odd moment of rush and worry, you could see the part of people they kept hidden. The aniexty, the selfishness, the kindness, the bravery, the vulnerability they keep wrapped and bound beneath a carefully curated exterior.

Some gathered blankets in rumpled sandy lumps beneath their arms, dragging beach chairs in their wake, without a thought about the friends they just abandoned or those they cut in front of in line; they purely focused on their own safety. Some yelled and panicked, barked orders and swirled, overwhelmed by the situation, their taskload, their emotions. They fired frenzied orders in between anxious glances at the darkening afternoon sky. Some froze with eyes wide and jaws slack witnessing the evacuation as if from afar. Some laughed and shrugged entirely unaffected by the change in plans while others grumbled as if the weather was a personal affront. Some herded and helped, shouldered others’ loads and ushered strangers to safety. Some simply followed.

Checking that my cart was properly loaded before I began my exit, I noticed my neighbors — a young grandmother, a tween girl, and a 4-year-old boy — were standing entirely still watching the exodus while holding onto the metal beach umbrella still planted in the sand.

Thunder rolled. Lightning cracked. I had to get them out of there.

“Excuse me ma’am,” the girl asked. “Do we really need to leave the beach in a storm?” “Yes,” I said, “lightening likes to strike people on the beach and we have lots of metal,” I said motioning to my beach cart and their umbrella, “so it’s not safe to stay.” The grandmother seemed to be returning to awareness but seemed entirely incapable of taking charge in that moment.

“Can I take your things on my cart? I can get you to the parking lot” I said, looking up at the grandmother as I grabbed two corners of their beach blanket. She nodded, wide-eyed. I rolled up the blanket folded their chairs and popped the items on top of my cart. The tween girl folded the umbrella and removed it from the ground. The 4-year-old boy, still in a dripping wet Puddle Jumper floatie, grabbed a bag. Grandma shouldered the dismantled umbrella and off we went into the exiting masses we .

“Where are you from?” I asked the tween, trying to lighten things as the rain grew steady. It turned out they lived an hour away from where I grew up. At the top of the packed sand ramp we ran into the girl’s uncle. He thanked me and unloaded the items from my cart just as thunder and lightening put on a show.

I descended into the parking lot with my beach cart and found my family. My boys were just finishing getting settled into their bike cart and my daughter was at the ready on her bike. The Hubs was chugging his coffee and held out mine to me.

I hurried The Hubs along, hoping to get the kids home to safety. Off they went and off I went. As their bikes grew smaller in the distance, relief washed over me. Now it was just me and the hoards in the thick summer rain.

Traffic on side streets came to a standstill as pedestrians and bicyclists streamed across roadways. Tensions began to ease. Chatter and laughter among stranded neighbors and strangers flourished.

Thunder boomed. Lightening split the charcoal sky. Everyone froze. Rain poured down in warm sheets. Water cascaded over the brim of my baseball cap. Some scurried to escape the deluge. Some ducked into cars. Some — like me — owned their waterlogged state.

The highway halted as the drenched herd reached the shoulder. Like swamp zombies, we lumbered across the roadway. Dry and air-conditioned motorists shook their heads in pity at us, the slovenly evacuees. Some of us groaned. Some of us fretted. Some of us shrugged against the rain. Some of us smiled knowing this was beautiful.

 

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Three Things I Learned from My Kids

Being a parent, it isn’t always about what we teach our kids. It’s often about what they teach us. About the world, life, ourselves, happiness. They may be small, our needy germ-covered offspring, but they are wise in that, “I may eat Playdough and lick trashcans, but I know how to be truly happy” kind of way that only dogs and children master.

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1) Wonder. As my 2.5-year-old youngest child and I attempted to complete an errand at a local craft store — frequent tantrums firing and fizzling like bottle rockets on the 4th of July — I experienced the store through his eyes. THE WONDER!

“Look, Mommy!” A wall of model vehicles towered above him. “So many colors!” He exclaimed, walking among the silk flowers. “One more second, Mommy!” He pleaded as he gazed in awe at the miniature fairy house decor. “Mommy, I hold your hand. Come over here!” Basket upon basket of vibrantly hued faux fruit. This wasn’t just an errand for him; this place was a marvel.

He ooo’ed as we walked past the bike store, ahh’ed as we strolled past flower displays in the pharmacy, stopped short in amazement as a suped-up pick-up truck idled outside of Whole Foods. An errand was more than an errand because his world was full of wonder. In turn, the world became more beautiful and vibrant for me too.

Since parenting three children, I find myself seeking out the beauty, the wonder, the “wow” in the ordinary. The heart-shaped leaf on the driveway. The massive construction vehicles as I sit in traffic. The budding trees as I walk down the sidewalk. The colors in the produce section. The world is amazing if we choose to see it. My children have reminded me how.

