It happens at least once every summer: I’ll find myself sitting in stopped traffic on a weekday morning, 15 miles from home but having been in the car for an hour already. My two daughters, wearing their bathing suits and each eating a “breakfast” that consists of a crushed granola bar that’s been packed and repacked several times already, are getting restless and asking, “Are we there yet?”
Where’s there? The beach, of course.
Only one question keeps running through my head: “Why am I doing this?”
Of course, deep down, I know the answer: I’m trying to recreate for my kids the magical summer days of my childhood.
On many a summer day, my mom and her best friend would pack their five children into a car and drive north to the beach. My memories of those trips are vivid: the car rides up where we all yelled and shouted, trying to get other cars to honk or at least look at us; the smell of the salty air as we walked onto the sand for the first time; the glittering water stretching out to the horizon; the sound of the waves as they washed over the sand and trickled back over the rocks and stones. I was always starving the minute we got there and devoured whatever my mom had packed for lunch well before noon.
Mom and her friend would sit in beach chairs talking and reading, taking walks and putting their feet in the water. And us kids would swim, body surf, boogie board, and play Wiffle ball or Frisbee on the sand. Eventually, after hours on the beach, we’d go get ice cream, the bigger the cone the better. Then we’d ride home with the windows down, in a sugar coma.
It was heaven.
As a kid, you don’t realize all the work that goes into making a day like that: the planning and coordination, the preparing and packing of food, towels, sunscreen, beach blankets, chairs, umbrellas. The driving in stop-and-go traffic and parking in overcrowded lots that charge top dollar. My mom never seemed stressed about it, or perhaps I just wasn’t paying much attention to her experience. For a kid, it’s get in the car and go, return home sun-kissed and with a belly full of ice cream.
As my daughters do now, my brother and I also did some camps each summer: tennis camp and a computer science camp through our school where we learned about floppy disks and Carmen Sandiego. We even attended a week-long creative writing camp, where we worked out a summer-full of sibling bickering in a series of stories starring thinly veiled versions of ourselves.
Camps provide some needed structure for the kids and an equally-as-needed break for the parents, but it’s not the camps I remember when I think of summer as a kid. It’s those beach days. It’s riding my bike by myself to a friend’s house for the day, doing very little, and riding home again in the late-afternoon sun. It’s swimming with my brother in our family’s above ground pool and then “laying out” on our towels on the hot driveway to warm up, talking about what we wanted to do the next day or someday in the distant future when we were grown-ups.
Each summer for the past several years, my daughters and I have made a “Summer Fun list” laying out the things they want to do in their 10 or so weeks off. While some of the items are more ambitious, like “go to the Aquarium” or “visit the Museum of Science,” the ones that seem to make the list every year are the simplest: “go to the beach,” “see friends,” “eat outside,” “swim in a pool,” “go blueberry picking.”
I know in a few years my daughters will be busy with summer jobs and probably want to spend most, if not all, of their free time with their friends. So, I’m grateful for this time I have with them — even if we’re sitting in stopped traffic on the highway with no beach in sight as they repeatedly ask me if we're there yet.
In my heart of hearts, I know the truth: we’re there now.