Sunday, July 25, 2010
Forget Relaxing, Just Build Memories
Ah, summer vacation. That much anticipated time of year when we pack up our kids,our bathing suits, enough beach toys to entertain even your larger Mormon sibling groups, and as much sunscreen as Mommy thinks necessary to prevent any sunlight from actually touching her children's flesh. This past week, the Howard clan embarked on just such an adventure. Longing to smell the salt air and feel the sand under our feet, Meredith and I piled our four kids into the minivan and took off for a week on the South Carolina coast.
One thing I've learned since becoming a dad: When you have small kids, vacations are about building memories--not relaxing. Before Meredith and I had children, vacations at the beach involved little more than sleeping, sunbathing, sipping drinks by the sea, and late night romantic dinners. Now they consist of trying to find a screaming child's lost flip-flop, prying a terrified three-year-old off your leg because you were dumb enough to take him too close to the ocean, and keeping vigil to make sure your children don't pee in the pool.
Perhaps the most fun is the hour it takes to get everyone's bathing suits and sunscreen on each time you want to go swimming. Our typical day went something like this: After fighting a kicking 18-mo-old to get her swim diaper on, we then spent the next twenty minutes corraling naked little people who thought it was more fun to jump on the beds nude than to get ready to go to the beach. Once we finally did get them dressed, the next thirty minutes were spent trying to spray and rub sunscreen on squirming midgets as they screamed things like, "Daddy, it hurts!... Daddy, its cold!... Daddy, I'm blind!..."
Finally, once Mommy was satisfied that the last child had been doused in enough 50-block to repel gamma rays, I'd carry my mentally drained self into the bedroom to put on my own swimsuit and sun tan lotion. Of course, just as we were about to leave for the beach, our senses picked up on the fact that the 18-mo-old had pooped in the previously clean swim diaper, putting the whole expedition on hold another ten minutes.
With the swimsuit and sunscreen wars won (or, at least, survived), we then made our way to the golf cart that we drove daily to the beach. Let me assure you, it's not easy fitting a family of six and enough beach paraphanelia to supply most surf shops onto a golf cart made for four. Loaded down with inflatable floaties, plastic buckets, boogie boards, plastic shovels, play boats, snacks, bottled waters, umbrellas, fold-out chairs, towels, and a whole host of other beach "necessities," we took off on the half-mile trek to the beach. With body parts and beach toys hanging over the sides, we looked like the Beverly Hillbillies on Spring Break.
After parking and walking what seemed like miles, we finally found a spot in the sand where we could situate ourselves. Of course, the fold-out chairs were mostly there for show. There wasn't much sitting down. That's okay. Memories aren't made sitting down. They're made as you play with your kids. Constantly in rotation, Meredith and I alternated between playing with our older two children in the waves and goofing off with our younger two in the nearby pools that formed at low tide. After a few hours, we loaded up our supplies and walked back across the beach, each step making it more and more evident that sand had managed to reach parts of our bodies that God never meant to get sandy.
So went most of our week. No, it wasn't relaxing. There was always an argument to referee, a float to blow up, a breakable object in the condo to protect, or a child to make sure didn't drown. But that's not to say that it wasn't fun. We went dolphin watching and, yes, saw a few dolphins. We played "golf" with a play set of clubs I bought at a local store. We stuffed ourselves with crab legs and enjoyed having the grandparents join us for a few days. We saw lots of deer, lots of pelicans, and even one large alligator. We ate ice cream--too much ice cream. And there was the anatomically educational moment in which my four-year-old son explained to his sister that boys are different from girls because boys have "a penis and tentacles."
So here's to summer vacations. One day, years from now, maybe there'll be relaxing again. For now, I'll just keep building memories. Something tells me that a time will come when I'll wish I still had that three-year-old clinging to my leg.