Last Friday night we decided to take an impromptu trip to the beach. We had survived the first three days of school, we had a wide-open, unscheduled weekend ahead of us, and we wanted to do something fun to kick it off. As Matt drove home from work at 5:00 p.m., we hatched a plan to pack up the kids and head 30 minutes north to Silver Beach in Michigan where we would dine at one of our favorite restaurants (Silver Beach Pizza) and then lounge on the beach as the kids built sand castles and splashed in the water as the sun dipped beneath the horizon.
Sounds awesome, right?
Well, before I go further, let me show you a few pictures from our magical, spur-of-the-moment evening:
Postcard perfect, right?
Before I let you believe that the night was in fact perfect, let me explain how our adventure began….
As Matt and I made plans, Addie woke from her nap crying. And for the next 45 minutes, she had a full-blown toddler tantrum as the rest of us tried to get ready to go. Once we got to the restaurant, the wait was too long to eat inside, so we ordered at the take-out window with a more limited menu, meaning that some of us had to compromise our wants. The food was still good and we ate on the lawn in front of the giant splash pad fountain. It was a beautiful setting for sure, but between bites we were fighting the battle of ants greedy for the kids’ mac-and-cheese. Of course the middle child needed to use the restroom half-way through the meal, so Matt got to walk her a block-and-a-half away to the facilities. Once we finished, we headed to the beach. Of course it was about bed time by then, so the boy who hadn’t napped was running on fumes, which for him means getting amped up. So, as the sky lit up with oranges, pinks, blues and purples, we were constantly reminding the kids to “work together,” “keep the sand off our towels,” “don’t splash your sibling unless you also want to be splashed,” “watering cans are toys, not weapons,” and “you’re supposed to be getting cleaned off, so stop rolling around in the sand!” Then of course the car ride home included ear-piercing noises from overly-tired kids. Let’s just say that I don’t handle loud squeals in confined spaces well.
So, for a larger portion of the night than I’d like to admit or recall, my expression mirrored that of Jonas’ in this picture:
The entire night was filled with such a mixture of feelings and emotions. There were moments of pure beauty and awe as we watched the sky change colors right in front of us. There was something completely peaceful and renewing when we just sat listening to the water break the shore. And, then there were the tantrums and the squeals and the ants in the mac-and-cheese. It was an evening filled with highs and lows. It was an evening that encompassed parenting.
As I told a friend about the experience, I couldn’t help but realize what a metaphor for parenting those few hours on a Friday evening were. What else in life is filled with as many ups and downs, highs and lows as parenting? From year to year, day to day, hour to hour, we are surrounded by beauty and wonder. And frustrations, trials and teachable moments. We go from the thrill of watching our babies take their first steps to telling them for the fourteenth time that day to stop pulling the dog’s tale. We watch siblings play together in harmony one minute and then recreate a WWF-worthy showdown the next. In the same moment, we can feel absolute love and pure annoyance for these children of ours.
The thing about parenting is that it’s not always postcard perfect. Sometimes there are ants in the mac-and-cheese. And sometimes those ants appear during the postcard moments. But the good thing is that hindsight is 20/20 because do you know what the kids remember from the beach trip? The fun, the adventure, the getting to share a can of root beer, the colors of the sky, the sand castle they built. They don’t remember those peripherals that plagued me in the moment. They only remember the beauty of the evening. I guess that’s the difference in being a kid and being a parent. Perhaps it’s time I learn a bit from them, to overlook the ants and enjoy the mac-and-cheese.