From Prairie Hen To Beach Bum In 10 Steps

Dear Friends,
Face it, if you live on the Prairie you have to go a long way to find a real beach.
"Real" constitutes actual sand put there by nature and the genuine Ocean lapping sweetly at your toes.

So, yeah, we're pretty hard pressed for those where I come from.
Currently the count is at... ummm, let me see... ZERO (and counting).

That's not to say that I don't know anything about the beach...
Or so I thought.

When I was small we lived in Arizona and Nevada and that's about 20-something hours closer to the sand and surf than the smackdab-center-of-the-USA place where I now call home.

So a few weeks ago as I planned and packed for our ten-day vacation in Puerto Rico, I was pretty sure I had it all figured out.
  • Swimsuits.
  • Sunscreen.
  • Life-jackets.
  • Goggles.
  • Towels.
  • Drinks and Snacks.
  • Happy Faces.
{and we're good}

Turns out I was wrong.

For being the essence of freedom beach-life is a bit more complicated than I thought.
A reasonable explanation would be that years ago in my sunny youth my mother packed the bags and made the rules.

Here's what I learned the hard way:

1. Keep your mouth shut.

This is not in reference to the possible embarrassing moments that happen when people remark on the size or shape of fellow sunbathers in louder-that-ought sort of voices.

I had forgotten how salty sea-water is! So this rule means exactly what it says... swim with your mouth tight shut or come up choking, gagging and looking like an idiot.

When it comes to idiotic behavior, I do the research and trials so you don't have to.
You should thank me.

2. Life jackets are not enough.

My children are young and I am a worry-wort-- ahem, make that, A Mother. They aren't strong swimmers and the waves can catch anyone off-guard so I packed life jackets. The image in my mind was of them blithely jumping into the crystal blue water for hours of play while I didn't have to spend every second counting each above-the-water head.

It was more like this:
1. Kids get excited, I can't/don't hold them back, they put on life jackets, and jump in up to their necks.
2. They promptly roll over onto their chests with the first wave and get mouths and eyes full of water.
3. They cry, sputter and cling to Mommy: The Human Life Raft.
4.  I struggle to shore dragging them all and spend the next few hours convincing them that they can loosen their grips "just and little" and have some real [mommy close-by but not attached] fun.

This moment brought to you by Dummies for Mothers.

This all could have been prevented had I taken a moment to give them a few floating lessons.

Also, we realized, belatedly, that some added side-to-side stability, in the form of water-wings really helped them get it all figured out.

One added bonus to life jackets and water wings is the bright colors and added bulk.
Just look for the bright orange Sumo wrestlers and you've found my kids... No frantic wave scanning for me!


Even after they gained their sea-stripes, I still made several quick grabs and hasty "rescues" so please, WATCH THOSE KIDS - yours, ours, theirs... No one needs that kind of heart-ache.

3. Look out for pests

I was mentally prepared for the sun. One expects that on a beach, after all.

What I didn't think about was the pesky critters who can make themselves a nuisance even on the best beaches.

Jellyfish - these guys are nasty. They have the potential to really make you miserable.
A good way to check if jellyfish are present is to look at the sand along the water's edge. If there is a high population of the little nightmares you'll see them washed up on the sand. They look like a blob of... well... jelly.

Don't step on the little globs either, as they can still sting you.
If you do feel something sting you, don't thrash around. You may disturb the attacker worse or smack one of it's companions. Try to move away quickly but calmly.

NOTE: To my children... If you happen to grab something that feels like a very small, slimy, water balloon underwater... DON'T POP IT! Mangled jelly fish stingers can still leave their mark. 

If the jelly fish don't get you, the mosquitoes will.
Buy waterproof insect repellent and USE it.
All the humidity and standing water around in tropical areas is the perfect breading ground for the terrible itch-creating monsters.

Worse than the bites is the possibility of sicknesses carried by the little buggers.

Plus, children (and adults) have a bad habit of itching the bites until they are open woulds and these are great for attracting disgusting germs lurking in the less-than-sterile waters and well-trampled sands of the beach. 

If you are in an area of clear water it is likely you will see fish and other sea creatures in the water or in the sand.
This is a lovely pastime but keep your distance.
Don't go grabbing unfamiliar wildlife.

These guys have defenses we prairie people aren't tuned into.
Stings, pinches, rashes and even poison can be a painful reminder that we're invading their space.

Give 'em room and leave 'em where they belong.

