Being an anxious Jewish mother (or any type of mother, for that matter) is a full-time job, and many of us are worn out from this past year of pandemic parenting. This summer, why not be exhausted and frustrated caring for your children in a new setting? Travel back in time to the suffering of our ancestors wandering through the desert for 40 years by visiting your nearest beach. Because if your kids are already driving you up the wall even though summer break JUST started, then surely the addition of a couple of pounds of loose sand in your car will help!
In case the pandemic has made you rusty and you’ve forgotten what family trips are like, I’ve put together a handy guide below.
Expect everything to go really well.
Picture all those families, who smilingly hunt for seashells together on the shore, serenely nap on the beach and eat a lovely picnic lunch together without anyone being picky. Be excited about the scintillating conversation you will have with your child as you admire the beauty of nature. They will definitely listen to you with rapt attention! They will not launch into a long monologue about YouTube gamers even once! And don’t forget the mother’s vacation mantra: If every moment isn’t overflowing with joy, then I have failed as a mother.
Be frugal at the parking meter.
Why risk wasting money? Just pay for two hours now, because you can always come back later and refill the meter before it’s up. It doesn’t matter that you are dragging around a slow, cranky golem-like creature—if golems were made to do the opposite of what you say.
Remember to put sunblock on the kids but forget to put it on yourself.
Nothing says a successful summer trip with your child like an angry sunburn emblazoned across the back of your neck and shoulders. If you are able to recline the following week without the painful discomfort of air-fried skin, did you even go on a trip at all?
Bring all your electronics to the beach.
You’ll get to relax in the shade on a fluffy beach towel and read without being interrupted because your child will be entertained. It will be fine. Electronic devices are very hardy in water.
Even better, bring your electronics into the ocean!
Don’t let your child play in the water unsupervised, but also don’t leave your phone or child’s video game console on the beach unattended. Simply place the electronics in that PJ Library fanny pack; it seems waterproof and, of course, you’ll keep the bag out of the water, anyway. In fact, let your child hold the bag while you show them how to float in the water. Discover that, unlike your ancestor Moses, the sea does not part for you and your smartphone.
Bring a shade tent without the instruction manual.
The childless couple next to you will watch you struggle, while your child sits on the sand complaining, for as long as they can stand it before they offer to help. You will thank them profusely as stinging sweat pours into your eyes, blinding you so that you cannot fully make out their features. Be proud that you are serving as a pitiful, but effective, PSA on using birth control.
Bring fruits and veggies.
A prepackaged veggie tray for the beach? What a stroke of genius! It will not be an inconvenience later, when you are schlepping around a tote of spilled ranch dip from said tray, plus a couple of sandy apples that got too hot in the sun. It won’t even be a bother when you realize that the waterlogged electronics are now also covered in ranch dip. Try to repress your realization that your child has subsisted on only gas station Cheetos all day.
Anxiously rush to refill the parking meter you weren’t worried about.
Rush across the beach, no time for shoes! The sand is a little warm, but proudly remind yourself that you gave birth to a child without an epidural and so you can handle anything. Realize when it’s too late that the whitest sand furthest from the ocean has been in direct sunlight in nearly-90 degree weather for enough hours to make it literally hot enough to fry latkes. Scald your feet but successfully purchase your new ticket! Then remember you left your keys on the beach with your other bags. Rinse and repeat (but wear shoes this time).
Listen to your child kvetch about how much they hate being here.
Spend another 45 minutes on the beach listening to your child kvetch about how terrible this entire trip is and “what is the point of any of this,” then leave before the new meter ticket is up. Listen to your beloved child list off complaints in the style of a rabbi reading out endless announcements after a particularly long Shabbat service. Feel a deep sense of meaning and fulfilment as the person who gave life to this small being.
Cherish your new memories.
Drive the 4.5 hours home, reminiscing about those five photos you took (none of you) before your child accidentally dipped the bag with your phone inside into the ocean, while you calculate how big an impact replacing a phone and a video game console will make on your budget.
It’s your duty as a good mother to make memories before your child heads off to Jewish camp for the rest of the summer, so don’t skip any of the above steps! … Or maybe you should and, instead, remember that the best summer memories come from looking at everything with a sense of humor and cutting yourself some slack. Make some time for yourself, even if it means there isn’t a veggie tray. Let the kids eat the goddamn Cheetos. Moms deserve to relax this summer, too — it’s long overdue.
Kate Hennessey is a contributing writer to Kveller and Kiddish magazine.