“Woo hoo! Free vacation at the beach!”
That was my first thought when my husband told me that his company was sending him to an all-expenses-paid, 3-day conference in San Diego.
You see, my husband often travels around the US for his job, speaking and presenting as an expert in his field. When one of his events happens to be in California, the kids and I always try to take the opportunity to tag along since the hotel room is usually covered.
I mean, why not!? My job as a voice actor is usually pretty flexible, and I like showing the kids new places and experiences.
Travel can get expensive, so we try to take advantage of every chance to just “get away”, especially when part of the costs are already covered. On top of that, the beach has always had a special place in my heart.
Let’s blame it on The Little Mermaid, shall we?
I can sit on the sand and stare out at the waves for hours, searching for a glimpse of dolphins and feeling the ocean breeze on my face. It’s my little happy place.
Side note: My husband isn’t really a fan of the beach. “Everything’s just so SANDY!” he says. It probably didn’t help that the last time I made him walk on the beach, a bird dropped a dead fish on him literally out of the blue!
Since Mr. Anti-Beach would be occupied with work tasks during the day, I figured this would be the perfect chance to finally show my 2 and 5 year-old boys why the coast was so amazing.
I dreamt of building sand castles with them, looking for seashells, splashing in the waves together, and blissfully creating special mommy-son memories that they could cherish forever.
The trip actually started off on a high note. Earlier in the week, we had just traded in our stained, chugging-old 2003 Ford Escape for the holy grail of parenthood – a brand new Toyota Sienna minivan.
It was definitely overdue. I honestly think our old SUV was single-handedly keeping the mechanic shop down the street in business!
We excitedly played with all the shiny new features. No more cassette player and broken radio. Nope, now we had bluetooth and Pandora!
Hubby raved about the techie stuff like the automatic cruise control and lane-assist, while I excitedly filled up every cup holder possible…just because I could. 😛
We were both happy about how much STUFF we were able to fit into our car for family trips now. Suitcases and the stroller always piled up in the trunk before, blocking the back window. But now, everyone had plenty of room.
I was even able to fit boogie boards, a new beach umbrella, and sand toys, which was fan-fricken-tastic!
The mood was high as we pulled into the fancy hotel in downtown San Diego.
The kids marveled over the shiny towers and many buttons in the elevator, and we “ooh’ed” and “ahh’ed” when we walked into our room and could see the gorgeous marina and coastal village below.
I thought, “This will be a fun place to explore for the next few days!”
It was even close to Sea World, which we wanted to visit for their Rescue Open House that weekend. So we spread out the kid’s portable beds and drifted off to sleep.
If only we knew about the evil lurking just outside our window… (*ominous music here*)
In the morning, I got the kids up and fed them a bowl of oatmeal and a bagel at the little table perched by the window.
Pulling open the heavy curtains to let the sun in through the floor-to-ceiling window, we were surprised to see a seagull standing on our tiny window ledge, staring at us and tilting his head in a quizzical way.
Side Note: At this point, I should explain that Toby, my 2 year old, has a beloved stuffed seagull that he takes with him EVERYWHERE he goes (ok, it’s really a blue-footed booby that his uncle brought back from the Galapagos, but we figured it’d be a little weird if he kept loudly talking about his booby, so we told him it is a seagull). It’s name is Squeegulls.
You can imagine just how excited Toby was to see a REAL LIVE SQUEEGULLS staring back at him.
The kids got down on the floor and “played” with the seagull on the other side of the glass for most of the morning. They cracked up when it followed their finger back and forth on the window, and tapped with its beak to get their attention.
They even snuck a little piece of bagel through the tiny opening and clapped when it caught a piece. I thought it was adorable, and snapped photos of the boys with their new “friend.”
With breakfast over, it was time to close the curtains and head out for the day.
Full of hope and excitement, we slathered our pasty skin with sunblock (which feels like it takes hours, right?), donned our beach apparel, and got into our new van to drive over a giant bridge toward Coronado Beach.
I had done some research on San Diego area beaches, and this one was frequently suggested as a great choice for kids.
On the way, we decided to pick up some sandwiches from Subway. Picnic lunch on the beach! My dreams of the perfect beach day were taking form.
I even spotted a parking spot in a nice neighborhood across the street from the sand. I pulled up to the curb and went to get things out of the trunk.
Aaaaand, that’s about when things started going south.
“Look mama, I can open the doors all by myself!”
Brendan, my 5 year old, had unbuckled his seat and hopped out the side of the van’s “magic doors” thanks to an easy to find button.
A truck rumbled by, and I literally dove to yank him over to the sidewalk side. Panicked, I instructed him to sit and stay.
There goes the stroller. I was about to load it with a heavy beach bag, but it suddenly became too top-heavy when I let go to save my child from being flattened.
Unfortunately, my ice-cold Dr. Pepper (a rare treat for me) was also in the stroller’s cup holder.
Sigh. No soda for me today. And even worse, now the towels and stroller seat are wet and sticky.
Putting all the sand toys, beach chairs, Sunbrella, and towels back into the stroller (and warily eyeing the 5 year old on the curb), I hear that dreaded phrase every mom of a potty-training toddler knows.
“Mommm! I have to go potty, NOWW!”
My 2 year old is squirming in his car seat.