Warn your kids about stray dogs and cats.
DON'T PET THEM. Many stray and abandoned pets are attracted to populated beaches because of the scraps of food left behind by the human visitors.

As if the possible poor health and hygiene of these animals were not reason enough to avoid contact, there is nothing like an accidental dog-bite to ruin your family vacation!

4. Be Sunscreen Savvy

This one seems super obvious but deserves inclusion anyway.

I'll admit that I don't use sunscreen much at home. We live in Nebraska and manage to avoid burning without much assistance. Shorter spells in direct sunlight, more shade trees, hats and shirts all make this possible.

But in Beach country?
 A different story.

The sun is hotter, the water reflects and amplifies the rays, swimsuits, bare heads and soon we are burnt.

So here's my self-taught lessons:

Find yourself a spot with a bit of shade, if possible. At least when you are out of the water you can be less exposed to the sun's over-exuberant explosion of happiness.

Find a high SPF sunblock that is waterproof.
I found the spray on mist type that can be applied to wet or dry skin was best for us.
The easier it is to apply to more often you'll do it... it's human nature.

Plus how many of you have kids who are going to get out of the water, dry off completely, stand still for 5 minutes while their mother slathers slimy lotion on every possible burn-zone and then hang out until the stuff dries completely?

Not me.

I very rarely put sunblock on my legs.

Think about it, as a mother I spend all my time at the beach chasing kids and standing in the water as self-appointed life-guard. My legs hardly see the light of day.

Not so if you happen to leave your children with their auntie and go on a snorkeling date with your husband. Your legs will be sitting right on the surface of the water life white turkey sausages waiting to be roasted.

When snorkeling pay special attention to the back of your body: legs, back, shoulder and your father-in-law's bald spot.

I paid a high-price [loss of precious sleep and comfort] for not thinking about this.

5. Take time to shave your legs

Ummm.. kinda embarrassing lesson.

But seriously, you just might be crammed into a boat full of beautiful Puerto Rican people.
Your legs might be forced to rub with the strangers next to you [no matter how stiff you hold them]. You may spend the whole boat trip agonizing about why you didn't take time to tame the bristles. You may miss the beautiful view because of your 'issue'.

You may get lucky and have it be a night-time ride where it' too dark for anyone to see your beet red face. That probably won't lesson your pain.

Then thing is that we are mothers, we get used to not having time for everything.
We realize that most of the time our children dont' notice a 24 hour shadow.
Your husband? We'll assume he's too caught up in the beauty of the beach (and not all the bikinis) to notice.

But believe me.
You'll notice.

And it's guaranteed to be at a time when you can't do a darn thing about it.

6. Eat real food.

I'm not warning you against being so tired you confuse your child's play-kitchen fare for the real edible thing and almost choke to death on a bite of plastic donut...  although, in my realm that's a possibility.

We're talking nutrition vs. junk.

There are isles full of food that's easy to carry and pass out in a pinch.
The thing is that the average swimmer uses quite a bit of energy not to mention sweating out a lot of fluid. You need protein, some good curbs and lots of hydration.

Drink lots of water.

Think about bringing an actual meal instead of snack [junk] food -- it'll hold you longer and you won't feel negative effects of your adventure later in the day.

Junk foods are high in salt and sugar neither are too necessary for beach-day activity. Sugar causes spikes of energy that don't hold steady and I figure the way my kids go around like wide mouth bass, hollering, gulping and spitting sea water,  their salt intake is plenty high-enough already.

We brought a pot of chicken and rice with us one day. It was perfect. Easy to eat off paper plates, filled us up and gave us needed nutrition too. It simmered on the stove while we got ready to go and then traveled along wrapped in a thick towel (which later kept someone's seat dry on the ride home).

Another good option is a good loaf of crusty french style bread. You can tear off pieces and eat with your fingers with no proper utensils or napkins needed.

7. Rest Often

When I was small (as in: young) I never understood the rest breaks at the public swimming pool. It was agonizing to sit there with the cool, aquamarine water beckoning to leave our towels and jump in.

I always figured it was to give to lifeguards a break from twirling their whistles around their poor tired fingers.

I now make my children take those breaks even when there is no one else telling them they have to
One day of my daughter feeling unwell when we got home from the beach, the tears from over-tired eyes and I was buoyed up enough to be the "big-meanie" who makes her children leave the water for at least ten minutes out of every hour (give of take a minute or two).

We use the time to sit in the shade (hopefully), drink water, eat something, reapply sunscreen, adjust life jackets, goggles, etc and sneak a cuddle that doesn't involve getting splashed in the face.

