The beach is an entirely different experience with a baby. It used to be a leisurely day, relaxing on the sand, feeling the warm sun on my skin, listening to the waves, diving into the water for a swim, floating on my back and looking up at the blue sky. I even did yoga on the beach sometimes. It was my Zen space. My happy place. Now it's frantic, stressful, chasing an 11 month old baby around on the sand, trying to keep her from falling in pit holes, trying to get the sand out of her hair, not a moment to relax. It was still a lot of fun but quite exhausting.
It was our first trip to the beach. It was my niece Evie's birthday and my brother Mike decided we should all meet at Wasaga Beach then head back to his place for a barbecue. Everyone thought it was a great idea. We'd never had a day at the beach as a family, the whole gang, not since we were kids. I had been wanting to go to a beach for a while but was nervous how Michelle would be. She doesn't like long car trips (usually she doesn't make it through even an hour long car ride without screaming at some point) and she was afraid to walk on the sand (she refused to step on the sand in my little backyard beach) so I was concerned it might be a fiasco with her screaming like a banshee the whole time.
I picked up my parents and we headed to Wasaga. I figured if Michelle started to fuss I had both my Mom and Dad to entertain her in the backseat. I also had an arsenal of toys and treats for her for the trip. To my pleasant surprise she SLEPT THE WHOLE WAY!!! It was perfectly timed during her morning nap. My Mom initially complained about my having the window open (because of the pollution etc) but then conceded that it worked like a charm as white noise for Michelle. Though we had left a little later than we were supposed to we still made it in time to meet Mike in the parking lot. In fact we even got there sooner than my brother Chris and my sister May. It was strange having all of us together. I was concerned we'd never find enough space on the beach for our three ring circus with tents and all. Mike cleverly directed us to one of the less travelled and more family friendly beaches. It was almost empty (on a WEEKEND NO LESS!) We were able to erect our own little village (my sister, my Mom and I all had beach tents) right by the water. It was beautiful.
Of course I had to get a group photo as a souvenir of this historic event. Barb's friend snapped a few for us just to be sure. It's hard to get that many people looking. I didn't realize Michelle had her hand blocking her face in all of them. It was very hard to get everyone to pose at one time. My Dad disappeared taking a long walk down the beach. Some people would be in the water and others out then they'd switch. We were never together all at once. Finally they were packing up and almost ready to leave and I insisted "We HAVE to get a group photo!" (They know me by now and if there hadn't been anyone to take it I would have found something to set the camera on and used the self-timer.)
My days of lounging in the sun are definitely over. The first thing I did once we got to the beach (which incidentally took a 10 minute walk from the parking lot where we met with us all pushing strollers, pulling wagons and carting a lot of baggage) was put up the tent so Michelle would have some shade. Then I got her dressed in her little swimsuit (which isn't easy. Bathing suits are made tight and are hard enough to get on yourself. Trying to pull straps over the shoulders and head of a wriggling baby is close to impossible!) and swim diapers. Then I slathered her from head to toe with sunblock, SPF 60. Obviously I had to protect my sensitive little redhaired girl. I got a bad burn when I was a child so I wasn't going to take any chances with her. She was getting impatient so when it came time to put sunblock on myself I just slapped a bit on here and there and missed many spots. Not surprisingly, Michelle's skin was protected but Mama got a really bad sunburn, mostly on my back and the backs of my legs.
"How do you get a burn on the backs of your legs?" someone asked me. It was the first time in my life that I had. "Because I never got to sit down. I spent the whole time chasing Michelle around!"
My fears of Michelle being afraid to walk on the sand were obviously unfounded. She loved it. She was RUNNING on the sand. Luckily the beach where we were had really compacted sand so you didn't sink into it. It was hard and easy to walk (or run) on. Michelle just took off. She probably could have walked from one end of the beach to the other. She'd go up to groups of strangers, right up to their chairs. Everyone made a fuss of her. "Awww look at the baby!" "How cute!" "I love her little tutu!"
