We were at the beach for this week’s observation. I had all sorts of high expectations for what play at the beach might entail. We went to the beach with a family that matches our family. My friend does crafts and is a teacher. Her husband is high energy and always has a plan for activity. They have a 3 year old daughter and a 5 month old daughter. In fact, last year on our beach trip, we were both talking about how we were trying for our second kid (although unbeknownst to me, they had already succeeded).
In my imagination, the ocean is everything for a kid. An infinite sandbox and water table, a running track that never ends. Yet, the moment I set out to pay attention, the amount of play space available meant nothing. There were fights over shovels, and I kept worrying that Charlotte was going to knock down the castle her friend was building (which she eventually did). My friend and I were both under the tent with the babies. Winnie had been fussy and more needy all week, reminding me in fact that she is a real baby. Now, looking back at the pictures she looks so tired, and I realize that the key to Winnie’s happiness is sleep. She needs a lot of sleep. I need to remember this. The way she gets herself to sleep is by burrowing her head into a blanket and wrapping it around her face while on her stomach (yes, I’m aware that these are not best practices). At the beach she would scrape sand up as she was burrowing and then get upset when sand was in her eyes. She also had to have her feet wrapped because she had kicked the bouncy chair at the beach house so hard over and over to get it to bounce that her heels had been rubbed raw and the bouncy chair seat left bloodied. She did not seem bothered. Winnie made it to sleep under the tent, and I fixed my attention back to the girls. The dads had arrived with a real shovel and were digging up a hole to get plenty of loose sand for building. As they started building castles, the girls started a confusing game where the sand pile became a slide and they were pushing each other down the slide. It was hard to tell whether or not they wanted to be pushed down the slide. It seemed like it was hard for them to tell too as sometimes they would ask to not be pushed and sometimes ask to be pushed. I probably should have gotten more involved. The boys were in their zones with their sand castles when Charlotte started reeling. She kept getting in trouble for knocking down or going near castle shrines. There’s an endless amount of sand and space, so I was getting frustrated that she couldn’t settle herself into something of her own. At the same time, I was also frustrated for her. I get that she wanted to stomp on that packed tower of sand or turn the wall into a slide or walk into castle sculptures. But they didn’t want her to, so I couldn’t let her. The maniacal look in her eye let me know she was no longer in control and needed some help. The infinite sandbox now felt like a museum, and I needed to put away the camera. After lunch and a much needed nap, we headed back out to the beach with a balloon powered boat. The girls ran and ran from tide pool to tide pool and happily splashed around as the sun went down. It was much more like what I had imagined I would be observing.