The Great Australian Beach Holiday: most of us have done it at least once in our lives either during our own childhoods, or once we have children of our own. Staying in a fibro shack, carting all the gear down to th sand with the intention of spending endless hours lazing on the beach ... but idealistic visions of beach holidays are soon brought crashing onto the shores of reality when kids are in the picture.
Here's the good, the bad and the ugly of a beach holiday with kids.
• Free: An entire expanse of sand and water we have access to FOR FREE. As soon as kids pop into our lives we seem to be opening up the wallet every waking moment. To have a country encased by amazing beaches we can venture to whenever we like at no cost is truly a gift.
• Picturesque: Staring at the waves collapsing on the shore may be a clichéd scene in romantic comedies but it's certainly a mesmerising, serene place that's easy on the eyes. It sure beats the unpleasant sensory overload of a screaming play centre.
• Hours of simple entertainment: Jumping waves. Building forts out of sand. Shell searching and seaweed avoiding. Rock pool explorations uncovering nature's gems. Hours of creative outdoor fun requiring minimal parent input (maximum supervision however).
• Sand: Luscious golden grains searing your feet and making their way into every nook and cranny of your life - bags, clothes, shoes, and unspeakable cracks in your body. Like confetti after your wedding day, you seem to find it forever after. Usually once you've vacuumed the house for the 14th time.
• Fights and tears: An accidental shake of a towel sends sand flying into siblings' eyes. Hysteria. A harmless water fight – usually dad having a bit of overzealous fun with the little ones – turns to tears. A broken bucket and spade, a stepped on sand castle, a precious shell stolen are all cause for that peaceful setting to be pierced by the fights of children.
• Hunger: Beach playing is a hungry game. The constant need for food has children rifling through bags looking for more goodies in the cooler bag. Food that inevitably ends up covered in sand. "Dropped your apple again, darling? No fear, we have the entire ocean of salty water to wash it in!" Under catering can be devastating. Over catering can mean manky sandwiches wilting in the sun.
• Fatigue: Mostly mine. The desire to lie back with a book and have a mini shut eye under the rays with the water nipping at my feet are overturned by children who are tired and crying over anything and everything. A sure sign it's time to pack up the picnic and head back to the fibro.
• Sunburn: I have my Irish heritage to thank for my freckled complexion and sun scorched skin. I cover myself and my children in sunscreen like some kind of obsessive-compulsive lotion-latherer yet there'll always be one spot I've missed. A handprint on a back, a line on a foot where the thong once was. The pain of sunburn brings back memories of my childhood. Not fond ones. So when you see that dork on the beach, covered from head to toe sitting under an umbrella despite it being 40 degrees, think only one thought: blister-free.
• Lost: One shoe, a towel, a buried spade, seven sections of my sanity and once, a child. All lost. Most of them I can say goodbye to without fuss, but the lost child was certainly a heart-racer. She was only three, we were at a surf beach, the husband turned to check on one of the older children catching a wave and our daughter vanished. Through charades and incomprehensible sign language he motioned to me further up the beach: "Is she with you?" Panic stations. A crowded beach, a sea full of black wetsuits where every kid looked the same, beach umbrellas and identical shade tents confusing to adults, let alone children. Violent waves that could quickly snatch our little girl away. We called her name, running up and down the beach. Friends and strangers joined in the search, as headlines ran through my mind "three year old drowns while on family holiday". A crying little girl in the arms of a dad was delivered safely to us. She'd become disoriented looking for our spot under the umbrella and walked the wrong way. I don't think I've ever been more thankful of anything in my life.
• Rips: Australian coastal waters are renowned for their strong currents and unpredictable rips. As fun as ocean play can be, I'm like a hawk watching my children in the water. Little bodies and big waves don't mesh. The draw of jumping that next wave, further and further out can mean young children can be out of sight and in danger within seconds.
So until next summer, when I pull out the beach bags still laden with sand, a cracked bucket and spade, out-of-date sunscreen, what was once a banana, and a novel I never finished, I'll put the blinkers on and focus on the dreamy, hypnotic waves, sparkling sand and pleasant components of that Great Australian Beach Holiday.