We all go home happier that way.

8. All beaches are not created equal.

A sign that says 'Beach' with an arrow pointing the way does not mean paradise waits around the bend. It simply means there is sand and water.

Personally, we like our beaches to have clean, un-littered sandy shores.

With small children we look for places with very gentle waves and ocean floors that slope out slowly.

Call me high-maintenance but my fear of sharks and not being able to see what's under me means CLEAR water is on our 'must-have' list as well.

Trash cans are very nice.
Toilets are a bonus.
Showers are Utopia.

It turns out that the most popular, busiest beaches are not necessarily the nicest.
One of my favorite beaches this trip was a tiny little place in the heart of San Juan. We had the whole thing pretty much to our selves and it was fabulous.

Befriend the locals and they may share their secret sea-side sanctuaries with you; places off the beaten path but still safe and well cared for.

9. Put Thought into Packing

One thing that saved my sanity this trip was learning the tricks to beach-side packing. My desire to be prepared for anything results in a tendency to over-pack. I wanted to do better this trip as hauling around three small children is enough work in itself.

The first wise move was establishing a wet bag/dry bag ritual. I took the same two bags when we went - a sturdy canvas tote bag for dry things and a large washable mesh carry-all for the wet.

Another boon is to be able to carry everything in one trip.

Stroller for the baby.
A large bag for the towels.
A few umbrella chairs.
A small cooler for drinks and food.

Dry Bag Contains:
Wallet (leave this locked and out of sight in the vehicle if possible)
Dry underware for everyone
Dry shorts for boys
Insect repellent
Hair brush
Extra hair bands

Wet Bag Contains:
Life jackets
Sand toys

This system only works if you religiously put things where they belong. Personally, there is enough mess with the water and sand, I dont' need to be searching fruitlessly for what I need at the moment.

Check inventory and restock the bags before each day's outing.
You can toss the wet bag in the wash with the swimsuits as it tends to get sandy and smelly.
It usually works well the hang the dry bag on the stroller so it stays accessible but out of the sand.

It's a simple sanity saver.
We all need those!

10. Travel dry

How many times have you packed your sopping wet, crabby children into your poor vehicle for an uncomfortable ride home? Countless probably, if you are like me.

Well, at the beach it's worse because there is the sand issue to deal with as well.

The final beach-life lesson I learned was to take the extra time so you can travel dry.

Wear your suits under dry clothes to the beach, carefully put dry clothes in the dry bag so they are still dry when you are ready to take off the suits and go home. Put the wet suits in the wet bag.

Set a time to get out of the water and start drying before changing clothes and leaving.
It is much easier to remove wet sand from little [and big] bodies when they are dry.

It is also easier to peel out of your suit if you are at least somewhat dry.
Take it from someone who has preformed the contortions of undressing and dressing in a make-shift towel tent, it's easier.

Especially in places where you are driving a ways to and from the beach, you'll have much happier children, a cleaner car and therefore less headache all around.


So there you go!
I'm no pro but after this vacation I feel like this prairie-mama has had an express course in Beachology.

What can you add to this list? I'd love to hear your stories of lessons learned or Your own "Tips to Beach By"...

The sun, sand and surf are already calling me back.
And next time?

This mama has the skills.

Itchy, Burnt and Crusty in NE


  1. Awwww... you had a great trip then! :)

  2. Lovely lesson... now if only we could find a beach to try it out on! Love the pictures too!

  3. dear Down by the Sea,

    Lots of fun, and it sounds like you learned a lot. With 3 beach-babies, it had to be well thought out. I don't think I have any advice to add....I will certainly refer to you and your experience when the time comes for our trip to the tropics!

    Where there's only a sea of prairie grass in the middle of Nebraska

  4. Dear Lani,
    Yes, oh, yes we did! Thought of you several times, you being a "beach-girl" at heart and all! :)

    Dear Lynisha,
    Hmmm... we seem to be facing the same Nebraska malfunction around here... the "Beach" file is missing!

    Dear Mom,
    Pretty sure I shoulda paid better attention back in the years when you were packing the bags! I'm sure you already know more about it than me!

    The Prairie Hen in NE

  5. Dear Kristen,

    Cracked and Corny in NE

  6. Dear Hairy...
    Hehe! I missed this post earlier.
    Missin' the beach part here too!!

    Living vivaciously thru your posts!

    the stay at home auntie ♥


Thank you for stopping by. Your comments make me smile.