Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Successful Failure

A successful failure.

NASA coined this phrase for the attempted Apollo 13 lunar mission, which fell woefully short of its original purpose, while still managing to bring the men back to earth safely. I find it particularly apropos for our beach excursion this afternoon. We fell miserably short of the expected outcome, but are home - alive.

Let me begin by stating that this particular season of life has grown difficult of late. Most families have small children for only a few years before moving on to independence. Our family is, 10+ years later, still knee deep in diapers, toddlers, nursings, and children who are in need of constant adult supervision. And don't forget, this isn't punctuated with years of respite due to large splits between siblings. 7 children in 10 years doesn't make for much rest! The hardest part is the desire to, "go and do," with our older children. But making that a reality while still managing, successfully, the needs of the younger children takes more than a little planning. And even then, as today will show, sometimes it simply doesn't work.

Pacific Grove has a wonderful tradition called, The Feast of Lanterns. The last Saturday of July sees the beach in PG loaded with people, entertainers, venders, and pageantry celebrating this 100+ year old custom (why they chose July, when our peninsula is notorious for cold, foggy, dreary days and even colder, foggier and drearier nights is beyond me - but they didn't think it suitable to ask my opinion, so on we go). My family is very connected with the Feast, and its continued success; currently my mom sits on the Board of Directors. We do not usually attend the event because a mere three weeks earlier sees us establishing a beachhead in Monterey, taking in the sun and surf with several other families for July 4th. However, Monterey cancelled fireworks this year, so our children were desperate for a beach experience. Had we discovered the answer key to this test sooner, we would have learned that the two are not interchangeable.

Our first mistake occurred before the actual day even dawned! Hannah and Bethany were invited to be a part of the processional parade for the night's crowning event on the pier. Rehearsal was set for 9am Saturday morning, which created a time-management nightmare. The sensible thing seemed obvious, and we gladly shipped the older girls off to my mom's house for the night. Because of her responsibilities with the event her presence was required first thing in the morning anyway; and she lives just a few minutes from Lover's Point, whereas we are some 10 miles away. What we didn't consider was the loss of my helpers the following morning, when I would need to pack 5 children, 6 years old and younger, along with all the supplies for a day of merry-making into the van, and haul everything to the beach by myself. Christopher was already at the beach, having arrived there before 8am in order to secure a patch of sand for us. I reminded myself that we did this same routine each July 4th, and once I arrived safely at our destination everything always came together. Surely the same would be true for today.


So many things were different. Ironically the parking was a thousand times easier, the amenities at the beach far superior, vendors and food options more varied. Unfortunately these things paled when compared to our claustrophobic postage stamp sized plot, and the loss of other families to help in the supervision of our small children. The event touted live entertainment, which we found to be an obnoxiously loud, and unescapable drone. But, we were determined to make the best of it! With Phoebe screaming, and Josiah running amuck, Christopher dutifully slathered each child with sunscreen to prepare for fun in the "sun". During this ritual mistake number two came to light when we realized that Caleb's bathing suit was not packed. I foolishly told him that he could wade in the water with his jeans rolled up like shorts. After all it was cold, and even drizzly. How likely was it that Caleb would actually get in the water? Question: Do I have any sense?

30 minutes later saw Hannah (who chose to forego waiting on me with her bathing suit before dashing into the water in her jeans) scampering off with Josiah; Bethany grabbing Leah and Mary for an introduction to the waves; and Caleb running full throttle towards the surf. I sat down to try and nurse Phoebe, and take at least 3 deep breaths before planning lunch from the supplies I purchased just that morning. Mistake number three wasn't anything we had control over, but when fate is already against you then even the unrelated seems cosmically your fault.

We had our backs against a 5 foot high retaining wall, created to provide a large landing in the staircase down to the beach. Christopher was the first to notice water spilling over the wall some 6 feet to our left. We looked at the campers up on the landing, to see if perhaps one of them had tipped over a gallon or two of water. What we saw was a 3 inch wide pvc drain spout at the base of a service closet set into a higher retaining wall where the staircase actually began its descent. It was gushing water... and showed no signs of stopping.

