“Come on kids, we’re going to the beach today,” I announced one morning. They’d grown accustomed to impromptu beach days since our move to Western Michigan in early spring. Fortunately, living on the West side of Grand Rapids meant a number of gorgeous beaches were well within a forty-minute drive of our rental home.
I kept beach gear packed in our minivan, towels rolled in a mesh beach bag by the door, swimsuits usually hung out to dry on the back porch, and sunscreen was optional. We slipped flip flops on our feet, made a quick stop by the grocery store for some grapes, cheese cubes, granola bars, and extra water, and we drove to a new spot: Rosy Mound.
Social media is incredibly helpful when you move to a new area. Locals know all of the best spots. Rosy Mound was highly recommended and seemed right up our alley with sand dunes, a quiet beach, and stunning views. Windows down and music turned up, we drove through miles of farmland while the girls and I sang along to our summertime playlist. We pulled up to a small parking lot and visitor center and loaded our essentials. I couldn’t bring a stroller because our one-mile hike to the beach included wooded sandy dune trails and hundreds of stairs. We all had to walk. We left towels and toys behind and set out on our hike. I carried the backpack with water and snacks as I watched my three daughters run ahead.
No one needed diapers. No one needed naptime. No one needed me to tote five million things along with us on every outing. I felt light. Our hike through the shady dune woods felt like a new level of freedom. I was taking my children to the beach, one mile on foot from the car and toilets, with no stroller, alone.
In years prior, I’d never have been able to manage such a day trip. Restaurant outings when I only had one child were stressful enough. Weaving through a tightly packed dining room with an infant carry seat in tow, occupying a restless baby at the table, and barely finishing my own meal, made me despise eating out. Venturing to a secluded beach alone would have never been on my radar as a fun outing in that season of life.
Watching my children grow up is certainly bittersweet. I recall the hours I spent swaying in the darkness watching my babies drift off to sleep. I would linger, holding their tiny bodies close to mine, praying I’d be able to remember what it felt like years later. We spent a good number of years home, keeping with the pace of little legs, short attention spans, and naptimes.
Sentiments like “enjoy every second” or “it goes by so fast” caused me to grieve a little bit of those fleeting baby years. The idea that one day I’d look back on them with nostalgia forged the association of their growing-up with loss. However, I am learning it is not about what I fear we may lose in the early years, it’s about what we have to gain in the coming ones.
Many of our outings that spring and summer looked much the same: one bag with a few essentials, our able legs, and willing hearts. My three-year-old trotted after her big sisters, my oldest blazed the trail ahead, and my middle kept up somewhere in between. I followed behind our parade. We climbed up a final set of stairs at Rosy Mound, over the last sand dune before we reached the lake. A crisp breeze greeted us at the top as we caught a glimpse of endless blue water just beyond the rolling, sun-baked hills of sand. We were almost there. The descent down the other side of the dune was easier, and as we emerged from the cool shade of the trees, we basked in bright sunshine. Sweaty after our hike, we splashed in the gentle lapping waves and lost track of time.
Hours later, we drip-dried on our hike back through the meandering wooded dune trails to our car. I smiled at each passerby as I carried my three-year-old on my shoulders. Sandy, sweaty, and sunkissed, we settled contentedly into the air-conditioned car to head back home. It wasn’t long before all three girls nodded off to sleep. I glanced back at their messy beach hair and pink cheeks and smiled, feeling the familiar sense of nostalgia I’ve felt before when each of them were just tiny babies. I didn’t want to forget this either.
Venturing out on solo beach trips in this season are akin to the countless days we spent at home in seasons past— we’ve embraced the present. As my children grow, I don’t mourn the departure from their baby and toddlerhood, but embrace the newness of their childhood. Along with beach days, I embrace the skinned knees, loose teeth, two-wheel bike rides, elaborate Lego creations, and the endless adventures their imaginations take them on. I look back on those tender moments of the past and realize they’re ones upon which our new adventurous ones are built. No one ever told me it just gets better, but I am learning that it does.
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Mary Kate and her husband Brian are high-school sweethearts who recently left their lifelong home in the Chicago suburbs for a rural property in Western Michigan. Together they homeschool their three daughters and are making plans for turning their new property into a small-scale homestead. After overcoming numerous health challenges due to autoimmunity, Mary Kate is passionate about helping others find healing and wholeness. She leads an online group teaching the basics of an anti-inflammatory diet and inspires others to incorporate simple, nourishing, real-food recipes in their own homes. She also writes online at www.choosinggraceblog.com, and you can catch up with her on Instagram @choosinggraceblog