The sun is shining, it’s set to be a beautiful weekend therefore many of us have that wonderful idea… “Let’s take the kids to the beach for the day!” You excitedly tell them and they’re squealing with delight, racing upstairs to get their costumes and now it’s too late.. You haven’t thought of the consequences and the reality of a day at the beach with young children…
Even as a child myself there was nothing more exciting than my mum and dad announcing we were going to be heading down to “Saaafend” (Southend) for the day. We would pile into the car to be met with standstill traffic within 20 minutes along with every other Londoner who had the same idea that morning. And so with the mounting traffic and mounting heat the days stresses had already began for my parents as we sat sweating, my brother and I bickering through the heat and impatience of being 10 minutes from the beach but realistically 30 mins plus 20 mins for parking in this traffic.
Yesterday my little family and I headed to our local beach for the first time this year and we had a wonderful day and the children thoroughly enjoyed it. However as I sat watching my husband on duty with the children, enjoying a quiet 5 minutes, I gazed over at the other beach go-ers from behind my sun glasses and noticed the strained, weary faces of many of the parents alongside me. Constantly up and down from their beach “camps,” hollering at their children and sighing in the heat (lots of sighing occurs at the beach) My gaze was then drawn to the younger generations laying sun bathing without responsibility and the older couples peacefully reading under their floppy hats. To say I wasn’t jealous would be a lie. Yes I was jealous of 80-year-old Doris and her wrinkled skin, slightly dribbling her ice cream in peace. But what is it that makes a trip to the beach so challenging for parents? From my observations and own experiences here is my guide to beach life as a parent:
Thankfully one of the main positives of being utterly sleep deprived, due to my children’s inability to sleep, is that I get out the door early. Therefore yesterday I was stuck in only slight traffic and obtained a parking space. Nothing can make you feel more enthused about life than finding an available, convenient parking space with 3 young children. The reality of leaving at a half reasonable, normal time of day as a family will mean enduring queues of traffic at most seaside destinations with sweaty, bickering children in tow.
As with every toddler or baby related adventure you will need a suitcase sized bag to carry the abundance of necessities having a small human requires. My advice is to keep it as minimal as possible. At some point your children will reach “loading” age i.e. can be trusted to help carry equipment without painful whingeing and the stress of the beach equipment will be alleviated lightly. However, if like me you have 3 young incapable, unreasonable creatures where by carrying a plastic bucket causes outright protest, you will be left as the donkey carrying EVERYTHING! Added to this mountainous, carrying ordeal will be the lack of pram for small children. My usual trusty pushchair refuses to move on sand, stubbornly clogging with sand and pebbles and remaining lifeless. Therefore I have abandoned any ideas of the pram on the beach ultimately meaning at some point, along with all of the bags, wind breakers, buckets, spades, balls, etc I have a clinging sweaty, irritable baby saddled to my side also.
Setting Up Camp
How expert have beach camps become in recent years?! Nowadays fancy beach tents have replaced the cumbersome wind breakers my parents once lugged to the beach to create our beach base. Fond memories of my father hammering the posts of the wind breaker into the sand after my brother and I had searched for a large rock to act as his hammer (my dad most likely lost the mallet within the first holiday – all my organisation skills come from him) Yesterday I spotted a few “old school” windbreaker camps, the parents hollering at each other to hold the breaker tight whilst the other hammered in the posts. My husband and I thought we would go upmarket last year and purchased one of these tents that seem more common. “Pop up tent” read the label on our new bright, blue shade saviour. Although we soon realised we had been deceived… This wasn’t “pop up” or “easy assemble.” Out came the poles and pegs as my husband wrestled against the straining winds of the Cornish coast, whilst the inside of the tent ballooned, pulling him along the beach. My youngest, being just 18 months could hardly be set him down so I could help, as he would have either darted in seconds or ate several handfuls of sand. After many expletives drifting into the summer breeze we had a tent. Hooray! In rolled the excited kids caking it in sand but alas we had some shelter for the baby and a camp! What nobody ever told us was the disassembling was even harder, with just a round circular bag to fit the contraption back into, it deemed impossible and after members of the public tried to come to my husband’s aid his pride got the better of him. Finally losing all inhibitions to his rage and throwing it down in a heap and storming off the beach.
You are a parent now. Beaches are not a place for relaxing anymore. Keep that as your mantra and you will not be disappointed with your day at the seaside. Think of the day at the beach as practice for a high surveillance security job as this is what it will resemble. Foolishly yesterday I packed my book, quickly realising reading on a beach is a luxury I will only revisit once I am dear old Doris’ age over at the sand dunes (my envy of Doris is growing) Instead my husband and I spend the day monitoring the following:
- Regular sun-cream applications; do I even need to elaborate on the hell – on – earth task of applying sun cream to small children?
- Ensuring my two-year old doesn’t eat any more sand or place any pebbles in his mouth.
- Ushering children away from the rocks, the sea, other people’s camps, other people’s sand castles etc
- Trips back and forth to the sea to collect a bucket of water to be transported back to the hole they’ve dug to be a “pool”
- Dispersing fights between the older two which include territorial sandcastle trampling, sand slinging and just standard sibling squabbles.
- Added trauma of potty training a toddler and taking a moody 6-year-old back and forth to the gruesome beach toilet as she refused the bucket in tent treatment.
- Consoling my middle son, who is autistic, as to why the sea is not the same position as it was last time we were here.. A lack of comprehension of the tidal system and a need for consistency did not bode well.
Across the beach I note the other parents standing during periods of their own surveillance of their own children some hollering for order and know we are united in solidarity here at this moment in time.
Picnics at the Beach
It is important to keep in mind a realistic expectation of eating at the beach and that is that sand gets everywhere. Nobody enjoys eating at the beach with children because they constantly flick sand over everything in their orbit. Eating at the beach is a means of refuelling your body for energy for more surveillance and not enjoyment. Also foods to reconsider are anything that creates a “sand sticking” surface for example anything buttered, anything sticky, anything melt-able, any liquids. Basically bread sticks and dry food are your best bet, not to mention the least likely to attract the swarm of wasps that inevitably invade beaches when sticky children are present.
There we have my survival guide to the beach with young children. Admittedly the beach, despite its obstacles, is one of my favourite days out with the children the happiness that emanates from their little faces makes my heart swell with happiness and no child sleeps better than those that have been trudging through the sand all day with their little legs, accompanied by the magic of the sea air. One day many years from now I’ll be Doris sitting reading my book, perhaps watching a little family like mine, seeing the joy on the children’s faces and team work of the parents, as they switch surveillance duty and want to go back and do it all over again.