A Chicago dad’s beach checklist

This week’s blog post is by The Paternity Test co-host Matt Boresi, who lives in the Edgewater Glen neighborhood of Chicago with his wife (“Professor Foster”) and their 6-year-old daughter Viva, who is careful of what advice she buys, but trusts you on the sunscreen.

The beaches are open! At least the ones that haven’t washed away are open, and will stay open until the water is too poisonous to swim in, at which point they will close the beaches for a few hours while the water washes itself (?) and then you can go back in. Beaches are weird. 

If you’re a parent in Chicago and you don’t go to the beaches regularly, you’re missing out on one of our core local features and hundreds of hours of FREE (insofar as anything in this life is free) fun. But if you DO go to the beaches, you know that taking kids to the beach is a fairly planning intensive operation and, like all of fatherhood, involves lugging equipment like you’re about to summit Everest. It’s fun though … ish, provided you’re prepared. I am rarely prepared. 

The list below may seem obvious, but I never manage to score 7/7. And, so, I am become an evangelist of the obvious. Print out this checklist and post it near where you keep your blanket, towels, thermal totes and Hawaiian Tropic, because once you’ve loaded the vehicle, dressed and lotioned with children, won the parking fight, and dragged your gear to a spot on the sand, the last thing you want to realize is that you forgot the towels, or a bucket, or a drink, or … 

A garbage bag

I say this first because litter on beaches is my bête noire. Between fish, bacteria, seaweed, bugs, and strangers, a beach is a gross location without any help from you. The Park District does a remarkable job cleaning, but there are only so many employees and so very many beachgoers. One American family produces more packaging refuse than a small developing nation, so bring a bag so you can leave nothing behind save for your dignity after having been seen publicly in swim trunks.

Sunscreen

I mean, duh, right? Until you forget, then it’s not so “duh.” Look at your already freckle-, damage-, and tumor-dappled epidermis. Now look at your blemish-free little child. This is some life or death stuff here, topical cream-wise. 

Bugspray

Sand has critters in it. So does water. You know how you come back from the beach covered in bits on your legs? Your child is only as tall as your legs. When a bug looks at your child, your child takes on the appearance of a big juicy turkey leg like in an old cartoon with two people stuck on an island.

Toys

Yes, you can always dig with your hands, but who digs with their hands unless they’ve been buried alive?! Forget the buckets and shovels and rakes and squirters and the first thing your child will do is notice that EVERY OTHER kid has sand toys and you are the worst dad in the world and when they get to college they will get a giant script tattoo across their hips that says “My Dad Forgot the Sand Toys and I Hate Him” and they will show off this tattoo at parties by pulling the front of their pants down slightly farther than is polite.

A camera

The great thing about the beach is that it’s almost impossible to use your phone. It gets sandy and wet and too hot and it’s too bright to see the screen, and so your boss asking you for reports or Twitter telling you about the rapid death of democracy as caused by a reality-TV president will just have to wait. Bring the phone at the bottom of your bag to act as a camera, or dig out an ACTUAL CAMERA, because the beach is a well-lit and scenic place for catching memories of your little one while they still enjoy your company.

Towels

Another “duh?” No, not “duh.” You need AT LEAST one towel per person and even more if you’re using them as blankets and getting mud on them or splashing them with buckets. I never have enough dry towelage. When you get back near the parking lot your child is going to want to wash their feet in the disgusting e-coli bog that is the foot washing area, and they they’re going to want to get in your car. Bring as many towels as necessary to keep the slurry of sand, urine, and misery from the beach house off of your upholstery.

Food and beverages  

Most of the large Chicago beaches have concessions, but they’re also a crush of humanity and a parking fiasco. The smaller beaches are less stressful, but most have no food unless a paletero with a frozen novelty push-cart should happen by. Coming and going from the beaches to restaurants along the nearest arterial road is a real chore, too, so best to pack food (and, again, be ready to clean it up). Beaching burns a lot more calories than you think, and if your little one says, “I’m hungry” and there are no concessions and you’re a mile from food and you’re all wet and covered in sand … well, your next 90 minutes are screwed. Even though your child is IN water, they’re going to need some of the clean variety to drink, so don’t forget that. Alcohol isn’t typically permitted on Chicago beaches, so I’ll leave that topic between you and your sun god (and out of print), but do make sure everyone has the liquids they need.

That should be everything you NEED. You may be one of those beach settlers who builds an elaborate fort of parasols and tents (or perhaps you have a baby or sun-sensitive child), but I think the above are the big 7. (8, if food and drink are separate.)  Have fun, good luck parking and wear sunscreen.

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