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TODAY

Saturday, June 15

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Airbags

We were a little over-eager... we went to the beach last Friday. Thursday had been spent traveling all over town to drop the car off at a mechanic, and then get the bus to Logan Square to pick up a kid from a sleep over. If you'll recall, it was hotter than the hinges of hell. We sweated our way around Logan Square for several hours before I force-marched all of my kids, plus a few other random children, down Central Park Avenue to catch the Milwaukee bus so I could kick the ass of the so-called mechanic that was theoretically fixing my van. An unreasonably hot day; an incompetent, rude mechanic; a 4-year-old child who felt strongly that he should be carried and my quick temper were a dangerous combination. All of the other kids wisely kept their mouths shut and followed me down the street like chicks running after a hen. A pissed-off, hot hen, who was carrying an exceedingly trying 4-year-old on her shoulders.

Having retrieved my van from the clutches of the unscrupulous mechanic, who hadn't actually done anything to it all day, we returned home, where I should have been working diligently on the 800 million things I had to do before the next week came crashing down on us with the end-of-school-year firestorm of performances, ceremonies, paperwork, camping trips, book clubs and karate, all intricately choreographed with several other families whose children were also entering the May Maelstrom. Once we get through this monumental week, it will be smooth sailing... and the beach beckons. Long glorious days at Foster Beach, standing knee deep in Lake Michigan, or relaxing under an umbrella while the kids play... it just seemed too far away. I decided that what we all really needed before we spend the next seven days running a marathon of activity was a morning at the beach, after all, the temperatures had been close to 90, and my friends, that's beach weather.

Friday dawned a little cool. Getting up at 6:30am with the unusually chatty and cheerful 4-year-old had me a little groggy, but it was a pleasant morning. Our usual coffee, paper and bagel on the porch swing was a bit chilly, but not chilly enough to send us indoors. We would go to the beach, after all it was only 7am... certainly it would warm up as the day progressed.

It's been a while since we've packed up for the beach; the last time we went was in October of last year. There were a few major holes in my packing skill set. For example, winter hats. I forgot the winter hats, and also the socks. Wind goggles would have been nice to have, as well as a nice warm thermos of cocoa. A tent and some sleeping bags to cuddle up in would have made the outing absolutely perfect.

While driving to the beach I was so busy giving my daughter a hard time about her choice to wear capris to the beach that I didn't notice the gale force winds, and gray clouds scuttling across the sky. "Did you pack some shorts? What if you get hot? I guess it's your choice. If you get hot then maybe next time you'll remember to pack some shorts." Blah, blah, blah, Ginger. The amusing thing about this was that when we got to the beach it was actually freezing cold! So I was wrong, which you can bet was clearly pointed out to me by Miss Capri.

Luckily for all of us, we don't travel light. A partial list of items currently in our mini van, which doesn't include small plastic toys:
• a 5-foot length of heavy duty chain link
• two rain coats, red and yellow
• three boxes of girl scout cookies that someone bought for donation that I haven't yet donated
• three large conch shells
• a bed pillow
• a broken toy guitar
• 2 sets of crystal glasses, wrapped in newspaper
• a jewel bag filled with size four boys' clothes that have been removed in the car
• several random shoes, none of them a complete pair
• enough crumbs to bread tonight's dinner
• a pin cushion, with pins
• a variety of spiral bound notebooks, half filled
• several crushed, unopened granola bars
• a library's worth of young adult fiction
• an elephant-shaped watering can

And a green hoody sweatshirt, a kerchief and a wool sweater, the items that came in handy that day, but you never know when a situation will call for some crystal stemware and big long chain.

We met a friend and her children in the parking lot, and after everyone was suited up in the miscellaneous garments unearthed from the car, we set off for the beach. The lake was rough, white caps crashing down on the jetty, not a soul to be seen anywhere. The baby was bundled in his sister's beach coverup, and looking very much like Sunny Beaudelaire he toddled around amusingly, eventually ending up in the sweet spot, bundled in his mother's lap, cozy as could be.

We are a hardy lot, never ones to run inside at the merest dip in temperature, or sun's disappearance behind a cloud. A little wind and cold weren't going to scare us away. The children immediately established a plan: dig a hole deep enough for all to sit in. Once everyone was seated comfortably inside, a beach blanket would be drawn over the top, creating a roof, and thus a shelter from the wind would be established and we would at last be able to relax and enjoy the day. They set immediately to work. The eldest girls, who had of course thought to bring the materials for the book they are diligently working on (the blurb on the cover claims that it is "the worst selling faux manga comic in America!") were disgruntled because there didn't appear to be a sand free surface for which to lay out their papers and pencils. It is surprising that there would be so much sand at the beach. How in the world are people supposed to get any work done there? They soon gave up and lay huddled together in the sand, looking as pathetic and sad as only girls aged 10 and 11 can.

A picnic was attempted, but as there was a virtual sand storm blowing without cease, the leftover pasta, bread, cheese and trail mix were rapidly verging on the inedible. There is a limit to our endurance. A motion was made to adjourn to the mini vans for lunch. If you've ever gone boating and had the pleasure of meeting up with friends in the middle of the lake and tying your boats to one another for a floating picnic, you will understand the vibe we were going for. The difference being of course that a boat picnic is generally held while floating pleasantly on a placid lake on a warm sunny day, not parked next to a turbulent one on a freezing cold and windy day. But let's not quibble.

The big girls commandeered one van, and sat happily in the front seat, listening to the radio, eating pineapple and laughing. The rest of us piled into the other van. We watched some high-on-life parasailors out in the water, while the baby honked the horn and played with the door locks and the middle kids took over the back. We watched a group of three teenagers skipping school to hang out on the cement retaining wall. Two of them were making out with abandon while the sad-looking third wheel tried to look elsewhere. I wanted to run over and let her know that that life definitely gets better after high school. Unfortunately you can't do that. First of all, she wouldn't have believed me, and second, no teenager wants some 40-year-old mom with a scarf tied around her head to approach her for any reason at all, let alone to comment on her misery. Unfortunately that is a time of life we all just have to muddle through.

There was a school group in a bus, down to the beach for an end of the year picnic, huddled around the grill that they had set up behind the beach house. Too bad they missed the perfect day that had just passed. Still, to be free of regularly scheduled chores, school and work, and spending the day being blown around on the windy beach, with the sun shining on the skyline, and ocean-sized waves crashing on the rocks, having a picnic with friends, made this early beach day an excellent sign of beach days to come.

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About the Author(s)

Lori McClernon Upchurch lives on the far Northwest Side in a house that's overflowing with books, kids, pets and too much stuff from the thrift store. She is a proud member of Team Upchurch, a family of multi-talented unschoolers. She can generally be spotted driving around with a bunch of kids, not all of them hers, looking for someplace fun to get out and play.

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