“5 minutes walk from the beach? You’re so lucky, your kids must love it! So you go to beach every day, don’t you? When can I come to see you”?
That’s what most people tell us. Most people who haven’t been to the beach with small kids.
When you think about kids on the beach, you visualize happy, cute kids, who build sandcastle and jump in the waves like on Neckermann and Thomas Cook billboards. These lovely images where the sun is shining and the kids in cute, matching swim suits with no sand on are playing quietly while the parents are relaxing, sunbathing and sipping their drinks on white sun beds.
FORGET IT. THIS is how a kids on the beach REALLY looks like:
When we moved to Benalmadena (Malaga, Spain), I was thrilled to hire a small, overpriced flat very close to the beach. I had always loved the beach and I treasure lovely memories of beach holidays in Poland (unlike many people think, we also have hot weather in the summer). 7 months pregnant, I enjoyed walking by the sea shore, sunbathing and swimming. Even when I stepped on a jelly fish and screamed so much that I was suddenly surrounded by a group of tourists who thought I was in labour.
I was surprised to see my Spanish neighbours with small kids who never went to beach and chose the pool instead. Were they silly? Didn’t they know what they missed? Why didn’t they appreciate that beautiful beach?
As soon as I first took my son to the beach, I knew that they meant.
In Costa del Sol beach season starts around May. My son Andrés was 9 months when his first beach season started. Beach season for him, hell season for his mum.
Forget spontaneuous trips to your nearest beach with nothing but a towel, a swim suit and a book. Packing for the beach with a baby is more like packing for a two-week holiday. You need to take the baby’s blanket, a beach umbrella, a jar of baby food, fifty shades of sun screen (baby screen, face screen, etc, etc…) and a whole range of toys to keep the baby busy. And a small inflated pool. Not to forget the usual staff: nappies, cream, change clothing….
By the time you get to the beach you’re exhausted. But if you think of lying down and relaxing, you’re wrong! The beach is where the party gets started: your baby wants to crawl all over the place, eat sand and explore the whole new area. Within a few seconds the baby has the sand everywhere.
How about the inflated pool that was aimed to keep the baby busy? Thank you Mum, it’s so much fun to throw sand into my pool! Or play that fantastic game „walk in/walk out”where you fall down and have sand all over your face.
One of the most annoying questions I got when my son was a baby was: Hanna, how can you live 5 minutes away from the beach and be so pale?
Why? Because I stayed in the shade all the time to protect my extremely white-skinned, cottage cheese-like Polish baby from the sun.
And when your baby becomes a toddler with „ants in the pants” syndrome, you realize that managing a baby on the beach was a piece of cake when compared with managing a toddler. In addition to all the issues mentioned before a toddler won’t sit still for a second, that will run around and cover your towel with sand, throw sand at siblings, and happily run away from the family beach gathering. Some adventurous toddlers also excel at throwing sand at other people’s towels and explore the sea unattended, giving their parents a heart attack.
A change of nappy becomes an advanced operation that requires removing lots of sand from the kid’s private parts and efforts to keep a screaming kid on a clean towel.
Holiday billboards seem to forget an irrelevant detail on the beach: other people. During the high season the beaches around Malaga are incredibly crowded, especially with the „Domingueros” invasion. A Dominguero (comes from „domingo”, the Spanish word for Sunday) is a person who faithfully goes every Sunday….no, not to the mass. To the beach. Packed as if they were going to feed the whole village or celebrate a weekly beach wedding. „ Domingueros” are multi-generational family group, equipped with portable tables and chairs, enormous plates of paella, freezers, plastic cutlery, and so on, and so on. A group of „Domingueros” may occupy even 10 square metres of beach space.
That means that during the high season you have to come to the beach early in the morning to get a place within the reasonable distance from the sea shore.
Do you fancy getting up at 7 on Sunday to cook paella and pack 4 huge bags of food and toys to appear on the beach at 10? I don’t.
