Sunday on the Beach at the National Building Museum
Summer is over. School is back in session and life is changing, or going back to normal maybe? I’m not sure. We are still figuring it out in our house. Either way, all of it is pretty depressing, but the worst news of all is that the Beach is packing up and heading back to wherever it came from.
That’s right folks, the Beach exhibit at the National Building Museum packs up on September 7, 2015 and is gone forever. Never to miss a good art installation, and always “better late than never” thinkers/travelers, we headed to the Beach to catch the second to last day of this epic summer event in Washington, D.C.
I’ve known about the exhibit for months. I’d first heard about it on Instagram. Friends were posting amazing photos of their kids buried in plastic balls. It looked amazing, but we were traveling so much I didn’t know when we would be able to go. My husband also really wanted to check it out with us, so we had to wait for a weekend that we were all free and in town to go down. This weekend, the Labor Day holiday weekend, was our only shot. We were not alone in our thinking either. There was a bit of a line to get in.
Now when I say a “bit of a line,” what I really mean is a two-hour wait that wrapped around the exhibit walls. The good news is that like any good traffic jam, we did keep moving. The exhibit was at capacity. Staff members would let groups in as people walked out of the exhibit. Two hours in line for four kids (my brother-in-law’s family came with us) was a lot to ask, but we really wanted to do it. My sister-in-law and I took turns standing in line, while the dads and kids checked out the rest of the exhibits in the museum, which are worth a look. Many of the exhibits had hands on activities, which is always a good thing for my antsy toddler plus his older brother, and eight and ten-year-old cousins.
After waiting probably about an hour and a half we were in. And so were a few hundred (thousand?) strangers we would soon be friends with, or at least friendly with since we were walking over each other, falling onto each other and scooping up each other’s kids.
Chaos is the small, simple word to describe the scene at the Beach. Imagine a real beach, where kids of all ages, as well as 20-somethings and their friends, college kids, parents, and general beach lovers collide. Everyone just wants to get in there, no matter who they trample.
The Beach was built on a slope, so you had the deep end and the shallows to hang out in with or without kids. Parents just wanted a photo. Not everyone realized how quickly they could lose a kid in those balls.
Naturally as soon as our kids got to the “shore” they dove right into nearly a million balls that made up the beach without hesitation. We parents tried to wade in, but soon found it tricky to remain upright. It was even harder to keep up with the kids who magically knew how to “swim” through the balls. They also disappeared instantly because they figured out they could “dive” under. You can imagine my stress levels with so many people trying to get past the shallows, into the deep end, and not noticing all the kids playing under the balls. Rules were quickly established, and we (the adults) took our positions to make a safe zone for the kids to dive under. If they weren’t there, they would not be going under. If they did they were beached with their uncle on a chair.
Once we had our safety plan in action I began to relax. I figured the best way to keep the kids safe was to just dive into the balls and play with them. I could scoop my toddler out of the balls next to me if he stayed under too long. Just like water, I actually did worry about him breathing down there. I mean, it was kind of hot and sweaty in those balls.
The Beach was not a cheap outing for our family. Prices doubled if visitors wanted to go into the Beach exhibit (this is not one of DC’s famous free museums). A family of four cost about $56. No timed tickets meant we were standing in line. Some families stayed in line the entire time because they only had one parent with them. Their kids missed out on the rest of the museum if they didn’t get in line until the afternoon.
Was it worth it? Yes. At one point a bunch of adults started “splashing” in the balls in the deep end. It was like a massive snowball fight, and quite a sight to see (see the short video I shot below). It is a big no-no to throw balls around and a museum staff member, just like a lifeguard, blew a whistle from the second floor to tell everyone to knock it off. Kind of a shame to stop the fun, but I could understand. There were a lot of little kids in the balls and those things hurt when they hit you.
The boys and I played, juggled balls, jumped into the balls (OK that was them, not me) and I even got stuck in the deep end when my oldest (age 6) cannon balled into the pit. I jumped in after him because he never came back up. I fished him out, just like a puppy who sees three feet of snow for the first time and jumps in without hesitation (maybe that was just my dog growing up?). My muscles worked on overdrive that afternoon as I tried to figure out how to get myself out.
By the time we left the kids were covered in sweat and ball gunk. All of us tried not to think about how many thousands of people had waded through those plastic balls over the summer. I can’t really imagine that the museum staff washes the balls every night, or even once a week. We all took showers when we got home. The smell of ball pit and sweat was a little too pervasive while we drove home.
My toddler cried when we got home, saying he just wanted to go back to the Beach. I had the tough task of telling him that it wouldn’t be there anymore, but we would find other fun adventures we could all enjoy together. After all, isn’t that what traveling with our kids is all about– finding activities we can all do and enjoy as we explore the world? I think so, which is why I keep searching out crazy events and activities to drag my family to, no matter how much they may resist it at first.