A couple of weeks ago, on a beautiful Saturday—right before we were hit by The Plague—I decided we were going to the beach. I had been itching to go. I needed sand beneath my feet. Hot sun on my skin. Freezing ocean water on my toes for at least a second. The hubby was on board with the idea. Let’s do this. Family beach day. We haven’t taken the baby to the beach since she was newish, but no biggie. She’s super chill. The most laid-back baby ever. “Let’s go early,” we said. So much optimism.
At 8 a.m., the 6-year-old’s bathing suit bottoms mysteriously vanished. Gone. They have yet to be unearthed. I was told a story about “playing beach”—a legitimate reason to wear a swimsuit in the house—but what happened to those bottoms after her day at the pretend shoreline, we may never know. So… Maybe we could make it an afternoon beach trip instead. E and I went to Target in search of a new swimsuit. Three… hours… later… OK not really three hours, but it felt that way, because none of the suits in Target’s ridiculously rainbow-colored, animal-printed, Elsa-everywhere-you-look “big girl” section would fit my sweet child. X-small, too short. Small, hanging off her hiney. We finally settled on the least-baggy size small (which was both rainbow-colored and animal printed) and booked it out of there, because the sunshine was calling and it was now 10 a.m.
We arrive home, and the baby is napping. Who knows how long we’re going to have to wait before she wakes up, and then she’ll need to eat before we hop in the car for an hour. We had barely started our day, and already nothing was going as planned. We started gathering supplies. Wait, where’s the beach umbrella? We don’t have a beach umbrella. Why don’t we have a beach umbrella? Didn’t we buy one last summer? Oh right, it broke and we had to return it. How are we supposed to protect the baby’s fresh, vulnerable baby skin from the sun? I’m starting to feel anxious. This sense of urgency kicks in (as though it’s the only opportunity we will ever have, ever, to go to the beach), compounded by the fact that I haven’t had anything to eat or drink but coffee at this point, and my voice begins to rise, along with my blood pressure. Can we just GO already?
Skip ahead a couple of hours, la la la, and we’re finally on the road. 20 minutes in, and E is asking if we’re there yet. My back is killing me and I’m starting to feel weird, but I’m ignoring that because we are going to the beach, and it is going to be a wonderful family time together.
It takes us twice as long to arrive as it usually does, because it’s the Saturday before spring break (what was I thinking?) and it’s a beautiful, warm day, and traffic is… unpleasant. Our usual parking place is full, and our usual backup parking place is full, but we manage to find a spot and proceed to load a kind of silly amount of gear onto our rolling beach cart thing (oh yeah, we have one of those). As we’re trekking through the hot sand to find The Spot to plant ourselves, the hubby and I start to notice that it’s a little bit windy. The super-chill-calmest-baby-ever is starting to cry, because she’s hungry, and the wind and the ocean are loud, and it’s bright, and frankly she’s confused.
I’ll spare you further detail because I’m starting to realize I’m a long-winded storyteller (what’s the equivalent of long-winded if you’re writing?). Sorry about that. But the next couple of hours involved a lot of sand flying around, and a tent trying to blow away, and two suddenly exhausted parents taking turns holding a very unhappy baby who would not, could not touch the sand. E seemed fairly content, bless her, and she played in the sand and ate snacks and ran back and forth to the freezing ocean until she realized there were jellyfish everywhere.
We stayed until the baby had a smelly diaper and we couldn’t take any more beach time, packed ourselves back up, and loaded up the car. Once everyone was relatively brushed off and buckled in, hubby and I looked at each other and exhaled. So… that didn’t really go as planned.
We made a pit stop at “King Burger” as E calls it—yeah, I know, gross, but desperate times, y’all—and headed toward home. At this point a sweet little voice pipes up from the backseat. “You know what would make this day even better? Donuts.”
Hubby and I looked at each other and shrugged. We both felt like it had been such a crummy day. Let’s feed our sad feelings with Donut King!
When we arrived home sometime later (Donut King is not even close to being on our way home from the beach), I sighed as we walked in the door, knowing that baths and bedtime routines were next on the docket. At least this day is almost over.
Then E, my little game-changer, walked in from the car and plopped herself on the couch like she always does. She sighed too, but it was a contented sigh. “That was the best… day… ever!”
Hold the phone. I spun around to look at her. “Really?” I asked. (She was with us today at the beach, right?) “Um, yeah!” She had that gleeful, satisfied look on her face, the one she gets when I tell her she can have candy before dinner. “Target, the beach, hamburgers, and donuts in one day? Best day ever!”
My darling, precious child, my treasure, my heart, had been having the best day ever. But because I was so wound up—consumed by unmet expectations of my ideal day and what I interpreted as a catastrophe of a Saturday—I had missed it. For me, the day had been stressful and disappointing, and I had eaten fast food for dinner (ew). For her, the day was spontaneous, and unexpected, and full of adventure and surprises, and she had eaten fast food for dinner (awesome!).
My daughter’s take on that crazy Saturday inspired me to recall the day through her eyes (she’s definitely a glass-half-full girl), but she also taught me something I think is so important, and I can’t believe it took me six and a half years to figure it out. Kids don’t need perfection and all the bells and whistles for something to be special. For her, just spending the day together, going for a car ride, and playing in the sand (and of course inhaling a donut) was enough for her to call it not just a good day, but the best day. I don’t want to overlook—or worse, try to forget—days like this because they didn’t go according to my plan. I don’t want to miss her best days.
That night I spiked a fever, and I spent the following spring break week flattened by a terrible cold. The baby had it, too (no wonder she’d been so unhappy). We didn’t do any of the spectacular activities I had planned. (OK God, I’m getting the lesson here.) But we were together, and E played in her pajamas all day, every day, and we sat in the backyard and soaked up the warm sunshine. And thanks to my little girl, that’s what I’ll choose to remember about that week. Best week ever.