The night we returned home from the beach our home felt like a palace.  As well as the six of us did in one double room for two nights and three days, we appreciated space to enjoy space.  I was interested to observe the children like lemmings migrate to their comfort zones.  The Boy checked his email, The Baby sprawled out onto the middle of the playroom floor and The Oldest and Middle Girl just wanted to shower.  Alone.

I expect it will take some time for me to shift through the family experience.  I remain amazed how quickly we morphed into a cohesive team that stormed the waves together.  I tear to remember how much The Boy, who usually has little to do with his sisters, played with the girls. Like a magical algebraic reduction, being away simplified who were his options, and that his sisters actually had game.

The Oldest Girl was so giddy and breathless the first time we hit the beach that I reached for a lunch sack and all but hyperventilated with her.  She experienced the encounter with a throttle so open you could hear her laughter roar like a plane as it takes off in flight.  Like a delighted porpoise, she rolled and frolicked in the waves, as enchanted to remain upright as she was to be thrown against the shore.  She laughed with such abandon we had to remind her to close her mouth as the waves crested because she gargled more sea water than adults use Listerine during flu season.

The Middle Girl and The Baby both journeyed to find their legs.  Initially timid, The Middle Girl spent the first twenty minutes in the water screaming, “Don’t let go!,” and the rest of the weekend testifying, “I got this!”  It took her less time to cycle from uncertain to confident than it takes our washing machine to shift from wash to rinse.  Really, I can’t add fabric softener that fast.

The Baby maintained a healthy respect for the ocean.  Mesmerized by its scope and the crash of the tide, she maintained touch contact with a parent at all times while in the water.  It was clear we were her lighthouses that guided her safely out through the waves and back home again.  I can only imagine how big it looked and what sense she made of its vastness.  I watched her face and tried to see the images as her eyes captured the moment, her sincere, “Wow!” a succinct prayer of wonder and wholly sufficient, thanksgiving Hallelujah.

The nautical blues of the choppy ocean provided a crows nest for The Husband and I to view our children.  So much of our usual rhythm directs the traffic of our schedules and obligations, that we can lose sight of our children amid their activities.  Too often the lens considers how they do something like the dishes, or homework, or a soccer game, that we lose focus on who they are.  These new and updated images of them, snapshots of adolescent postures, porpoise joy, confidence cycled, and touch contact clarified their sensibilities to us more than any family meeting or orchard hike.  We were Away together, and we came back Here more knitted in our family fabric.

All of that this, of course, records the esoteric hot fudge of decadent, relational sundaes, and not the nitty-gritty of funds or tips on how to make it feasible logistically.

We were crazy 11th hour in our adventure.  The most obvious thing we learned is to plan ahead.  For a “beach” of any mention, and if you want a house or a condo, that might actually mean to plan a year ahead.

There are innumerable tips on how to travel cheaply and practical tips about what to pack on the Web.  These are my novice contributions for a quick (even unexpected) trip to the beach:

Handy Packs

  • Pack a couple of rolls of paper towels.  Your family can’t live without them at home and they shouldn’t be expected to operate without them Away.  They will greatly aid the towel shortage in the hotel bathroom too.
  • Line trunk or storage space of vehicle with an old sheet to collect sand.  Sand invades more pervasively than fleas, and you don’t want to bring it into your home.
  • Cooler tip:  The cooler will fill up quickly no matter how big it is.  Pack extra beverages to be chilled as you use them during your stay, and give Igloo priority to food that must stay refrigerated.
  • Boiled eggs are a perfect food. They offer a ready breakfast, quick protein with yogurt for a filling lunch, or an easy snack that satisfies.  Peel before you leave home.  Pack 2-3 per day for each person who eats them.  Oh, sliced over cream cheese on a whole wheat bagel, they make a great and healthy sandwich for the kids too.
  • Pick a hotel that serves a free Continental breakfast. If they serve fruit (and many don’t to control costs), bring an extra piece back to the room to eat later with lunch or for a snack.
  • Make a family compact that one meal a day will be from the cooler. We agreed that all lunch, snacks and drinks would come from the cooler during the day.  We packed things easy to prepare and able to be eaten quickly without utensils like Gogurt, PB&Js, bagels with cream cheese, boiled eggs, nuts, fruit, cheese sticks and, I confess, cheeseballs.
  • Take the time to prepare sandwiches before you leave for the beach in the morning. There’s nothing more annoyingly magnetic than sand and the thing you least wish is to have it on your cheese stick or Oreo.
  • Pack bags with your bags. You will need them. Pack gallon size freezer bags to portion beach snacks like cheeseballs, kitchen garbage bags for dirty laundry and sandy towels, and beach bags to ferry your towels and sunscreen to the waterside.
  • Bring a good hair detangler. Salt water and sand do a number to the most manageable of tresses, and snarls make tired children as cranky as Medusa.
  • No screens!   The tide will eat your cell phone, iPad and laptop as hungrily as it gobbles sandcastles.  If you must check in with the world, make a pledge to only do so only once a day, AFTER the kids are in bed.

I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah!