My feet in the sand, a warm breeze kissing my cheeks, and the gentle crash of ocean waves is creating the perfect summer soundtrack. I recline my chair back three notches and let my Nook rest on my thighs as the warmth of the sun lulls me into a beach-side snooze. All is calm. All is beautiful. All is right with the world. Then suddenly there's a child screaming. Like really screaming. I can't tell if its a scream of joy or terror, but it's vehement and disruptive. I wonder what could possibly prompt a child to be that loud. I wonder why they are still screaming. I wonder where the kid's parents are. I wonder where my own kids are. Oh yeah. I have kids, don't I? I realize the screaming child sounds an awful lot like my kid. It's definitely my kid. Beach-side snooze over.
For a brief and blissful moment I had let the magic of the beach hypnotize me into thinking I was a single lady baking like a lizard basking in the sun without a care in the world. Back to reality mama. That ear-piercing howl is coming from my offspring.
Once I prevented the world from coming to an end and found my way back to my beach chair, I started thinking about the evolution of our family vacations. They've been happening annually since before I can remember and some of my fondest memories from childhood to college and beyond revolve around that one week a year when we soaked in the sun and salt water with the family.
Now that I'm older, married, and have popped out a few kid-lets I've noticed that while those beach vacation memories remain, the content has dramatically shifted. This year, between keeping HG from eating seashells and making sure K wasn't swiping toys from the little girls under a neighboring umbrella, I did a little people stalking watching. My super scientific research led to some super scientific conclusions about how we, the ones with the breasts, handle beach vacations depending on our stage in life. Allow me to enlighten you.
The Single Life
Let's face it, when you're a single adultit's all about you. How good you look in your bathing suit (complete with the perfect casual up-do that took forever to achieve but is supposed to look like you just threw it up into a messy bun). How modelesque you look laying out in the sun. You'd better make sure your thighs don't look too wide pressed against the rim of your beach chair, or else catastrophe. How sophisticated you look zipping through your impressive stack of beach-appropriate reading while catching some rays. This might require some extra effort because you want to ensure that your book isn't casting a shadow on your bikini-clad bod, possibly *gasp* limiting your tummy's tan.
Speaking of tan... you are most likely spending the absolute maximum amount of time sunning your skin as possible, only leaving the beach to eat (not too much so your tummy doesn't bloat), use the bathroom, or take a quick "must cool off before I explode" dip in the ocean. You may even slab on an oil or two for optimal baking. You know, the Banana Boat style pray with SPF no greater than 6. The ones that create a nice ripple effect in the water as soon as you put your big toe in after an hour-long stretch on the sand.
You might decide to take a stroll along the beach just to stretch your legs, and check out the neighboring beach bods. But you better believe you're not stepping on sand that makes your feet sink or you'll alter your strategic 'look at me' hip swish.
Married - No Kids
Once you get a ring on your finger you can ditch all the attention grabbing techniques and focus on blissful relaxation. While there's no longer a need to get too dolled up, since you've already snagged your prince charming, you still want to remind your hubby of the hottie he married x number of years ago so you still keep up with bathing suit trends and find great pleasure when you catch him checking you out mid sunscreen application.
Sun exposure is still important but you also take advantage of hand-in-hand strolls down the beach and harmless (or scandalous for you newlyweds) canoodling in the waves. Your time is your own and you milk it for all it's worth. Enjoy!
It's pretty much the greatest thing ever watching your child experience the beach for the first time. You don't really notice the fact that you're not getting all the lounge time you used to covet because you are so in awe of this new little life flipping out at the feeling of sand on her toes. ADORABLE!
Sunbathing gets put on the back burner and most of your chair time is spent under an umbrella with baby snoozing on your chest or next to you on a towel. You might finish half of your pre-selected beach week book because every other page you find yourself peeking down at baby to make sure she doesn't have a single speck of sand on precious little face. You're also doing your darndest to ensure your baby is coated with layer after layer of 70+ spf, ultra UV ray fighting, turns her skin Casper-white sunscreen every hour on the hour. No way is your nugget getting sunburnt.
