The Best Part of Parenting? A Trip to the Beach!

Scheenagh Harrington looks back on a family day out and why experience counts for a lot when you’re a parent. But not in the way you might think…


We’re a family of two adults and three children; aged 8, 4 and 8 months respectively, so at least two of the smaller people are fairly rubbish at organisational tasks. Under normal circumstances, that’s no biggie, but when the Harringtons head outdoors, every helping hand is always welcome – no matter the size of the palm. Now I don’t know about everyone else, but when we plan a spontaneous trip, it generally follows the same pattern…

Before: There’s lots of rushing around (did we pack the teething gel/extra plasters/portable defibrillator/chewing gum/gaffer tape/1,000 muslin squares? etc, etc), some screaming, a few tears and at least three attempts to pull away from the house before realising we’ve forgotten to let the cat out/turn off the gas/close the windows.

During: I am a hopeless navigatrix. So much so that my children believe it’s normal to go round roundabouts four times before still taking the wrong exit. Car journeys with me driving generally involve a bit of an adventure as we find out where we ought to have gone…

THE FUN PLAYING BIT, followed by more packing (did you pick up the teething gel/extra plasters/portable defibrillator/chewing gum/gaffer tape/1,000 muslin squares?), another long car journey and invariably some sunburn.

After: No matter how long I leave it, in the vain and desperate hope someone will step in, it falls to me to unpack the bag of Whatever It Was We Took on the Day Out. It always smells unpleasant, in an “I know if I stick my hand in there I’m going to pull out something nasty” way, and if I’m really, really lucky, new life forms haven’t colonised one corner. Bleurgh.

It’s enough to stop us from ever leaving the house again. But – and there’s always a but in this sort of piece – I’m a big believer in experience. I don’t mean “ooo, we did that before and it all went tits up” sort of experience. I mean the trying something different, exploring the path less-followed kinda deal. Especially if it’s going to benefit the smaller people.

When I was my daughter’s age, I made my own entertainment. Yes, I was a fairly solitary creature, a bit weird (what kid isn’t?) and enjoyed my own company, largely because it meant I wasn’t tormented or beaten up my my older and younger brothers. But family outings were rare. I mean really rare. My mum was a single parent and couldn’t drive.

Spare money, like so many things, was something that happened to other people, so a trip to the seaside, if it didn’t come in the form of a cheap-as-chips school outing, was never up for discussion. If we wanted to frolic about in water, we danced in the rain. As for a foreign holiday? Pffft. As alien a concept as it’s possible to imagine.

Spool forward to now, and things couldn’t be more different. We live in a simply stunning part of the world, on the doorstep of picture-perfect lakes where we and our little ones can dibble dabble in crystal-clear waters to our hearts’ content – for the price of a dribble of petrol.

But occasionally, usually once or twice during the summer, a trip to the seaside is called for. The most recent was my idea, a chance to take advantage of some good (but not too hot) weather and a Sunday with nothing else planned.

Our excursions always begin with great intentions: CDs specially selected for maximum singalong in the car, excitable children and high expectations from the grown-ups. But the added complication this time was a baby. He requires five times more equipment and general faffery than anyone else, from a pop-up play tent with enough UV protection to withstand a nuclear blast to 55 million nappies in case he did just one more poo.

The beach we ended up at – one we’ve never visited before – was of the standard we’ve come to expect here in France. Soft, golden sand clean enough to eat your dinner off with enough space between sun bathers to keep everyone happy, lapped at by gorgeous blue water. Sadly the restaurant we chose to eat at wasn’t the most baby-friendly but hey, you can’t have everything. Especially if that everything is a baby-changing facility or even a toilet door that’s not permanently locked…

But I digress. The point of this is the point of the outing: the experience. My trips to the UK seaside, few though they may have been, involved dipping my toes in a bloody freezing, churningly brown North Sea, and an overpriced waffle, hastily scoffed while tacky amusement arcades blared and squealed tackily in the background.

My children know the seaside as a place of simple pleasures: sand, sunshine and endless, sparkling Mediterranean sea. Buckets and balls, picnics eaten at leisure under the bluest of skies. They may not know how lucky they are (especially when I’m carping and bitching about how much I have to carry back to the car), but I know their lives are all the richer for having the opportunity to play in a place many youngsters will never see.

That I hate the stress of making sure we’ve packed the entire house into one sports bag, I get irritated at the bother of having to drive back and forth eight times to find the D76 E11, and I loathe with a passion the fact sand really does get everywhere (and bloody stays around for weeks), is irrelevant.

Because it all comes down to experience: being able to give our children memories I hope they will treasure until they are the ones gazing adoringly at their kids, moments they will look back on with fondness – and forget that I moaned about them not being able to carry a parasol twice their size. That’s the part of parenting I like the best.