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2) Play. As a stay-at-home mom of three young kids, I play every day. What a gift! Walking down the sidewalk, I crouch down with my littles and hop over cracks. On the playground, I bounce with them on the seesaw. At home, I do silly voices while reading and chase them in the cul-de-sac. We bring snack time outside. We play “Go Fish”, “Connect Four”, and “Guess Who?” I become a human rocket launching my littlest into the air by way of my lifting legs.

Life is more fun when we play. My kids help remind me to not take myself and my life so seriously. They reintroduced me to the beauty and necessity of play. With play we are more active, vibrant, joyful, and full of life. There’s no better way to be. If you’re not full of life, what are you full of?

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3) Shift. Priorities, attention, schedule, route, perspective, goals, plans, outfit choices… my kids have required and taught me to shift often and in countless ways.

What childless me thought I would do or say as a parent has shifted. My priorities have greatly shifted. What used to be my plan a year ago has shifted. Who I used to be has shifted. How I eat has shifted. My hobbies have shifted. How I see and engage with the world has shifted. My body has shifted. My tolerance for others’ crap has shifted. And that’s OK, no matter what “Jenny from the Block” may proclaim. Shifting is good.

I’m stuck in a long check-out line, I shift my attention and find ways to distract the kids: “Where’s the color blue? Do you see a balloon? How many lights can you find?”

I’m in traffic and I decide to downshift my emotions, releasing my plans and accept that, “what will be will be.” I shift my focus away from the brake lights and my filling bladder to any surrounding fun I can find. “Look at that loader, kids! What do you think is in that box truck? Look how pretty the sky is! Who wants a car dance party?”

I shift to survive. I shift to keep the peace. I shift to feel peace. To be happy.

My Unpopular Perspective: No Bad Days

“There is no such thing as a ‘bad day.'” This is not a widely held opinion, but it’s mine. As I see it, there are simply days neither wholly good nor wholly bad. Just days filled with moments… some moments are fun, some challenging, some sad, some happy, some purposeful, some tedious, some painful, some luxurious, some stimulating, occasionally some are tragic or traumatic, but most moments within most days are unremarkable.

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When I pick up my daughter from school and ask her about her day, and her response is, “I had a bad day.” I tell her that I’m sorry she had some hard moments but remind her that though parts of her day may have been difficult, her WHOLE day wasn’t bad. Then I ask her about the parts she felt were “bad.” After we have discussed her hurdles, I ask her about the positive parts of her day. Her mood pivots, her perspective changes as her attention shifts to recall the fun and pleasant aspects. She has reframed her day in that moment.

As I’ve explained to my children, simply because a certain fraction of a day’s moments belong within a specific emotional category — often oversimplified into “good” or “bad” — it doesn’t negate the rest of the day’s events. Because I stubbed my toe getting out of bed, poured my tea down the front of my shirt, and backed into a trashcan on my way out of the driveway, does that mean that the uneventful minutes I spent getting ready for the day were “bad”? That the loving moment I received a deep hug and maple syrup kiss from my child was “bad”? That my moments spent engaging in pleasant small talk with strangers or mundanely folding laundry were “bad”? Of course not! Therefore, the whole day wasn’t bad. Even if, say, I unexpectedly tragically lost a loved one later that day or felt burdened by world events that left an ache in my core, the sadness would be painful but it would not negate the plethora of moments before and after the event. It was not a “bad” day.

Often, we give too much power to the negative which, in turn, shifts our perspective. If we tell ourselves that we’re having a bad day, we’ll ensure that’s precisely the case by only seeing the bad. However, if we refuse to categorize the day as a lump sum, then we can appreciate each moment and each experience for what it is.

A yoga instructor recently said to the class I was attending, “This is how it is, now.” Meaning, each moment is different and fleeting. I burnt dinner and everyone is wailing in hunger? “This is how it is, now.” I feel sad over news clips? “This is how it is, now.” My kid tells me that I’m the best mommy ever? “This is how it is, now.” I share belly laughs with a dear friend? “This is how it is, now.”

It’s all temporary. It’s all fluid. Don’t cut yourself, your day, or your life short by categorizing your days in limiting, imprecise terms. Just take your days as they are — a collection of varied moments — and appreciate the experience.

Because, why survive when you can savor?

Cocoons for Babies: That’s a Thing?

I’ve recently encountered a trend: cocoons for babies. Who knew? The practice recommends that parents create a quiet, soothing womb-like environment for their newborns in order to offer a smoother adjustment for Baby into the world and provide a safe haven from the daily din.

