Our first trip to the beach with littles happened when Lydia was 5 weeks old. I don’t remember a ton from that trip due to the memory fog caused by newborn sleeplessness, but I remember her pajamas that were green and white striped and made her look like a slice of key lime pie. And I remember that every time we walked outside and she heard the ocean she fell fast asleep. I also remember my parents sending us out to dinner one night and eating not one but two recently caught lobster tails.
The beach with littles is not a vacation. It’s a memory-making trip. It’s an important distinction to let settle in your mind before you go. The former conjures up images of fruity drinks and hours spent with a good novel while the waves crash over your toes. The latter is more like wrestling Houdini snakes with sunblock and constantly counting heads to be sure no one has gone AWOL. But if you tell yourself going in that this is about making memories, then you’re in a better frame of mind to enjoy yourself.
Once you have the right mindset, here are a few more things I’ve learned to make your trip a little more fun and a little less pull your hair out.
Break the rules. Stay up late hunting crabs. Let them eat three donuts for breakfast. Binge watch movies on the ride down and back. Spend three hours digging a hole that will surely be gone tomorrow morning. My mom has this saying on vacation that was always her typical response to our crazy requests, “Of course you can! It’s your vacation!” It may take a few days, but the kids will readjust once you get home. Have fun watching their eyes get big when they hear a YES to their crazy request.
Trade off responsibilities. Our girls are part roosters, and at the beach they wake up before the sun is up asking, “Is it time to go swimming yet?” I love to sleep in, but after five years of waking up early my internal clock has reset so that the latest I can hope to sleep in is 7:30. (And when we have a tiny one I have to feed the baby anyway.) Matt, on the other hand, does not share that problem. So, we trade off. I get up with the girls in the morning and let him sleep in. My dad usually gets up early too, so we will all hang out on the balcony with him, or sometimes I take the girls on an early morning walk on the beach when no one else is out there. Then, during rest time he stays inside with the girls while they nap, and I get to go to the pool with my mom and sister. This gives both of us a little “vacation” time each day.
Date night. We are always at the beach with my family, and my sweet parents always tell us to go on a date while we’re there. Date nights at the beach are the best. If you’re traveling with family or close friends that you trust, ask them before you go if they wouldn’t mind watching your kids one night so you can have a date night. If you’re not traveling with anyone, maybe skip rest time one day and put the kids down early. Order some yummy takeout and have a date night on your balcony.
Sunblock and swimsuits. I think those rash guards are the best invention ever. They cut down drastically on the amount of area to apply sunblock–which is inversely proportional to your sanity But what about that cute little swimsuit baby girl has? Right before we leave the beach house, I spread a beach towel on the floor and slather baby up with sunblock while nekked. Then, I put on swim diaper and swimsuit and head out to the beach. All those little straps and rolls are way too hard to navigate around, so I find spreading the stuff while baby is unclothed is much easier. Don’t forget a hat, and if baby refuses a hat, sunblock the head too! We usually go out in the morning and late afternoon avoiding the midday scorching sun. Also, a beach umbrella or tent is a must.
All the gear. Gone are the days of grabbing a towel, a book, and a drink and heading out. Now, you’ve got enough snacks to feed a small country, so many beach toys you could dig a tunnel to China, and extra everything. Last year, we saw a beach cart for sale at Costco, and Matt wanted to buy it to cart all our junk. I said we didn’t need it. I’ll let you guess which one of us was wrong. You need it. Also, if baby is under one, bring your baby wearing device. You need both hands to carry essentials like iced tea and chocolate covered almonds from Publix.
Travel. Bless it. This is the hardest part of the whole thing. Getting there. And then, even worse, getting back. We have changed beach locations the last couple years to take a few hours off the trip, and we get the bonus of being able to break up our trip with a night at my parents’ house in Mississippi. But no matter what, that last hour is usually filled with tears–both in the front seat and back seat. We pack tons of snacks and books, and stories on CD are our lifesaver. I usually try to get a few new books or activity books that will hold their attention simply because they are new. You might want to split these up and give one at the beginning, one at the middle, and so on. Also, travel with a wad of old grocery bags to put trash, dirty diapers, etc. in. My friend Heather leaves super early in the morning (think 3 am) so that her kids are still groggy for the first several hours of the trip. Take several stops along the way, and try to find a place with a bit of green space so the kids can run around for ten minutes or so. That little stop may save an hour of screaming. (May–I said may.) In the end, just turn up the music and tell yourself you’re almost there–even if it’s still another five hours.
For all the paraphernalia-packing, gear-toting, sunblock-slathering craziness, those memories at the beach are priceless.