A day at the beach is any­thing but child’s play

THE FAM­ILY TOURIST

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - LOUISE STEWART

WHAT­doy­ouactu­ally like about sum­mer hol­i­days at the beach? Fi­nally get­ting into that novel you’ve been mean­ing to read? Do­ing the crossword? Carv­ing through the waves or just get­ting lost in thought star­ing at the crash­ing surf?

Well, good luck do­ing any of those with a baby in tow. My dear friend Tom has long been the sub­ject of ridicule for his surli­ness about go­ing to the beach. ‘‘There is no shade, no fridge, no stereo, no sofa, no DVD player,’’ he grumps. ‘‘Just a whole crowd of peo­ple who are bet­ter-look­ing than me pre­tend­ing they are hav­ing a good time.’’

I have long de­rided Tom’s views. But now we have our first weekend away at the beach with 11-month-old Florence and the angst be­gins be­fore even leav­ing the hol­i­day house.

Do we take the pram to trans­port our non-walk­ing tot, or carry her (12kg) for the 10-minute walk down the hill? The in­struc­tional video for our brand of pram ( yes, truly) shows a lovely Dutch cou­ple smil­ing through grit­ted teeth as they model the ‘‘sand mode’’ (I am not mak­ing this up) of the con­trap­tion. If Aafke and Aaghie can’t drag the damned thing through soft sand, we won’t even try to.

So, with aching arms cradling Florence, three beach tow­els, a small tent, nap­pies, wipes, a sippy cup with wa­ter, hats, sun­screen, a change of clothes and de­ter­mined ex­pres­sions, we choose our spot on the sand and col­lapse in an un­tidy heap.

It’s hot, re­ally hot, and high-glare here on the crowded beach. Surely this is no place for a baby.

Wede­cide to pitch the shade tent for the first time. It has ‘‘cross brace con­struc­tion’’ and ‘‘anti-sheer shock corded fi­bre­glass poles’’, none of which makes it sim­ple to pitch. As soon as we ex­tract it from the carry bag, the ‘‘sun tough fab­ric with wa­ter re­pel­lent treat­ment’’ flaps in the wind, flick­ing sand over us. We lay it out. It snaps back, gath­er­ing more sand by the sec­ond. The poles are nu­mer­ous and in pieces. And so are we. Soon it lays aban­doned.

And so we turn to more low-tech meth­ods of sun pro­tec­tion. I put a hat on Florence. She takes it off. I put it on again. And so on. I make shadow pup­pets with one hand and put the hat on. She hes­i­tates, im­pressed, I think, by my sil­hou­et­ted an­i­mals, then takes it off.

I slather sun­screen on her. She flips over and, be­fore my hand-dog has dropped his pinky-jaw, she’s a well­crumbed cut­let. She grins.

We re­sort to shift­ing about to keep her in the shad­ows of our bod­ies while lurch­ing to stop her eat­ing mouth­fuls of sand, and scan­ning the sur­rounds for washed-up blue­bot­tles and beer bot- tles. We take Florence to the shore to dip her toes in the wa­ter. She squeals with de­light. Much like bath time I sup­pose, only with sea lice.

Af­ter 40 min­utes, un­able to match our daugh­ter’s guile­less em­brace of Aussie beach cul­ture, we abort the mis­sion. Our beach equip­ment leaks a trail of sand as we shuf­fle home, arms aching, throats dry, pa­tience tested. Back on the bal­cony, freshly show­ered, we sit in the shade catch­ing the breeze.

Florence is eat­ing yo­ghurt cross­legged on the floor. Weare sip­ping chilled wine on padded chairs. Gaz­ing down at the beach I know we’ll go back. Mil­lions of Aussie fam­i­lies can’t be wrong, surely. But some­times, and es­pe­cially to­day, I think my dear friend Tom re­ally is on to some­thing.

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