It's hard to imagine a day that requires more painstaking preparation, more logistical co-ordination, or more sheer bloody-mindedness than packing up three kids and heading out to the beach with them over summer.
What I'm meaning here is a day trip; obviously staying overnight allows you to conk out with exhaustion at some ridiculously early hour after either a takeaway or some pre-dried casserole. No, for the day trip, there's usually no such luxury; you still have to battle the crowds home, cook dinner on your return, wash the towels and bathing suits that smell like rotten crustaceans, and read the customary 13 bedtime stories. I jest of course - but only slightly.
In my experience I have found that the perfect day trip with young children involves plenty of pre-planning, and an early start. Of course you feel like the biggest goober going when you suggest on Tuesday night how Saturday morning might be attacked. But quite honestly, you catch the kids at their best, the staff or facilities at your target attraction at their freshest, and the sunlight at its lowest, and it all makes for a much easier time of it.
Our weekend trip to the beach was wrong on almost all these counts. We had spent the late morning - while the baby slept - doing something hugely uncharacteristic for us - a home improvement task. Our laundry is in an old toilet outhouse which has been painted a lurid shade of orange by a previous owner, and gets filled with clothes dryer-dust and cobwebs on a regular basis. Added to that, we have become the owners of a water blaster, which I am almost tempted to use to clean the kids and the toilet it is so effective (short bursts only, of course). As we spent the morning shifting the washer and dryer around, water-blasting here and mopping there, arguing about who was going to be up for the Darwin Award when the eventual electrocution happened, I knew we wouldn't be able to put the older kids off doing something forever. So at lunchtime, which, in my world, is almost evening because I get up at 5am, we decided to load up the car with all three of them and the assorted accoutrement's of beach-visiting and head out.
The North Shore beaches and beyond are probably the nicest, but as we had frittered half the day away already we decided to stay close to home and head, along with two thirds of Auckland, to Mission Bay. At the hottest time of the day this probably wasn't wise, but armed with towels, togs, hats, sunscreen, drinking water and various asthma inhalers, we thought we could probably brave it okay. We then add to that nappies, wipes and and a change of clothes for the baby; changes of clothes for each child, buckets and spades, a large blanket for sitting on and a wallet for the obligatory ice-cream. Thank goodness we hadn't tried to add a picnic lunch.
The problem isn't so much carting all the stuff in the car but carting it from car to sand. We congratulated ourselves for finding a car-park that was within a 20 minute walk from the beach and preceded to load ourselves up with everything required. An added frisson of excitement was added by trying to keep the kids to the walking side of the pavement rather than in the way of marauding bikes. And explaining, several times, why we had to park so far away to kids who can run for hours but can't seen to walk 20 metres down the road without griping.
The thing that cracks me up (with hysteria, usually) is that the kids are usually drawn to the fountain in the park at Mission Bay - and not so much to the beach. All kids except for the baby of course, who likes climbing up and down the bank leading up to the grassy verge, and gets very annoyed when he realises he can't do it for himself (doesn't stop him trying about 20 times in succession, though).
That annoyance is nothing on his mother's when she is dispatched to get ice-creams and finds a queue stretching down the block. Waiting in line for ice-cream is almost zen, as you've left the kids with their poor, harassed (and soon to be sun-burnt) husband, but making it back to the family grouping with four melting ice-creams, all inevitably of the wrong flavour, tends to ruin your brief respite.
You keep going to the beach anyhow, because the kids love the beach, no matter how migraine-inducing it is for the parents (I think unpacking a car full of soggy, sandy gear is about the worst job going). You get a bit of surf and sun and break the monotony of being an home for a while. I just think next time I might start pre-beach planning on Tuesday instead; casual, throw-it-together adventures be damned.