It was already 4:00 p.m. when they asked if we could go to the beach. I was hesitant, as it had been a long day already. But we had nothing to fill those witching hours before dinner and dad’s arrival back home, and it was a warm, beautiful day. The kids reminded me “the beach” was on our summer bucket list, so I agreed. Yes, let’s go. To the beach it is.
When we arrived, we made our way straight to the water. A ginormous family gathered to the right. Picnic tables littered the forested area leading to the beach. We chose the table closest to the water’s edge, 20-30 steps from here to there. The two oldest plopped their stuff down and entered the water promptly. Like any “good mom,” I organized all the stuff at the table, then got our youngest geared up in her life jacket before she headed to the sand.
I made myself comfortable at the picnic table, watching the kids swim within the buoys from a distance, watching our baby play in the sand. But something was making me feel uncomfortable, guilty, really. I felt like I was TOO FAR away from my children, like I wasn’t being a “good mom” sitting at that picnic table 20-30 steps from me to my baby, many feet from my children frolicking in the water. It was my perception of a “good mom,” my perception of one “good beach mom” that did me in. There she was, the embodiment of “good mom,” fully pregnant with dad and one older child frolicking in the water, all three of them together loving and enjoying this beautiful day.
Yes, the contrast between my perception of that mom and my perception of myself was stark in my mind. That pregnant mama frolicking in the water with her husband and son? A “good mom.” Me at the picnic table in full-on clothing and several steps and feet from my children? Not a “great mom.” Yes, I’ve read all those viral blog posts telling mom to “just put on that suit and get in the water, your kids are only young once.”
I was feeling guilt and condemnation from the start of this summer bucket list gig. And it was likely largely in my mind.
So I got up from the picnic table, took off my shoes, picked up my camera and moved much closer to my baby.
Fortunately, there was a gigantic rock right next to her. So I sat there, close. It felt better, more responsible, more engaged, more motherly. Although I still had guilt that I was clothed, not “right in there” with the kids.
I chilled out for a while. Relaxed. Dug my feet in the sand. Wiggled my toes. Watched the big kids frolic in the water. Took a few photos of my baby playing in the sand, making her own version of sandcastles – the kind you never flip over into castle form. I watched as she found tiny rocks and one by one, carefully placed them on top of her castle. It was all grace. Pure grace for my “not a good enough mom” heart that day at the beach.
But after a while, I looked up, looked long, looked all around. Why oh why do I do that? Why oh why must I constantly worry I’m not doing life right? Why look right and left when I already had peace? Why question and compare my identity with hers and hers and theirs?
This questioning and worrying and wondering if I’m doing life all wrong must stop. But it didn’t. The subtle lies ruminated in my head as I looked left, right and all around at everyone else.
Look at all the people swimming.
Look at the moms building sandcastles with their children.
Look at that pregnant mom frolicking in the water with her husband and child, enjoying life, taking advantage of every opportunity to get right in the thick of things.
You’re not swimming.
You’re not even in a swimsuit.
You’re just sitting here on the beach, fully clothed, with a camera, watching your children from “a distance.”
You’re not a “good mom” like them.
You’re not getting life right.
The subtle, but undeniable lies continued ruminating in my mind as I sat on that rock at the water’s edge. But God persisted with grace, unmerited favor upon me.
After a while, the baby was clearly done with the sand.
We got up and made our way back to the picnic table to brush and dry off. I checked my clock for the first time since we arrived. To my surprise, we’d already been there for 1 hour 40 minutes. It was 6:10 p.m. Dinner time. We were 20 minutes from home and I hadn’t even started dinner. “Good mom” came to mind. “Good mom” would have had dinner in the crock pot all day or a cold tuna salad and fruit salad waiting in the fridge or a full-on picnic dinner of chicken and coleslaw for that picnic table. But I had nothing. No dinner. Dad likely on his way home from a long day at work. And then there was us, here at the beach. And me, late and empty handed.
This was truly an amazing, fun-filled summer bucket list adventure for my three kids and a torturous “bad mom” adventure borne out of my wandering mind.
So I called the big kids in. “Come in, guys!” It’s time to go! Time to get some dinner!”
The only thing is….they didn’t respond. They didn’t listen. They didn’t come in from the water. They just kept playing and acted like they didn’t hear me when I know they did.