It was amazing to see the excitement in her face. Everything was new and magical to her. She was pointing at everything. Windsurfers -- their colourful sails dancing in the sky, seagulls strutting along the beach then flying away as we approached them, waves on the water. Mostly she just seemed thrilled at the amount of space. The beach looked big to me. To her it must have seemed immense, an entire planet. She loves to walk and to run in open space. So far the biggest space has been my Mom's backyard and once she got over her fear of the feel of grass on her bare feet, she was running amok. Now on the beach she realized she could keep going and going and never hit a wall or a fence. I could barely keep up with her. Every so often she'd hit a little hole or uneven spot before I could stop or redirect her. She would fall and get right back up again. It didn't seem to bother her. It was stressful to me though because the sunblock was like glue and the sand stuck to it so she was covered in sand. Her hair, her chest, her hands, her legs. I thought I could just wash her off in the water. That didn't quite work out...
Though she loved the sand, Michelle was NOT a fan of the water. She loves bubble baths at home but she has never been in water that wasn't at least lukewarm. Georgian Bay was cold and choppy with big waves. When I tried taking Michelle in to the water, she started to cry so I didn't get swimming at all. I didn't get to go into the bay beyond my legs.
I definitely want to try taking her to the beach again soon (probably something closer like Burlington Beach though). She didn't like grass or sand at first either and now she loves them so maybe she just has to get used to the water too.
All in all it went far better than I had expected. My Mom complained that it was too windy and cold near the water and she was bundled up in a jacket but I found it quite refreshing. I had been stifling in 40 degree heat at home with no A/C for several days so I was quite relieved the heat wave was over and I didn't mind the wind, the waves or the cold water. I also stayed warm with all the exercise I was doing. Running after Michelle was definitely a workout. She's my new personal trainer!
After a few hours at the beach we all packed up and headed back to Mike's place for a BBQ and birthday celebration for Evie.
I was happy to see that Michelle no longer makes strange. She even let my brother Chris, her godfather hold her. It was quite a surprise because up until now she hasn't even let my Dad hold her. She doesn't see a lot of men and doesn't seem to trust them. Chris said he doesn't mind if she doesn't trust men and when she's older he will tell her to stay clear of them anyway. Probably good advice after my experience in that department! I don't see any men in my life any time soon.
Though the day was a lot of fun I still found myself stressing about things like sand being stuck in Michelle's hair, spilling food etc. My brother Mike gave me some parenting advice. "You have to learn to let go. You have to let them get messy and don't worry about it." Evie came out to the deck with chocolate all over her face, in her hair and on her shirt. Obviously she had been licking the bowl for her brownie cake. Part of me wanted to run over to her with a damp cloth and scrub her down but I started to understand what Mike was saying. I don't know that I'll ever be quite that laid back but I admit I do need to lighten up a little (OK, a LOT!) Mike said that one day he was at work and didn't even realize that he had chocolate on his shoulder. Sometimes you just have to shrug your shoulders (chocolate covered and all) and say "Oh well." The world won't end if there's a little chocolate or sand in your hair.
I let Michelle walk around on the deck in the backyard. My Mom didn't even want me to do that. She thought the boards were too far apart and Michelle would get her toes stuck. My Mom was always a worrier. I know that I inherited some (OK a LOT) of that tendency but I don't want to hold Michelle back from learning and exploring so I try to make a conscious effort to let her do things as long as I'm right there to catch her if she falls and to keep her out of trouble. It's a tough balance. I let Michelle run around the backyard as well but stopped her short when she got too close to where Allie (my brother's dog) had just done a poo. Messy or not I definitely draw the line at feces!
At the end of the day it was an even longer drive back home and I was relieved that Michelle slept the whole way, again with the windows open and the wind noise to soothe her to sleep. She had also likely exhausted herself with all that running around. Something about the beach that really tires you out as well.
I am so grateful for my big crazy family and happy that we got to share a day together at the beach. It would be nice to share more adventures as a group.
This weekend I'll be having the whole gang over to my place for Michelle's birthday party. That will be an adventure in itself. Michelle's First Birthday. I still can't believe it. The past year has gone by so fast.
During rough times (and I've had my share lately) what keeps me going is the love of family -- Michelle my little family of two, and my big family -- especially my Mom and my sister, who I am the closest to. No matter what happens I know that they are there for me, to listen, to understand, to make me laugh, to remind me that it's all going to be OK, to remind me how lucky I am to have them in my life.
I hope that I can learn to be a little more laid back. Learn to let go. Not worry so much. Life is messy. It's not the end of the world. At the end of the day if you've enjoyed yourself then it doesn't really matter if you've got a little sand or a little chocolate in your hair. The important thing is that you've lived. Experience all that you can. Save the cleaning up for later.