Dimmed lights, calm energy, cozy decor, serenity, hush. A baby cocoon. How precious! How loving! How utterly unattainable for any child but a firstborn in an affluent home.

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Now, I love the concept of preparing a loving, welcoming, unobtrusive environment for the baby-to-be. The neutral decor, the soft fabrics, the gentle atmosphere… how sweet! The planner in me adores the meticulous research and purchasing, arranging and staging that would be entailed. The 6-years ago first-time parent in me sees the beauty and seeming prospect, the adoration- and protection-based desire and demand to create such a space for the anticipated bundle. The mother-of-three in me shudders at the thought of feeling pressured to somehow maintain any sense of zen tranquility in my bustling abode of child chaos. I can only imagine the effort it’d take to silence my entire herd for one morning. It’d be more feasible to ship them off for the baby’s infancy.

Then, I think of myself and my friends with multiple children. Their youngest child — like my own third child — entered into a world of noisy siblings, bright lights, and pinging toys. Yet that youngest child (barring any special needs) is the happiest, most well-adjusted, and adaptable of the bunch!

Babies are precious and beautiful. Babies are noisy and exhausting, messy and stressful, demanding and resilient. As any pediatrician will tell you, babies are tougher than we think. (Have you ever seen an Apgar test conducted or seen a baby birthed vaginally? Then you know they’re sturdy buggers.)

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Do I think putting effort into spinning a warm environment for your cherished offspring is ill-advised? Not entirely. Placing love and excitement, care and appreciation into your baby preparation does nothing but positive things for all involved. If it feels right to you, do it! However, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the task, don’t do it. Eventually your child will regularly be present in the world and, well, the world is not womb-like.

Do I think everyone has the means to create this soothing space? Even with upcycling hacks and thrift store finds, no. Not everyone has the economic, spatial, environmental, or emotional ability to create a womb-like home. Some can, and that’s wonderful, but it in no way puts those children raised outside of the cocoon at a disadvantage.

Do I think creating a quiet, serene home gives the child a leg up? If anything, I’d argue the opposite. I know far more children raised in noisy, stimulus-filled homes who are happier and better adapted to the outside world than those who easily adjusted from quiet, low-stimulus homes to the chattering world. A cocoon is not the only way to ensure a baby feels loved and secure. And, heck, the womb is not silent. There are plenty of stimuli — from stomach churning and inhalation, mom’s road rage shouting and shower singing, Dad’s yelling at the TV and sibling tantruming. Baby has already heard the outside world before ever entering it. Life is loud, inside and out.

Do I think it’s feasible to maintain such an environment? As a mom of three close-in-age children, my response: hahahahahahahahaha… no. Absolutely not. Not in any way. Nope. It’s a lovely gesture rooted in the best and purest intentions of sheltering one’s cherished child from the overwhelming world. The desire, effort, and act are nothing but sweet and commendable. However, making a womb-like home for your child is not the only way to create a safe space for your little one. Your loving arms and healing kisses, you’ll soon find, will serve as such. You needn’t paint the walls “Morning Mist” and hush everyone in your home to make Baby feel loved. Just love Baby, that’s all.

Do I think feeling compelled to maintain a hushed, serene cocoon is problematic? Somewhat. If the endeavor is to envelope the child in love and comfort, beautiful! However, any parent is soon to discover that babies are not quiet or serene… and neither is the world. Does that mean the child should fall asleep to prerecorded audio of Tokyo Street sounds or NYC at rush hour? No. I simply think the pressure to create unnatural, inorganic sensory white space in a bright and loud world is an unattainable goal for parents — especially first-time parents — who are about to enter the wholly noisy, exhausting, stressful, life-upending, relationship-testing, goal-shifting, painful, emotional, rewarding, confusing, ego-obliterating, priceless gift of parenthood. Yet, if the womb-like space — either in creation or practice — enables the parents to better cope with the monumental shift of parenthood, proves agreeable to the baby, and is easily and stresslessly maintained, by all means do it! Just don’t stress yourself — or those dwelling with you — trying to make your home, your life, your world something that it’s not.

You are your child’s sanctuary. Your arms are her safe place. Your breath and heartbeat are his lullabye. You are all the comfort your child needs.

Love your baby. Forget the rest.

Choosing to Savor

It’s 40 minutes into naptime and here I am pinned beneath my slumbering 1.5-year-old in a dark room. I could be resistant, I could be irritated, or I could choose to savor.

After checking all of the boxes for a solid toddler nap — an active morning playdate, a hearty lunch, a fresh diaper, and a belly full of breastmilk — I figured this would be a simple part of the daily routine. Mommy hubris strikes again!

After my toddler drifted into a milky slumber, I tried transferring him to his crib. No dice. As soon as he left my arms, his eyes sprung open and he wailed that heartbreaking cry of abandonment. Two more attempts. Two more failures. Finally, I caved.

