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10 Things That Change When You Take A Toddler To The Beach

We just returned from a wonderful week in South Carolina with family. We spent our time digging in sand, riding bikes, and eating ice cream cones (among other things). It was a fantastic way to relax and unwind, especially now as we prepare to welcome a new family member in just ten short weeks (eeek!).

This was our first real beach trip now that we are parents, and boy have things changed. Magazines are out, sandcastle-shaped buckets are in. Swimsuits are chosen for function over fashion – will my toddler be able to rip off this top too easily? Will this stay in place while I am chasing him down the beach? 

It may have been different, but it was a blast.  Click through to see ten things that change when you take a toddler to the beach!

  • Beachin’ it with a toddler 1 of 11
    beach collage

    It might not feel the same as those spring break trips you took in college, but taking a toddler to the beach is fun and wild in its own way. Click through to see how things change with a little one in tow!

  • You learn to embrace the sand. 2 of 11
    Embrace-the-sand

    In my former beach-going days, I'd put a lot of effort into spending as much time on the beach as I could, while getting as little sand possible on me and my belongings. All sitting was done on carefully-laid beach towels or chairs, and exposure to sand was limited to my feet as I walked to and from the water for cool-down dips in the waves. These days I plop straight down on the sand in my suit, hoist a sand-coated toddler onto my hip when he's tired, and even go as far as to sit directly in the shallow water while a mini sandcastle collects in the seat of my bathing suit. There is no point in even trying to avoid sand when you are entertaining a sand-loving toddler.

  • No reading materials are necessary. 3 of 11
    No-reading-materials

    I used to plan beach trips based on how many and what books and magazines I'd be reading. Every day my beach bag was packed with at least two options, just in case I read so much that I'd finish one option and need another. For our trip last week, I hopefully packed three books, not sure how nap times and grandparent babysitting time would go. I ended up reading half of one, and considered it a huge success. All time is now spent digging, splashing, twirling, and making endless trips to the water's edge to fill up "just one more" bucket. Books will have to wait until bed time.

  • All swimming is done in ankle deep water. 4 of 11
    All-swimming-ankle-deep

    There is something about the ocean that is so amazing and peaceful, and simultaneously so giant and terrifying at the same time. Big waves, rip tides, and strong currents are all things that swirl through a mother's mind as she watches her little one toddle around in the shallow surf. Until we have a strong swimmer on our hands, all swimming will be done in ankle deep water for a while. Occasional trips into deeper water will be taken only with the iron grip of mom or dad holding tight.

  • Beach hours are from 8:30 AM to 11:30 AM. 5 of 11
    Beach-hours

    I can remember countless spring break trips where my friends and I made it our mission to be out in the sun for prime beach time, which in our minds was always 10am to 4pm. We'd sleep in late, eat a quick breakfast, and head out to the sand to secure our spot for the afternoon. With a toddler in the mix, this schedule looks quite different. Now we're up early, breakfast feels painfully long because someone insists on using his own spoon, and then there is the song and dance of trying to cover a squirmy toddler in head to toe sunscreen and stretchy beach clothes. Even still, most days we were at on the beach by 9am at the latest, and usually some of the first people out there. Our afternoons ended around 11:30am, when it was time to retire inside for lunch and an afternoon nap!

  • Nap time follows you on vacation. 6 of 11
    Nap-time

    This is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, you get a nice long afternoon break. But you also end up trapped inside during the middle (and usually nicest) part of the day. During our vacation, we tended to hit the beach in the morning and stick to the pool or bike trails in the afternoon, so that we didn't have to take on the sand twice each day. I used nap times to catch up on work, read (okay, nap) on the balcony, and occasionally sneak off to lunch with my husband while the grandparents babysat the monitor.

  • You become obsessed with skin protection. 7 of 11
    Obsession-with-skin-protection

    I have always been good about sunscreen, but being responsible for the skin protection of a small child is another level of crazy that I didn't know existed. Prior to our trip, I spent countless hours researching sunscreen options and searching for the safest (and most cost effective) way to lube him up head to toe. But it didn't stop there. Each day he was also outfitted in long-sleeved swim shirts (with UV protection), long swim trunks, and a big floppy swim hat. I felt very proud to take home a pasty, pale baby after a week of being in hot southern sun.

  • You pray for overcast weather. 8 of 11
    Pray-for-no-sun

    See previous topic on sunscreen obsession. Similarly, I spent all week of our beach trip hoping for cloud cover and overcast skies. Of course I realize that you can still burn and get sun exposure on hazy days, but it sure does help with the heat. My favorite days were grey, breezy, and ones where you wondered all day if it was going to storm (bonus points if it actually did!). Back in my early 20's, grey days at the beach were considered devastating. Now, they are ideal.

  • You become a pack mule, even if you try to keep it minimal. 9 of 11
    Haul-a-ton-more-stuff

    I think we are pretty minimalist beach-goers, but even so I found myself huffing and puffing by the time I'd trek down to the beach each day. Serious beach families have tents, shelters, sporting equipment, coolers, and more. Even with the basics, I hauled the following each day: one beach chair, two beach towels, a big bucket of sand toys and shovels, my beach bag complete with giant camera, tubes of sunscreen, and extra hats, and usually -- a toddler on my hip. So much for sunglasses and a small towel!

  • You find your inner kid again. 10 of 11
    Find-your-inner-kid

    One of the best things about taking a toddler to the beach is that it absolutely comes alive again. Sure, there is something really fabulous and tranquil about reading a long novel and zoning out in a beach chair for hours on end. But toddlers remind you of all the things you have long since forgotten -- discovering seashells, finding sand dollars, chasing crabs, jumping in waves, and searching for low tide pools.

  • You are exhausted, you are filthy, and you can’t believe how much more fun you have. 11 of 11
    Have-way-more-fun

    I have great memories of long, lazy beach days with friends. Packed coolers, endless stacks of magazines, and dark crispy tans (the naivety of youth). But I have found that there is nothing that compares to watching your child light up as he or she jumps in the waves, helps build a sandcastle, or runs to you with open, sandy arms. My swimsuit might be full of sand, but after a week at the beach with my toddler, my heart is full of so much joy.

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