If you’re unable to get a spot near the sea shore and your kids want to play in the water, you’re the one who has to leave the family towel and supervise them. You’re the one who has to say sorry when they step on other people’s towels, steal and lick other kids’ toys (the more sand on them, the better) and supervise the kids when they go to water.
And the sea can suddenly get very, very profound; one moment the water level barely reaches your knees, next moment the water level is until your neck.
If you’re a part of a happy „domingueros” group, don’t expect that others will help you to take care of your kid. No way. Childless family members or neighbours will give you a warm welcome on the beach, take an obligatory cute beach picture with your kids, yet clean and not covered with sand (or a beach selfie if the bikini operation was not succesful this year) and then will continue to relax on sunbeds with a glass of tinto de verano.
There will also be a would-be Super Nanny; a stranger who will lecture you on all beach dangers: your kids run on hot sand swim in water that’s too cold, don’t wear a hat, eat sand, etc. Or a super dominguera mum who comes to the beach with the mission impossible: all her belongings will remain sand-less during the whole trip. She will hysterical whenever a kid who’s covered in the sand steps on her towel or touches her paella plate. This super mami also never stops boasting on how well-behaved and clean are her kids on the beach.
There will always be that annoying kid that throws sand at your kids and takes away their toys while his/her parents do nothing about it. They came to the beach to relax and the kid is just having fun, so what’s the problem?
There will always be that annoying kid (this time your own or of another fellow dominguero) who will whine all the time. They will whine because the sand is too hot, but at the same time staying under the beach umbrella is too boring. They will whine because the water in the sea is too cold or because the seashore is muddy and dirty. And when it’s time to go home they will whine as if they had the time of their life on the beach and wanted to stay there forever.
And kids will ask you to eat something every 5 minutes but refuse to wash the sand off their hands.
And when it’s time to go home, there’s whining, screaming and half an hour of packing, kids refuse to go the beach shower and to pick up their toys.
And the same kids who refused to take a nap on the beach to provide their mum with at least an hour of relax get asleep as soon as you put them in a stroller or a car to take them back home. Thank you so much, sweeties.
We used to hang out at a lovely Pepe Beach near Puerto Marina, where the owner and our friend kept the kids busy and happy with chuches (sweets). Nevertheless our adventurous kids preferred to run away from our sunbeds and explore the beach on their own. We still remember as Andrés, only 2 then and with very limited vocabulary, went to a nearby store on his own to get some chuches, unaware of the fact that we followed him all the way.
It’s not surprising then that my kids decided that “when in Rome, do as the Romans do” and alike all Spanish kids from the urbanization fell in love with our pool. In the pool there was no sand, it was next to our apartment and there was a separate, small pool for little kids where they could happily play and the level of water (around an adult’s knees) didn’t give you sudden heart attacks. And there were always plenty of kids to play with. So, when my friends from Northern Europe came to see us and wanted to go to the beach straight from the airport, my kids were unhappy and asked when we could go to the pool.
Come on, how come don’t you like the beach? Silly you, if I lived so close to the beach, I would go every day! – my friends said.
We also became huge fans of the beach off the high season. There were far fewer people and much more space for running and playing. We used to go to a different beach every weekend, discover new places and make new friends. The sand didn’t burn our feet, Mostly tourists’kids; the locals didn’t go to the beach in winter, they only used to walk down the promenade in their best Sunday outfits and stared at my kids, who were as usual covered with sand. We used to run barefoot in cold water, play football and car races on an empty beach. And these are our best beach memories.
It’s off the season that we got these beautiful beach pictures with the sea, not lots of random people in the background:
And no matter how hard you try to take the sand off your kids, their clothes and beach toys, when you get home there’s sand everywhere. Literally, EVERYWHERE. This is why at some point I decided to take it easy, just shake the sand off the kids as we were leaving the beach and give them a bath as soon as we get home. And then, after they got asleep, I would sit by the window, admire the beautiful Benalmadena beach view and think of the day I would enjoy peace and relax on the beach again.
Probably then I will bitch about my teenagers coming home late from beach parties.