Beach Vacation: Fantasy vs. Reality

Chris, Charlotte and I recently drove to the Texas coast for our first “plus baby” vacation. In my Walt Disney World post I lamented how little reality resembles the beautiful pictures we had in our heads of how vacation is supposed to go. I decided to repeat the format here. Of course my logical side recognized that vacation with baby was not going to be picture perfect, but I still had these fantasies when I thought about how the trip would go. Let’s compare and contrast, shall we:

Arrival Fantasy:

We were staying at a condo right on the beach, thanks to my parents who gave us a week of their timeshare. The website described the location as “isolated and remote,” so we planned to get groceries on our way in. I pictured us getting there in the late afternoon, taking a few minutes to unload the car and unpack, then spending our first evening walking down the beach, watching the sunset as the ocean breeze teased our hair and the surf tickled our toes.

Arrival Reality:

We spent the first night of our trip in Dallas, so theoretically only had about at six hour drive to get to our destination. Unfortunately that included driving straight through Houston (and I thought LA drivers were bad) and trying to follow Google maps without an actual address for the condo complex. By the time we finally found our way there, Charlotte was complaining loudly that she was ready to be out of her car-seat, and did we forget that it was time for her late afternoon snack? I sat on the couch in the condo, giving her a bottle, while my poor husband schlepped countless armloads of stuff up the four flights of stairs to the top floor (everyone warned us about the amount of stuff we would feel obliged to bring with us…boy were they right. I’m sure Charlotte’s things took up two-thirds of the car. I may have over-packed just a bit…when I was lamenting the fact that the condo would probably not have a rocking chair, my sweet hubby gently informed me that we could not possibly fit one in the car. I maintain that is what the roof rack is for, but whatever).

We had not had time to stop for groceries on the way in, so we decided to go to Galveston for dinner and then stop at Walmart to get food for the week. Dinner at Saltgrass was delicious, though our enjoyment of our steaks was slightly impaired by Charlotte’s unwillingness to sit in her car-seat a minute longer, and her insistence that she should have her own ribeye.  We ended up taking turns holding her while the other ate, all the while trying to keep her hands off the steak knife.

Here is some excellent advice…if you are vacationing in Galveston and feel compelled to go to Walmart RESIST THE URGE! Or at least do not attempt the trip at 9:00pm on a Friday night. The place was so crowded you would have thought it was Labor Day weekend, rather than a week later. As we began to search for a check-out line half the lanes promptly closed, forcing the fifty or so people attempting to pay for their items to jam into one of the four remaining lines. We chose poorly. The woman at the front of the line didn’t think the price for the vacuum cleaner she was buying was correct, so the associate left her register to find the correct price. I assume she was wandering around the store, hoping the right amount would be sent down to her from heaven. In the meantime Charlotte was getting restless (this was the one time I’d forgotten her diaper bag, along with the bottle I’d so carefully packed ahead of time) and I had long since reached the end of my patience. We are very spoiled living in Walmart country! In the end we managed to buy our groceries and feed Charlotte, though by the time we got back to the condo it was passed 10:00pm. So much for that beach stroll.

Beach time Fantasy:

When I thought about how we would spend our days, I pictured us stretched out on the beach inside the nifty shade-structure we’d purchased, reading, napping, snacking, and generally relaxing to the sight and sound of the ocean just a few feet from our toes. When we got hot we would trot into the water for a dip, letting Charlotte dangle her feet in the waves while she giggled and clapped her hands.

Beach time Reality:

I’d forgotten to factor in wind. The ocean breeze was so strong by our second day the shade structure collapsed around us. This was after my wonderful hubby had spend almost an hour muscling the thing up in the first place, as it threatened to take flight and sail off to Mexico. The next day we gave up and just stuck Charlotte in her little sleep pod we had borrowed (thanks Joy!). It was fully enclosed, but unfortunately the gale-force wind forced the sand right through the netting, covering our poor child in grit.

After our shade tent collapsed on us, again, we decided to go into town (Walmart in the opposite direction…learned our lesson in Galveston the first time!) and get one of those tailgating tents with metal legs and no sides, hoping that would hold up better (it seemed to be what everyone else had). The good news was we found one for cheap. Bad news was you get what you pay for, and one of the metal pieces was bent and broke the first time we tried to put it up. Thankfully on our last two days the wind died down and we were able to use our original tent.

 As for Charlotte and the ocean…the waves were a bit too strong for me to feel comfortable carrying her out very far, plus we were trying to keep her out of the sun, so Chris and I took turns staying with her in the tent while the other one went for a swim. We did let her play a bit in the surf on our laps, but although she was very fascinated by the giant bathtub, it did not inspire her to squeal in delight, or even to smile. Oh well. Maybe next time. I guess four months is still a little young to appreciate the wonder and majesty of the sea.

Photography Fantasy:

I decided that while we were there we should try to take some family photos – you know the ones, where everyone wears white and looks like they are having the time of their lives. Charlotte would be giggling in delight as we held her between us…I would magically lose all the baby weight overnight and look exactly the same as I did on her honeymoon. We would cherish these pictures forever, placing them on our walls, giving framed prints to relatives near and far, and possibly sending one out as our Christmas card this year.

Photography Reality:

I was sure that even though we didn’t have anyone to take the pictures, we could make do with Chris’s fancy camera set on a timer and a tripod. I neglected to consider how hard it is to get Charlotte to smile when one of us is making noises and faces right in front of her. Capturing that elusive grin with a timer? Yeah, not going to happen. Also, the beach happens to be very sunny. So why aren’t all those other families squinting in their beach pictures like we were? And why do professional shoots use giant fans to generate wind? Instead of making us look casually windblown and relaxed, the ocean “breeze” made us look like we were caught in a wind tunnel, hair sticking straight up, in our eyes, or blown away from our faces so strongly we looked like we all had receding hairlines. We did get some great shots of one of us with Charlotte, but the perfect family photo I was hoping for? Yeah, despite multiple tries, including one morning right before a rainstorm hit, it didn’t quite happen.

So my fantasies didn’t come true. I didn’t really expect them too. In fact, the reality of spending time together on the beach was much better than anything I imagined. We had plenty of idyllic moments, and enough not-so-perfect experiences to make it interesting. Will we attempt a family vacation again? Absolutely! Will I fantasize about it? Most likely. Will reality be different? Of course. But that’s okay. Here are a few shots of our trip that show how much better real life is than what we see in our heads.

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