The amount of time you'll have actually on the beach is pretty unknown because you're schedule is no longer your own. Depending on if you plan to feed and change your baby out on the beach trips to and from your vacation house will turn those 5-hour stretches of single life under the sun into a thing of the past. It won't bum you out too much because you'll want to get your little one out of the heat every now and then and will probably benefit from catching a few extra (air conditioned) Zzzzs yourself. You have a new baby after all.
And you know all those toys you spent way too much money buying, time packing, and energy lugging down to the beach? Yeah, she might play with one of them the entire week. Her fascination with sand and shells will bypass the excitement she has for any store bought toy. Don't fret. She'll use them one day.
More than one kidlet
Imagine someone sent you to paradise and said you could enjoy a relaxing dip in the cool clear water, once you catch the two greased pigs they just released... in opposite directions. That's what a beach trip with more than one kid is like. Forget about sitting down to soak in the sun. You're up, wrangling, building sand castles and probably getting sunburned because the only sun exposure you're worried about is how much the kids are getting so instead of focusing on your own golden tan you're watching the clock to see how long it's been since they were last slathered head to toe. "Sweetheart, did I see you put your big toe in the water? Come over here and let mommy re-apply."
As far as ocean-side reading, you're better off leaving the books at the house or at least accept the fact that you'll probably lose your place a few dozen times. Also anticipate finding the pages filled with sand since it's pretty inevitable that as soon as you feel like the kids are content with their beach activities you'll sit back, open your book, read three sentences, and BAM... disaster will strike. Suzie will steal Tommy's shovel. Gertie will get sand in her eye. Pauline will completely lose her poop because the incoming tide destroyed her 3" tall sand castle pile. King Triton will rise from the sea and turn your youngest into a mermaid. Ok, that last one is unlikely but you never know. Whatever the disaster, your mom reflexes will kick into high gear and you won't hesitate to toss that book right into the sand to rush to Tommy, Gertie, and Pauline's aid.
Speaking of getting sandy, you can forget all about NOT getting sand in your bathing suit, or in your hair, or on every inch of your body. After trying, uncomfortably, to build sandcastles from your beach chair you'll eventually forego any attempt at remaining grit-free and plop right down next to the littles. Who cares. You've already had it thrown at you at least a half a dozen times so why delay the inevitable?
You can also forget about spending the whole day relaxing down at the beach. Between potty breaks, meltdowns, snack attacks, naps, and lunchtime you're lucky to get an hour stretch in. Think back to those single days when you could wake up late, put on your suit, grab an english muffin, and high tail it to the beach when you only had yourself to worry about. Those days are long gone. Getting everyone suited up, fed, and coated with sun goo takes triple the time and energy.
Remember all the toys your first born didn't play with on her first trip to the beach? They won't be nearly enough to sustain your pack this time. They'll go through them pretty fast but don't feel like you need to double up. Just point them to the ocean or start building an epic sandcastle and they're attention will shift with ease. You should also anticipate yelling things like, "Don't touch that", "Don't put that in your mouth", "Not too far kids", and "Sweetheart that's not our boogie board/beach ball/umbrella, put it down".
After all that blabbing I feel the need to pause for a moment because I don't want to scare expecting mamas from taking on a beach vacations once their babies arrive. I don't want to make new brides who are eager to start a family think that you're chances of enjoying the beach are long gone. And I definitely don't want anyone to think that I don't absolutely adore vacations with our two little beach bums. More kids at the beach might mean a little more work and a little less lounging for mama but it's also a whole lot more fun. So many firsts, so many "Mommy, look at me" moments, and so many memories shared. Embrace the evolution. Cherish every sand-covered moment. Be thankful for the precious distractions that pull your eyes up and away from your books or sunbathing snooze.
The evolution of a beach vacation is pretty entertaining to observe and even more fascinating to experience yourself. So where are you on the beach trip timeline? What are your favorite memories from each time in your life.
Until next time...