We had to pick a few family goals when designing our family gap year trial run. And one of the primary reasons we landed on the big island of Hawaii was to offer our kids a new relationship with water. Coming from the big-mountain culture of Colorado, more specifically we wanted our littles to fall in love with the ocean. Which as it turns out, takes little effort –the love part. The packing for the 2x daily trips to the ocean with not-yet-swimming littles? Many times with only two adult hands? I can’t choose between the metaphors of juggling and playing chess, so I’ll go with juggling chess pieces. Or playing chess with bowling pins. But in a coco-nut shell, what I’ve learned (from trial and error and tears and tantrums) is that when it comes to waves and sand, it’s actually more about what you leave in the car than what you bring. So here are some quick tips for mama vs. the ocean with non-swimming littles:
Pro-Tip #1: Go early. Mellow waters = mellow mama. If I’m on lifeguard duty for mini-people who are still learning to walk (the 1-year old) and listen (arg! the 4-year old), then lets eliminate the biggest risk variables please and find a calm and/or protected bay, cove, or ocean pool. The nice thing about mini-people is that their imaginations are big enough that they still are totally satiated with small interesting spaces. So I’m looking for a calm patch of water, in the shade, with explorable features. Like a fallen tree. A small tide pool. Some interesting rocks. This will all figure into subsequent tips which is why I’m painting the picture.
Pro-Tip #2: One big bag. I haven’t figured out the perfect beach bag yet (it would definitely sift sand and be infinite), but I do know what doesn’t work: lumbering from the car to the beach with coolers, snorkel gear, beach chairs, shade tents/umbrellas, toy sand pails, dry clothes bags and two littles ecstatically screaming (in both speed and vocals) toward the riskiest element on earth (well, hot lava has also been figuring into risk variables on the big island…). So my rule is that if it’s coming to the beach, it has to fit in my bag. Leave hands and arms free for saving lives #allinamamasdayswork.
Pro-Tip #3: Pre-game in the car. I would imagine there’s lots of ways to do this, but I change my kids into swim clothes in car in the beach parking lot. That way I don’t have to pack their dry clothes (b/c they wore them), and the dry set is now sitting in the car seat ready to put back on upon return. FYI: Clean clothing at the beach is an instant fail. Avoid that good-intentioned fantasy. Along with you pre-game, have a look-in-the-eyes car chat about the importance of listening and following directions when “mama is on her own.”
Pro-Tip #4: Skip shoes, socks, even sandals. (But don’t forget hats!) Eliminating chances of hot pavement and hot(ter) sand are additional reasons to go to the beach early in the day (Tip #1). Kids shoes drive me crazy in their elusive nature. Don’t add sand and ocean. Carry the baby if the parking lot is sketchy. Teach the preschooler how to look for feet hazards. (My parenting style emphasizes teaching over protecting). Time your mini superhero’s super speed to the beach. Just get to the shady sand. If you’re able to find shade, you get bonus points for being able to leave the shade tents/umbrellas and even the sunscreen (if your kids have good skin) in the car. As you can see, I’m a big fan of tough feet and soft shade. And don’t forget your hats for full coverage of those precious faces! (Here’s a link to my favorite hat artist!)
Pro-Tip #5: Minimal toys. Minimal everything. I started off with two matching sets of sand toys in individual mesh bags with 10-different sand toys each. I am down to exactly TWO shovels. But by the end of this trip, I might be down to hands. It’s the beach! And if it’s a remotely cool beach, there are plenty of wild, natural, non-plastic, instruments for moving and manipulating sand and water; elements which are nothing less than the queen and king archetypes of all toys. I also began my beach trips with a beach chair that had backpack straps. But really, what are the chances of me sitting with two non-swimmers at the beach? A towel will quite suffice any momentary intention of sitting.
Pro-Tip #6: Child mask & snorkel. (Not fins). Looking under the lid of the ocean is in my adult life top-10. So perhaps this is just me infusing my littles with some personal passion. But nothing makes my heart swell more than seeing my 4-year old pop his head out of the water screaming through his snorkel: “GOAT FISH MAMA! GOOOOAAAAT FISH!!!!”
Pro-Tip #7: Easy coverups for mama. Cause let’s face it, the kids will be lucky if they get a fresh water rinse and towel. You? Not a chance. Jump into a quick cover-up and keep on going.
Pro-Tip #8: Eat meals before and after (at home). It must be around age 7 when kids are conscious enough to consistently remember not to throw sand (whatever age it is, mine aren’t there). And we’ve already had a number of pretty picnic spreads peppered by an overzealous digger. Along with the food, I’ve thrown out the idea of eating meals at the beach. So we do meals immediately before (or after) and opt for quality snacks (nuts, dried fruit, jerky) that don’t melt and come in sealable bags for emergency hunger pangs. Like you had an extra hand for a cooler anyway. #ha
Pro-Tip #9: Have a chewy treat ready in the car. The best part of big beach days are big beach-day-naps (even for the 4-year old who gave naps up a year ago!). There’s just one final hurdle to the finish line: getting pooped kids home without tantrums or falling asleep in the car. That’s why I always keep treats like raw bars or dried mango slices in my mama-pocket. Anything chewy will work. Just make sure that after tucked into seat belts, their little claws and teeth have something to dig into (the animal allusions are unavoidable). Set the timer. You have as long as the treat lasts to get home.
Pro-Tip #10: Leave your book at home. Be prepared to fail (we irreparably botched 1 out of 8 beach trips) and align your expectations sisters. Watch this video about what people with kids don’t know, because you will find it a little too funny – like hysterically funny. Gone are your beach frolicking and sun-tanning days. This is not beach-fun. This is mom-fun. Which is about discovering the mysteries of the ocean with first-time eyes, ears, and fingers. Which is priceless. And btw, something else that people with kids don’t know.2