There’s a part of the Australian psyche that reveres the beach. For the most part, our beaches remain commercial free. I suspect it’s one of the remaining places people go that is relatively free, and done completely for pleasure. It means a lot of things to a lot of people, but when you boil it down, the beach means a place where you don’t have to work.
As is my wont, I observe the different people on the beach. The leathery old people who arrive before dawn to swim come rain, hail or shine. The locals. The show-offs. The holiday makers and the kids. I’ve noticed some key differences between local families and holiday families. Interested to know my findings? Read on…
You can always tell the local beach mums. They look effortless as they skip down the beach with their kids from carpark to beachside. Apart from the necessary sun protection, there’s little fuss and the kids are off! Beach mums defer parenting from the laws of parenting books to the law of evolution. Yes, they are only too happy to let their tanned youngsters literally sink or swim in the ocean. These mothers causally sip coffee from take-away cups and catch up on the latest local gossip with their likeminded mothers. All the while, they look relaxed, happy and know you’re envious of their life and lifestyle. Regardless of body-shape, they just seem to have this casual put together look, replete with tan-line free skin and light blonde wisps of hair.
Holiday mothers, on the other hand, are a different beast all together. The struggle starts WAY before the beach. It starts as soon as their children wake up 3 hours before normal. It starts with a breakfast tantrum. It starts with the way their children wriggle and giggle around like an octopus on ice when applying suncream. They struggle as they hopscotch across the piping hot carpark. On their shoulders they carry beach bags full of almost everything, under their arms headlocked children are mixed with body-boards, buckets and spades, their suncreamed bodies wriggling in vain against their mothers grip. The book that they have no possible chance of reading on the beach falls out of the overfilled beach bag into the sand. Their husbands are merely an extra pair of hands, relegated to hours of digging sandcastles which will be instantly knocked over by toddler or tide, and the failsafe scapegoat when their child inevitably gets dumped by their first unsupervised wave.
You can tell the holiday mothers, because they hang around their children closer than seagulls at a beach picnic, growling and begging and nagging their children through the morning at the beach. They latch onto other holiday mothers and bitch about how holidays mess with their children’s sleep, how the garbage truck idled outside their hotel at 5am and how they wished their husbands would consider, just for once, a different holiday place, like Caloundra or Noosa (hint: it ain’t going to happen). Holiday mums, regardless of their size or shape, wear their swimming costumes purely for decorative purposes only. It is important to remember that the holiday mum waits excitedly all year round for a sea-side holiday and spends hours every second year looking for the perfect bathing suit that will never, ever, ever see the cool, refreshing waters of the ocean. Ever.
Holiday dads. Actually, let’s start with local dads. Like their female counterparts, the local dads are stupidly good looking, relaxed, tanned and happy. They have perfect white smiles and play effortlessly on the beach with their well behaved children. Holiday dads problems, like holiday mothers problems, start much earlier. You’ll see a holiday dad dragging his children down the beach, children who both adore and are completely ungrateful of him in equal measure. You can tell he’s dragged them away from ABC2forKids, wrestled them into swimming costumes and lacquered on sunscreen onto their wriggling bodies, cajoled them into the hotel lift, coerced them through the hotel foyer, beaten them across the piping hot carpark and threatened to drag them back to the hotel room unless they suddenly start enjoying the beach.
You can see him as he trapses down the beach. He has two choices for his ever-expanding body. He can choose shame and don an unforgiving sun-shirt or he can choose melanoma and bear his Bondi chest to the world. Personally, I choose the Bondi chest. Why? Because tanned fat is better than white fat. True story.
The holiday dad has these fanciful ideas about family holidays, where everyone gets along, reconnects, has fun and he has great holiday sex with his Mrs. You can tell, if nothing else, he’s grateful for two things – the that he’s not at work, and that it’s warm and sunny. Get along side the holiday dad and he’ll talk more than a tortured POW. Deprived of all his basic needs, except maybe food, and he’ll blubber to anyone, about what’s really going on. He’ll tell you that he thought holidays were all about getting away together, but he’s come to the stunning realisation that for his family, it’s just about getting away. He wonders out loud how wives ignored their husbands before the advent of smart phones. He’ll tell you how men are, in fact, the real winners from feminism, judging by the svelte young things wearing ‘body-confident’ swim suits.
Despite all that, the holiday dad simply aches to hit the beach. Once he’s under that fresh, salty water, he’s free again. Weightless, unshackled, unworried, free. He swirls salt water around his mouth, spitting it out like a fountain. He dives deep under the waves, skimming his hands across the sandy bottom of the ocean. He feels the sun on the bald spot on his head, swims past the breakers and just ‘is’.
You may read this and think ‘how depressing’, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. You see, the annual beach holiday doesn’t get remembered for sleepless nights, the maxed-out credit cards, the sunburn or the struggling kids – oh no. The beach holiday gets remembered for the most amazing things. About watching the kids confidence grow in the waves. About getting away from it all. About burying the kids in the sand, late-night ice-creams and meeting other families that simply just ‘get it’. It’s those funny conversations on the beach with likeminded families, with one-and-a-half incomes that juggle all year with jobs and school pick ups and bills, who, even after they’ve joked about it, simply love each other through the good times, the bad times and the times when they want to murder each other. It’s the icing on the family cake, the sugar in the tea.
Catholic Week at the beach is the oddest, but most comforting time. I’m amazed and happy at the complete lack of pretension who work hard all through the year to spend this one, almost sacred week together in the sun.