Peace can be found at the beach, even for the mother of three. I discovered this living on Chicago’s lakefront. 57th Street Beach is only a five-minute walk from our house and no matter how old my kids are, or how much I dreaded the heat, peace would descend upon me once I settled on that beach towel.
Preschoolers can busy themselves for hours (or so it seems) shoveling sand into plastic dump trucks or ferrying water buckets from the shore, and even a nudgy 10-year-old will happily dig in the sand, building fortresses and waging imaginary wars.
My mom claims that her easiest time as a mother was when we lived in West Palm Beach, Florida. Never mind that at the time my brother was in his terrible 2s, and I was an enterprising 3-year-old—we spent every morning and every afternoon (after naptime) at the beach. By evening we kids were so blissfully tired that my parents could sip their cocktails undisturbed.
For me it is key to go to the beach early in the morning, before it gets too crowded and too hot. For years I kept our old double stroller in the basement as our “beach mobile,” a tote bag full of beach toys parked on one seat, and the beach umbrella in the storage basket underneath. The empty seat would hold beach towels and another bag with snacks, water, sun lotion, etc. On the way home, it could accommodate a tired little one.
As soon as we arrive on the beach and I designate “our spot” in the sand, the kids scamper off to play in the surf. All I have to do is spread the beach towels, dig in the beach umbrella, and pull out my magazine. Thankfully, Chicago’s shores are shallow—the waves are usually just high enough to generate happy squeals, and the lifeguards are so vigilant that even an adult like me can’t walk out to a decent depth for a swim.
Mind you, it isn’t too long before a child returns, either put out by uncooperative siblings or friends, in which case a toy from my old beach bag usually helps (buckets and shovels are really all you need), or hungry for a snack. I always take along potato chips and pretzels (something that doesn’t melt!), and of course a cooling bag with water bottles that can be refilled at the beach’s water fountains. I have found that concession stands often open too late for our morning beach trips, and even if they are open, their exorbitant prices quickly make for an expensive outing. However, I do take along a few dollar bills in case the ice cream cart comes jingling along the boardwalk. Ice cream carts/trucks are, after all, summer.
All that prep means I function as a kid-service bay on the beach. But it also means, unless the kids need something, that I am left to my own devices. Keeping an eye on the shoreline, I am blissfully alone in the great outdoors. I can read a magazine article uninterrupted. I can lie on my belly and run my fingers through the fine sand. I can catch some sun, listening to the calming rush of the waves, the squawks of the seagulls, and the chatter of the kids. When I get too hot, I briefly join the kids in the water, for nothing cools your body like a dip into Lake Michigan.
By noon we are packing up to avoid the greater heat, UV rays, and crowds. While a morning spent at the beach means kids sticky with sunscreen and sweat, damp towels, wet bathing suits, and sand all over the house, it also means peace for the rest of the day. The kids are pleasantly worn out and happy to lounge around at home; and maybe, just maybe, they’ll surprise me by taking a nap. And then peace will really descend upon the house.
Chicago Beaches off the Beaten Track
63rd Street Beach: Wide half-moon beach with pier you can walk out on. The beach house features a spray pool that the kids can hop around in, as well as all the amenities. Ample parking lot. Easily accessible from Lake Shore Drive at Hayes Drive.
Rainbow Beach: At the southern reaches of the city, this beach is blissfully deserted in the mornings and offers beautiful views of downtown, as well as a fully functioning beach house and parking lot. Easily accessed off 79th Street.
57th Street Beach: Smaller beach off Hyde Park’s famed Promontory Point. No parking close by makes for smaller crowds but beach house offers all you need.
Tobey Prinz Beach Park: On the city’s far north side, often referred to as the Rogers Park beach, it features a pier with a small light house, long stretches of sand, and a dune grass rehabilitation area. Easily accessed at the east end of Pratt Ave. There are other access points farther north and some parking off Greenleaf Ave. No beach house per se, but restrooms and a concession stand/grill.