I look around frantically. This is a street full of McMansions, with perfect lawns and no public bathrooms in sight – or bushes, or shrubs, for that matter.
Sorry, house with the perfect lawn. It’s getting a bit of extra water today. I hold up a towel as a couple of surfers walk past, snickering.
I take a deep breath. “OK,” I tell myself, “we can do this now.”
Let the fun beach time start.
We cross the street and follow a concrete ramp that extends about halfway toward the water, near a lifeguard station. Perfect! I think. We can set up a spot down by the waves. It doesn’t look that far away…
That’s when I discover that my brilliant idea to use my jogger stroller with the heavy duty wheels does not actually work very well on loose sand.
Hmm. I struggle with it for a few minutes until I realize that it works better if I turn it backwards and just pull it.
Phew, what a workout! Then I hear a shriek.
Toby has just discovered the feel of sand on his toes. And he does NOT like it.
Tears are running down his face. “Mama!” he cries, reaching for me. “Pick me up!”
Trying unsuccessfully to coax him to just take a step, I scoop him up under my arm like a football and pull the 10,000 lb. stroller behind me, leaving deep tracks in the sand like a roadmap to my stupidity. It feels like days until we finally reach the tighter packed sand near the water.
At this point, sweat is pouring down my face and hair is hanging in my eyeballs. It is seriously HOT, and that marathon did NOT help. I can’t wait to just get the umbrella and beach tent set up so we can have our picnic.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have brought along the new Amazon-impulse-buy fancy umbrella tent.
I quickly realize that it contains about a zillion pieces that all have to be assembled – apparently you need an engineering degree too. There are like 20 different poles, all of which have to be connected in a particular way, and then threaded through a tiny channel in the tent fabric.
Oh yeah, and the wind is blowing strongly now, too, so every time I get the fabric laid out flat, the wind makes it pop up again and fly away in a flurry of sand.
There is a group of college kids next to us that seem to be eyeing me with a smirk as I struggle. Clearly I don’t know what I’m doing, but I am DETERMINED to be a strong, independent woman and build shelter for my children, DARN IT!
The directions for assembly get caught in a gust of wind and blow away down the beach.
I kick the pile of poles and stuff them haphazardly back into the stroller.
“OK kids, change of plans“, I say, trying hard to maintain composure.
I decide we are just going to eat our food in the beach chairs. At least those just pop right open.
I pull them out of their bags and start to set them up in a neat little row.
“Oh look, Toby! Squeegulls is back, and he brought his friends!”
There are now a few seagulls wandering closer to us. I don’t pay them much attention until I hear a squawk and realize that one of them is now perched on TOP of my stroller, pecking at the now-exposed bag of sandwiches.
Brendan and I yell and wave our arms, and I yank the bag away from the bird’s clutches. That was a close one.
At least Toby is entertained and thinks it’s hilarious.
We all sit in our chairs, baking in the direct sun and looking longingly at the people with basic umbrellas around us.
Oh well. We’ll just eat fast and go get in the water to cool down. I unroll the sandwich wrappers and place them on the kid’s laps, and finally begin to eat my own sub.
Suddenly, I hear an inhuman SCREECH from Toby.
I turn and see that the sandwich has rolled off his little lap and down onto the sand. And in that moment, the birds seem to all at once realize it is time to make their move.
Seagulls are suddenly flying from every which direction.
One grabs the sandwich while another fights it and rips the bread in half. My poor Toby’s lunch goes airborne, pickles and lettuce flung in every direction.
Brendan is going full Hulk smash, roaring at the birds, kicking sand, and Toby is sobbing and cowering in his chair, screaming as seagulls inch closer.
So much for friendly Mr. Squeegulls.
We huddle together and scarf down what is left of our meal, flinging sand whenever another bird even looks our way.
They attack our stroller again when I stuff the balled-up food wrappers in the lower compartment, but this time I have given up and just let them carry it off. I try to be environmentally conscious and not leave trash around, but these obnoxious little scavengers seem determined to find it no matter how well I hide it.
I sigh and tell the kids we ought to head to the water.
Finally, the day starts to turn around a bit. The waves are refreshing and cool, and the boys have a ton of fun splashing up to their ankles, then running away from the waves.
I discover that it’s reeeeally hard to keep track of two little ones who tend to run in opposite directions, so I put on their life jackets and try to keep them close.
Even so, we all get bowled over once or twice by a fast wave and end up sandy and wet.
Yet that’s ok. By now, I’ve given up the idea of having any control over how the day is going to go.
We decide to just…experience the beach.
We build a sand castle. We catch a tiny crab in a bucket. We spell out our names with seaweed. We turn Brendan into a sand mermaid.
Sure, the trek back to the car sucks just as much as the first time, and it takes me forever to brush all the sand off the kids before I let them back into our pristine new minivan, but I realize that the kids are not going to remember that stuff.
The whole way home, they excitedly talk about how much fun the beach was, and how they can’t wait to go back.
Sometimes the imperfect moments are the ones that we look back on most fondly. I may have learned exactly what NOT to do next time on a solo beach trip, but boy did we earn a great story to tell.
Lessons have been learned. Memories have been made.
Squeegulls, however, is not so lucky. He has been banished by Toby from his bed.
Hmm, I wonder why? 😉