The first few minutes gave us a slight chuckle. People had created a patchwork quilt out of the beach by 2pm Friday afternoon. Even at 1pm on Saturday most of these individual placemats were still unoccupied. The idea of someone showing up, over 24 hours later, to find their blanket soaking wet caught at us. They had cheated the game, even though the rules were in their favor - sometimes the rules are wrong. But this pause only lasted a short spell, as the water continued to fill every indentation of the sand, and creep ever closer to our towels. Christopher began digging a channel down the beach towards the sea. The water kept coming. Soon others further down began frantically pulling their blankets and chairs to the side, joining Christopher to train the water away from their belongings. We continued our own struggle to keep the water at bay, but even with the impromptu help of a friendly onlooker our already tiny beachhead shrank.

Just about the time Public Works showed up, opening the closet and unleashing a heretofore damned flood, Leah came back to camp carried by a total stranger. She was drenched from head to toe. The kind woman, wearing jeans and a tshirt, was soaked from her neck down. Leah had somehow divested herself of Bethany, and waded into the ocean alone. The woman had saved her from drowning! Crying, shivering, and scared Leah wanted nothing more than to cuddle with me, but I was still trying to nurse Phoebe, who wasn't taking to the great outdoors as a suitable cafe. Wrapping a towel around her we scanned the horizon to make sure all other Randalls were safe.

Caleb was frolicking in the waves, soaked in his jeans.

Hannah was holding Josiah, and taking him into the water in her jeans.

Mary was standing a little too close to the surf for our comfort.

And Bethany... where was Bethany?

Christopher spotted her on a rock outcropping, stranded because of the rising tide, and panicking. Her fear translated to instant action, and my husband immediately threw himself, chest deep, into the water to rescue her. After saving her, and another little girl, he returned to our spot just as Public Works shut off the water. Dripping wet and fully clothed down to his leather work boots (his crocs were still in his backpack) he reached into his pocket with a sinking expression on his face, and pulled out his brand new cell phone. Mistake number... who knows: Jumping into water with your cell phone.

We made the decision to go home. But, like Apollo 13, deciding to go home, and actually getting there are two different things.

Packing everything up in soaking wet clothes is almost as fun as packing everything up only an hour after unpacking. We got the joy of both! Christopher couldn't find where I parked the van, and wandered along Ocean View Blvd. nearly a half-mile, wet, barefoot and against traffic before realizing it. We almost lost Bethany's fleece jacket, causing us to wade through all the clothes four times. Once the younger kids were in the van Leah split a brand-new bag of oyster crackers in half, spilling the entire contents on the floor, and causing Josiah to wail in frustration over his lost snack. Phoebe began crying for the meal she refused while at the beach. We had to move the van from our loading position half way through the job in order to let a city vehicle pass. Christopher inadvertently ripped off a piece of edging for the glove compartment when I dropped him at his car, and a bottle of water, which was not closed properly, leaked out during our ride home. Our last mistake was forgetting the camera, so there are no pictures of our two-hour adventure.

So, where was the success? Is it that we made it home, with everyone alive? That's part of it, for sure! I can tell you now that it was no small feat to maneuver the obstacle course of packing, loading, managing, and ultimately driving 5 of our 7 children home, while also making sure that the two children remaining had enough clothing, money, and instruction to last another 8 hours at the beach. However, I think the greater success was in the realization that we weren't really fighting against the cosmos. Satan wants to steal our joy at every turn! No, I don't think it was a mistake for us to choose home, rather than fighting it out on Lover's Point. Too many factors came together to create an impossible-to-deal-with-and-have-fun environment that badly needed curtailing. Leaving was the sensible solution. But then to be faced with the drama that occurred only after that decision was made brought us to the edge of ourselves. Here was where the real success happened. Sitting in the van before driving home we prayed, recognizing the desire to lose our patience, and give in to the mounting frustration. And again, after arriving home, reminding ourselves that the only things lost were time, money, and convenience. Nothing we couldn't live without.

A successful failure. Yes, indeed.


  1. Bless. Your. Heart!!

  2. ddornath@comcast.net9:00 AM

    Trish -
    You are such a vivid writer. Sorry, but I laughed!

  3. What a nightmare! This is why when Dan is deployed I rarely leave the house. When you're undermanned with the kids it does seem like everything is working against you. I guess I'll need to find a solution though, as Dan will probably be deploying for months at a time quite frequently at this base. With baby #4 due soon and Lana turning 2 around the same time, going out alone and outnumbered does seem daunting... When a disaster like your story above takes place, you have ask yourself if going out is even worth it. But, I realize that most of your adventures are a positive experience and that you guys had the good sense to stop and pray instead of getting really angry. I think that's what makes your story a success. Thanks for sharing.