Last weekend we went to the beach. Just for a couple of days. Virginia Beach. Because we live in Virginia now of course. Stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn on points that had accumulated from one too many full tanks of nearly four-dollar-a-gallon gas, weekly grocery store trips for an ever-growing family and a bounty from Costco that would make Blackbeard blush and seems to cost at least $200 before you step out of the car. We were only gone for two nights, one and a half days. Which might lead one to imagine we could pack light. Just grab a few essentials and enjoy the sand and surf for a few hours. But of course, as any parent of more than one child knows (and possibly even all parents, but I can’t think back that far), that would be wrong. We had to bring stuff. A lot of stuff.

We had two suitcases for two parents and three kids, one of whom is still in diapers (one of the kids, that is, not a parent). Which means wipes. Cream. Swim diapers. Night time diapers. Daytime diapers. Swim suits, swim shirts, towels, flip flops, sunscreen for kids and sunscreen for adults.

We’d be hitting the beach, which means five towels, a beach blanket and a collapsible sun canopy in lieu of renting an umbrella. Two folding beach chairs for Mom and Dad. A giant bag of sand toys. Two styrofoam boogie boards. A collapsible beach cart to haul everything to the water’s edge from the van. A cooler on wheels to store waters and a box lunch of sandwiches packed by Mommy.

Since the beach has a nice boardwalk/path area, we brought the bikes. Four of them, with the little guy in a seat attached to the back of Mommy’s bike. Which requires the bike rack on the back of the van. And due to the mountain of other items that we were hauling, it required the roof rack carrier to keep the inside of our van from being a safety hazard for the kids in the back seats. It spoils the beach trip when the kids arrive with broken bones.

I guess this is all normal when you have a larger family, although I’m not sure what we’d do if we had 8 kids or something crazy like that. We’d have to have a caravan. And not the Dodge Caravan, I mean multiple cars following each other to the beach. How else would you do it?

Thankfully, we made it. We slept in the hotel. Together. In one room. Again (think Disney). Aside from some middle-of-the-night battles with the air conditioner controls in the room, we all managed to get some sleep. Some being the operative word. Oh, and the first room they sent us to was already occupied. I’ve been wondering when that would finally happen to me, opening a hotel room door with someone else already staying inside. I hadn’t imagined it would happen with my wife and kids standing behind me. Needless to say, Erin Andrews was not waiting behind the door, and all I saw were some suitcases laying on the bed and the TV on around the corner. I quickly threw our procession in reverse and backed everyone up into the hallway and herded the clan back down to the lobby. And after nearly 15 minutes of waiting, we actually got a room without other people in it. You know that you’re annoyed with a place when you start not caring whether your kids are about to break things.

We made it down to breakfast the next morning. Daddy managed to operate the waffle machine at the buffet without burning his hand or the waffles. When we were through, you could still make out some traces of the carpet under our table from the deluge of crumbs and whatever else that the boys had scattered in their wake. No one knocked over the fish tank.

After breakfast, we (meaning I) unloaded the bikes off the back of the van and we hit the bike path. Which was a bit dicier than normal since there was a race or a triathlon or something serious underway which had caused one direction of the boardwalk to be sectioned off. So we had to navigate around the hotels for a couple blocks on the sidewalk, where thankfully our bikes did not run anyone over, nor were we hit by oncoming traffic. Which is lucky, since the boys argued the whole time about who would be in front. Our eldest kept trying to weave in front of his brother to get behind me despite constant warnings from his mother to stop before he rode off the sidewalk.

We finally made it to the beach. After I spent several days, hours, minutes setting up our equipment, we really enjoyed ourselves. We stopped and watched the pro footvolley tournament (pretty cool – volleyball where you can’t use your hands). The older boys wore out their boogie boards. The water was perfect at 74 degrees. Waves were big but not too big. It’s amazing to see the difference that each year makes in what the boys can do in the water. The waves don’t knock them over. I can stand in the surf to my knees and keep them within 15 feet of me and feel confident that they’re not going to drown. I think it’s the first time that I grew tired before they did of being in the water. Something tells me I should get used to that.

Our little guy is a madman in the water. He charges right in with no fear. Lets the waves wash over him and comes up dripping but smiling and exclaiming that he “Go under!” He loves having me lift him over the incoming waves, jumping and bouncing like a waterlogged kangaroo. On our way back to the sand, I chase him recklessly around the beach, him running as fast as his little legs will carry him until he falls and smacks down on the sand, only to pop right back up giggling and running back towards the tide.

We were all tired on the drive home, sitting in traffic. My mind began to turn to mush after the first three episodes of Scooby Doo on the DVD player, which I had to listen to since the headphones had crapped out. After the unloading process was over, I plopped down on the couch and tried to catch a couple innings of the Yankee game. It took only a few minutes for the boys to bound over and proclaim that they were bored. “Can you play with us Daddy?” Seriously…

That night, when I turned out the light, after the boys finished their showers, we read a book, sang our song, said our prayers and I tucked them in under the covers, I kissed them goodnight and asked them what their favorite part of the trip was. “Playing in the water with you Daddy,” was their unanimous reply. And somehow, it all suddenly seemed worth it.

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