I was miffed.
So I called my husband and let him know we were at the beach, that I’d called the kids in once, but they hadn’t listened, that I was trying to get them out sooner rather than later so we could get home for dinner together, that I didn’t have anything planned, but maybe he could make some hamburgers and beans and we could have some of that watermelon cut up?
(Yes, I intentionally wrote that as a run-on sentence because it best describes my wandering thoughts and worries that afternoon.)
I called the kids in again. “Come on guys, time to go!” They looked and me and kept swimming. Utter disregard for my direction. I was starting to get irritated, but there was nothing I could do. My 10 year old and 12 year old were swimming free, independently, far out by the buoys and having a heck of a good time! Why in the world would they want to come in now except for complete OBEDIENCE? I couldn’t blame them and was waffling between just letting them swim some more and complete anger at their disregard for my direction.
So I let them swim some more, because there was nothing I could do other than get in the water with my clothes on and drag them out. And that didn’t seem sensible nor necessary.
Did I mentioned God persisted with grace through this whole adventure?
It was as if He was saying…breathe…rest my child. It’s okay. I am here and you are a good mom despite their disobedience right now.
I watched as my baby filled a bubble bottle cap with with water and stirred with an old glow stick she found on the ground. I watched as she did this dirty, hard, small work with care. I watched as she walked up the steps, down the steps, then jumped off to the bottom without a care in the world. She walked and jumped again and again and again some more.
Time passed in grace. Enough so that I felt it was justified to give another try at calling the kids in so we could leave, so we could get home, so we could get dinner with dad.
I called. “Come on in guys, it’s time to go. We need to get home for dinner. Dad’s home now.”
They didn’t respond. Kept playing. Kept swimming. Kept laughing and swimming farther out, farther away from me.
I was getting ticked now. Angry.
The baby was ready to go. I’d packed up our stuff and was clearly ready to go. I started waving the kids in, gesturing “come” as quietly and nonchalantly as I could without making a scene. Every time the kids paid attention to me, I gestured angrily and abruptly, attempting to let them know I was mad and needed obedience ASAP.
I was so mad.
To make things worse, this was all happening in the immediate presence of the “good mom” who was still pregnant, still frolicking in the water with her husband and one older son. I was truly embarrassed that my children were not obeying my direction to get out of the water. I was truly embarrassed that I had to keep calling with no response. I was truly embarrassed that I came in clothes and was stranded on the beach with no way of getting them out of the deep other than to make my way in, fully clothed. I am truly embarrassed to say it was 7:05 p.m. before they finally got out of the water.
I let them know that I was SO mad, that I had been calling them in for 55 minutes, that they had been so disobedient and I was not happy at all.
I gathered our stuff.
And we took one last walk along the beach.
Grace for us all.
As we drove out, we passed a beautiful pond surrounded by grasses and wildflowers. It reminded me of the beautiful pond my sponsored child’s tutor stopped to photograph in Haiti, the one I made into a 8×10 and sent her in the mail because I knew it meant something special to her.
I stopped the car. Got out. Told the kids I was taking a moment for myself. Walked around and snapped a few photos at my leisure.
My husband had dinner ready when we got home. Hamburgers, beans and watermelon cut up. I told him about the kids’ direct disobedience, how the outing was great fun for the kids and not so great for me.
After dinner, my husband took the kids. And I took some time away, by myself, in our bedroom. After a good long while, they came in and sincerely apologized. I’m sure at the direction of their father, but still. The apology was felt.
I wasn’t the world’s greatest mom, but I was a better mom.
Swimming & Sandcastles
Total Cost: $0
Mom Lesson: Moms need heaping doses of grace. Everywhere. All the time.
Kid Lesson: Kids have fun and make fun anywhere, even when they’re in trouble.
This post is part of a summer-long series titled Summer Bucket List. This is my first summer home full-time with our three children. My hope for this series is that it will challenge me to adventure out of my mothering comfort zone, will provide opportunities to live and write simply, practically, beautifully and meaningfully, and will stimulate some some fun ideas for your summer as well! To check out the entire series, click here and you’ll be directed to the introductory post where all the posts are listed and linked for easy reading. Enjoy, friends! And have a blessed summer.