I didn’t expect to find my beach chill on the Isle of Wight. But I did, at 5.45 at Sandown, to be precise.
I find the beach stressful with children. The last couple of summers I’ve found them really hard. First you have to get to one, which is not always as straightforward as you hope in an area you don't know too well. We've had fun being stuck on tiny roads, fun with my decision last year that it would be good to take the pram so Cleo had somewhere non sandy to sleep and there being a serious set of cliff steps to navigate - and that's before you even get there! Actually on the beach, you have to know where the kids are all the time and they like to move really fast, sand gets on everything; in everything - nappies are a nightmare, there’s no shade and any extra sun cream is an exercise in exfoliation. A lot of my beach issues are related to the sand... but then it all gets worse when you add water - and even on stony beaches sand still somehow contrives to make and appearance to ensure the whole drying and redressing a child is a complete palaver. But the kids love the beach, there's sand and sea and so much joy that it outweighs my stress and we always go back again.
But here on the island we seem to have found a bit of zen. We were close to the beaches so there’s less pressure to make it the big highlight of the day. Four hours on the beach spread out over three days is just so very much better then four hours in one go! I expect this is not news to a lot of people, but to this parent of small people, it is a revelation.
5.45 on Sandown beach was after an early dinner. The beach was almost empty and we parked right on the esplanade. Sally and Pip charged down the beach with their buckets and filled them half way with sand before skipping into the sea.
Being the excellent mother that I am, by which I mean infallible in my packing efforts, I forgot to dig out any swimming things for Cleo, and thus she got a pair of Pip’s pants to wear with her T-shirt. Her beach photos might have looked better if I'd found the ruffly little costume I know is somewhere about, but I assure you she didn’t care one whit. The little muffin just couldn’t resist the draw of the water. It was like some undeniable magnetic attraction, you put her down for just a moment and she was up and off, her chubby little legs working over time to get to the sea as fast as she possibly can.
Luckily, the bit of the sea that she is interested in were the little waves that run up the sand. She can pad in and out of them and squeal with glee when a slightly bigger, foamier one comes in. Sally wants to go crashing out in the deeper water, but her Daddy loves going out with her. Me and the other two like to paddle in the shallows.
Pip is the earthmover - on our first beach trip, Ed started digging an enormous hole with him, and it became his mission to repeat this feat on each subsequent visit. He also needed many buckets of water to do this (?) so kept dashing into the waves to scoop up more. He was also super happy for Cleo to plonk her bum down and help with the digging.
I stood there, half watching them and listening to them chuckle and dig, and half watching the horizon, my feet in the water feeling the little waves running over my toes and the cool sea wind coming in to brush out all notions of stress or rush, and it was perfect. It was my perfect moment on the beach. And the gulls came in to roost on the shore and the occasional couple walked down from the pier hand in hand, and it was calm and idyllic and my kids were all so happy. And I didn't have to worry about sun cream, or sand getting in the lunch or getting everyone dressed again because we just bundled them up into towels and chucked them straight in the shower when we got back to the cottage.
And they sleep so well when they've been to the beach after dinner!
So we did it again. Cleo worked out that pants meant the beach, so every time she found a pair of Pip's pants she would not give them up. But if the best moments of the holiday were those on the evening sands, the second best might have been coming round the corner at the top of the cliffs at Sandown where the road turns and the beach suddenly comes into view and the shriek of 'a ba ba ba' from the back of the car. Little Miss Cleo had spotted the water.