Defeated by my own offspring, I picked up my tot, grabbed his fuzzy blanket, and sat down in his glider. I allowed him to nuzzle and curl into me, so that he may drift back to sleep.

And so, as I sit here rocking my sleeping son, feeling his blanket-bundled weight in my arms and his soft sleepy breath against my cheek, I have three choices: 1) I can continue to fight a losing battle to transfer him into his crib, 2) I can resentfully rock with my little one and lament the break I’m missing, or 3) I can enjoy the moment. This time, I’m choosing option #3.

At 17-months-old, this may be his last time wanting to nap in my arms. He’s more of a climber than a cuddler, so these tender moments are likely to be distant memories once he’s weaned. What seems bothersome now will be deeply craved in not-so-distant time.

And so I sit here in a dark room holding my toddler, savoring the moment. Enjoying my growing boy.

It’s All About Perspective

I had all three kids at the pool yesterday and 3-year-old #2 was comically himself. To see the world through his eyes must be a magical spectacle.

**#1 and #2 are floating about in the pool looking under the water with their goggles. #1 chose a pink pair, whereas #2 chose a blue pair.**

#2: “Mommy, you cold.”

Me: “No, I’m fine. Why do you think I’m cold?”

#2: “You not cold? Why you lips blue?”

Me: (I feel my lips.) “Honey, I don’t think my lips are blue.”

#2: “Yeees.”

Me: “#2, you have blue goggles on. Everything you see looks blue.”

#2: (Looks around with his goggles on) “Oh.” (Paddles off unfazed.)

30 MINUTES LATER…

**#2 just put on his sunglasses and hopped back into the pool.**

#2: “MOMMY!! IT’S DARK!”

Me: (Trying not to laugh) “#2, you’re wearing your sunglasses.”

#2: (Looks at me and cocks his head) “But it’s DARK!”

Me: “Honey, sunglasses make things look darker.”

#2: (Lifts up his sunglasses, looks around, puts them back again, and paddles off.)

Lifeguard: (Utterly losing her sh*t laughing.)

We are, without a doubt, “that family” at the pool.

Imperfectly Perfect

Yesterday evening was Hub’s escape: softball. After a #1’s inner demons made a venomous appearance upon our arrival home from an afternoon playdate, just in time for #3’s “hell hour”, which conveniently coincides with dinner prep, the kids and I ate dinner then headed off to run two quick errands.

I had forgotten what 6:30pm looked like outside of our cul-de-sac. At that hour, we’re usually trudging through the last gruesome hours of the day at home. All of these people shopping, driving, some even caffeinating at this time of day… how other-wordly! “I used to be sitting in traffic cursing my way home at this time,” I thought, as #2 swatted at #1 in the backseat of the minivan. My cubicle-dwelling, kid-free days are like a past life.

We park. I free the kids from their carseats. I see #2 has mystery stains all over his shirt and #1 found a costume headband that Betsey Johnson would consider gawdy. I shrug. Off we go.

#3 strapped to my chest, #2 holding my hand and #1’s hand, we enter the store. A middle-aged woman looks at me in that smiling seeing-but-not nostalgic way I know all too well. She’s seeing herself, not me, in front of her. I smile back.

We continue. There was a minor shoe incident and a near miss with a stack of glass marinara jars, but we make it to the pharmacy counter. Prescription purchased: success!

As we get our hand holding order settled, a woman in a business suit pauses mid-stride. “How beautiful!” She says. I look around to find what she’s noting. “Your little family,” she clarifies, “The hand holding, the beautiful children… you’re adorable!” She scrunched her nose in a smile. I thank her. I’m flattered yet stunned. Did she SEE us? I mean, really. Just before we left the house, #1 was pretending to poop on #2 as #3 laughed. THIS is “adorable??”

We get side-tracked by princess cakes on our way out. #1’s birthday isn’t for months, but — according to her — one’s fifth birthday is akin to a quinciniera. So we scope out the confections.

A diligent staffer immediately steps to the front of the bakery counter and asks if we need help. “Nope, we just saw princesses. Thanks though!” She says my kids are “beautiful” — #1 and #2 are squabbling over which cake is better: pink princess cake or the “Frozen” cake — I graciously thank her but ponder internally if these people know what these “adorable” creatures are capable of. I mean, a day when I don’t have to clean poop off of the floor is considered a gold-star experience (and, no, we don’t have pets.)

We get back in the van. Load up, buckle up, gas up, then head home. Windows down, sunroof open, music bumpin’, Spring breezing through our hair… it’s a minivan dance party. In that moment, I realize this is adorable. This is beautiful. This is perfect.