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Surly Beach Day

Yesterday I took two surly children to the beach. They clearly both needed exercise, and it was a gorgeous day. They refused to go into the forest, so I loaded them into the car with her bike (he didn’t want to ride) and off we went.

I thought I may have gotten us over the hump till we got to the beach entrance kiosk. The lower parking was closed for construction so we had to park at the top of 80-some stairs down to the beach.

Surly girl was not buying this. She insisted she wanted to haul her bike down the stairs, but I knew who would end up hauling it back up. I suggested she ride in the parking lot, which was largely empty. No deal.

Surly boy and I got out. He was complaining that he hadn’t wanted to come to the beach anyway, and now what were we going to do? She wouldn’t get out of the car.

I led him over to the top of the stairs where there were benches to sit. We had a direct sight-line to the car, and would have hardly had to yell to be heard by her.

So he ate a snack (and thus became less surly) while I sketched the stairs, the beach, and the pier leading out into the water. I could hear her kicking the car window, and hoped she wouldn’t break it. I wasn’t worried about her, though. She’d get over it.

After a while I glanced over and saw a woman looking into the car with a shocked expression. She called to the man she’d been walking with.

I called out to her, pointed to myself, and said, “Don’t worry. She’s with us.”

Now you’d hope that anyone would know that an eight-year-old could let herself out of a car if she wanted to. But those people shot me such a dirty look and as they walked away the man yelled out, “You coulda cracked a window!”

Like I was in control of this situation. Apparently, he didn’t know any eight-year-old girls. He didn’t know how to suffer defeat with a measure of gravitas. This is what sketchbooks and benches overlooking the bay are for: pretending you have some control in your life when your eight-year-old daughter has decided to be surly!

To demonstrate (to myself – the man and woman had moved on) that I was not, in fact, locking the girl in the car, I used my remote and opened the sliding door next to her.

As predicted, she immediately closed it and started screaming again.

This reminds me of a short, ugly period in our family life when our four-year-old son took to screaming in the car. It wasn’t crying, yelling, or anything else but simple screaming. He was doing it to hurt us, and he was succeeding.

We came up with a simple, passive solution. As soon as he started screaming, we’d pull over, step out of the car, close the door, and wait till the screaming stopped. Perhaps many of my most memorable parenting experiences happen in the Trader Joe’s parking lot. I remember standing there, this screaming child in the car, on a hot day.

I was practicing my response to the meddling adults who, perhaps, thought that they were stronger than a four-year-old. (Ha, those ignorant non-parents. They think they know the way the world works!)

“He knows how to get out of the car,” I’d tell them. “I’m just waiting till he stops screaming.”

Why is he screaming?

That was a question I never found a response to. After a couple of nasty weeks of this response to his screaming, when I had to stop in all sorts of random parts of our county, he finally stopped the screaming.

Back to the beach: eventually my daughter stopped yelling. The door of the car opened, she got out, closed it, went around to the back hatch and opened it to get her bike out. I went over to help her, and she happily rode around the parking lot a few times before we decided that it was time for Surly Beach Day to come to an end.

Home we went: bike, surly kids, a bit of sunshine, and two sketches of a stairway I didn’t want to be at the top of, anyway.

Posted in Parenting.


One Response

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  1. Natalya Lukin says

    I so feel you. Been there a million times. Sigh…



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