To Beach or Not to Beach

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    My family is going to the beach this summer. I’m writing it here so it absolutely, definitely happens … maybe. Sharing it here increases the likelihood that we will go to the beach to at least greater than 50 percent. For the past three years, we’ve said we would go to the beach, but never actually made it. I’m determined that this year, things will be different.

    My daughters, now eleven and eight, have asked each year if we might go to the beach, and my wife Kat and I aren’t opposed to the idea at all. “That would be fun,” we say. “We’ll find a good weekend and make it happen.” We weren’t lying to them; it just didn’t happen. A “good weekend” never magically materialized. Turns out, taking a vacation – even for just a weekend – requires a non-zero amount of premeditative effort.

    We’re a family of pretty high inertia, stemming mostly from the grown-ups and trickling down to the overall temperament of the household. Left to our own devices (sometimes literally), the Davies-Zarfas clan will gladly spend a weekend at home playing Nintendo Switch, reading books and comics, and watching Netflix. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a life goal of cultivating the perfect introvert den, but one does have to be mindful that there are other worthy experiences in the world.

    We’ve been to the beach as a family before, but not for many years. The first time we tried it, we went for a weekend while the kids were still babies, staying over one night in a hotel room with two double beds and no separate living area. That didn’t go great, as we basically were confined to a dark, silent room once the kids were asleep, taking turns to go have a dinner alone. One year, we shared a beach house with our close friends in the neighborhood. Another year, we shared a house with my parents. Those trips were great, but required a level of planning that wasn’t easy without external obligation and help. (They also required money that hasn’t been in the budget recently).

    In my childhood, we stayed in the same house at the same beach with the same people at the same time every year. My memories of it are filled with nostalgia for drinking ice-cold Little Hug Fruit Barrels, making drip sand castles, and my dad’s suitcase full of VHS “beach movies” that he’d save throughout the year to watch on vacation. As a grown-up, I can appreciate just how nice that routine must have been. There’s a great amount of comfort that can come from having a thing that you just do every year. You get the luxury of not having to make a decision. You get the freedom to not really have to think about it. You still have some organization and planning, but you can let the forward momentum of tradition get you over those procrastination hurdles that might otherwise stop you.

    It’s not time for my family to build such a routine quite yet. It’s been long enough since our last beach trip that we should make sure the girls actually still like it, now that they aren’t so young. Maybe it’s a trial run of two nights or so. Fortunately, they aren’t little kids anymore, so we can get them to help with the planning and momentum of actually going. Part of what’s stopped us in the past is the significant amount of emotional labor needed to make such a trip a) happen at all, and b) be successful. Even divvied up between Kat and me, it can be a daunting task. Is there a way we can divide it up four ways instead of two?

    We haven’t really had a Family Project before, but I think this could be a good time to start one. We can sit down together and ask the question, “Is this something we want to do?” We can brainstorm what our expectations for such a trip would be and start thinking about what it would take to actually meet them. The girls are at an age where they love making lists, and by having them write out the goals and plans, maybe they’ll feel a sense of ownership that drives us forward. Instead of it being a vacation that Kat and I arrange for the family, it can be one arranged by the family.

    The more of the planning and pre-work that we can do together, the more we’ll keep each other involved and even accountable. The girls can help with meal planning. They can help figure out what we should bring and how much will fit in our car. The girls can’t request time off from work for me, but they can write it down as a task and ask, “Is it done yet?” when I get home. The girls can’t book a hotel room themselves, but we can cuddle up around an iPad together as we browse the Internet looking for one. The girls can’t pay for the trip, but they can be part of the discussions on what our family would value spending money on.

    We haven’t tried this yet; it could easily crash and burn. Making lists could shift from being fun to being a slog. Communal accountability could become one-sided. We could get excited about planning for an hour, then get bored and never come back to it. We could decide, “Eh, we’re not a beach family.” And all that would be okay. I’d much rather fail having tried than feel regret about spending another summer taking the non-deliberate path.

    I can’t wait to get home and talk about this idea with my wife, and then the girls. I think this could really work. I’m excited about a future where my little family is better at actually doing things than we are at rationalizing why we aren’t doing them. It’ll take work, but if we can learn to all pitch in, we might just have a chance. What do you think? Will we make it to the beach?