When our oldest was one, we began a tradition of taking my mom on a whale watch. Every year we trek down to Provincetown for the first boat of the day. There is an amazing Portuguese bakery where we get coffee and croissants and then we are off to visit the whales.
This was our sixth whale watch and each one has been completely different. Of course the weather varies, but so do the whales. When I was younger, the humpbacks had pretty much left the area and you were lucky to see a minke whale or maybe a fin back. This year we saw minke whales on our way out of the harbor. It wasn’t long until we were surrounded by humpbacks feeding.
The whales were bubble feeding, where they essentially work together, swimming in circles, blowing bubbles and basically trapping the fish. Then they swim up the center, mouth open to eat the prey. We had learned about bubble net feeding at the Mystic Aquarium on a family trip. The kids were so excited to see it in person. We were literally surrounded by bubble nets. There were some whales swimming across the surface with their mouths open, drag feeding. Often when you go on a whale watch, you see the large backs and of course the fluke (tail). Rarely do you see the head so well.
The kids’ experience has been different every year. In the beginning they just knew everyone was excited and they could see the whales but didn’t really understand. Now they have read about whales, seen information in aquariums and local museums. Our youngest, kept going inside to our stuff to circle the animals we were seeing in the guide they gave us.
It was also the first year that the boys were spotting whales themselves. Having so many nearby helped, but they were getting good at spotting spouts and fins. Even the youngest was pointing away. Watching them put all of their resources together was really fun. They knew lots of information and they were excited to share. When they didn’t know something, they asked. It was a great experience for all of us.
We all fantasize about the idyllic summer with kids playing outside, eating ice cream and everyone getting along. Then reality sets in and the kids are running wild around the house. Even if the kids are at a camp or an activity all week – the energy level is still high when they are home. Often, getting everyone outside is a great solution. This can be anything from a playground, walk in a park, swimming or taking in local sporting events. A few basic supplies in the car can allow for a spontaneous outing.
Before having children, I babysat for three small kids on a small island. One of the best days we had, was when it wasn’t a “beach day” and we had been out and about. I decided to take them for a walk on the beach. They began chasing the waves in and out and of course they got soaked. Before letting them get wet, I did a quick inventory in my head and realized I had enough towels for them to be warm and get them changed. As I became a mom, I remembered how having those supplies really helped me out and have continued to keep the car packed with some basics.
I always have sunscreen, bug spray and sweatshirts in the car. I used to keep snacks and drinks until the kids were continuously raiding them. Now, I grab a few on our way out the door and keep them up front with me. There is usually some type of blanket or our beach chairs. This allows us to randomly go for a walk at a nature center or downtown and not worry about the weather too much. It also allows us to stop by the beach or a pond or a lake on our way home on a hot day.
One of our favorite moments last summer was picking up my friend and her two kids. We packed lunches and off we went. The weather was sort of cool and grey so we went for walks at free nature centers along the way. The kids had a blast and we laughed at how quiet they were at certain points of the walk. We did stop for some homemade ice cream on our way home to make the day complete. It was one of those great days that we couldn’t have planned in advance.
The key is to make it your own. Maybe it’s keeping a soccer ball or baseball in the car or a sketch book and markers. It often doesn’t take much to entertain kids when they are outside. If you don’t know much about birds or wildlife there are great apps available and most nature centers will give you some basic info. Perhaps you look at the guide and create a scavenger hunt or mini contest to see who can spot the most birds or find the most different pine cones. The key is to have fun with it and realize with a little advanced planning you can have a fun, quick family outing.
I consider myself extremely lucky to have grown up on the ocean and to be sharing that experience with my children. We live in a beautiful part of the country and are only a short drive from a variety of beaches. Growing up at the beach, I truly believe that salt water cures EVERYTHING. When we were young, our parents would tell us to soak our bumps and scrapes in the water and they would get better. As we became young adults, we discovered that salt water can help cure the “tiredness” from the night before. Now, as a mom, I have discovered that it can fix arguing children.
Our boys are 5 and 7. We go through phases where they get along and times when they don’t. Right now, is a time that they aren’t getting along. It has been weeks of squabbling with each other. Last weekend, we were lucky enough to sneak in a few hours at the beach as a family. Pulling in the parking lot, everything changed. The kids were helpful bringing their stuff down the beach and stopped whining. After sunscreen, they played in the sand and went swimming. Not an argument to be heard. Of course, everything started up again on the ride home, but it was a great two hours.
The boys are well-trained beach bums. They have been going to the beach since they were born. We have gone through the not wanting to put our feet in the sand, not liking seaweed, trying to eat rocks and shells and not wanting sunscreen – and it’s all been worth it! Now, they both know how to swim, are complacent about sunscreen (they know it’s not an option) and truly enjoy everything the beach has to offer.
We are beach minimalists. Everyone is responsible for their own beach gear. Generally, we bring boogie boards, lunch, towels and sunscreen. I carry my chair and sometimes the boys bring their chairs down. We don’t lug a lot of toys down. A few shovels and buckets do the trick. In the heat of the summer, they spend most of their time playing in the water. During the shoulder seasons, they play in the sand and look for shells. It is a great environment for them to explore. They love looking for fish and shells. Some beaches offer great tidal pools where they look for sand dollars and starfish. The beach is constantly changing as the tides bring in new treasures.
On the weekends, we spend the entire day on the beach as the family. These days are a little different because we drive onto the beach and can pack up our car. This allows us to bring books to read and paper and crayons to color. I am so lucky to raise boys with sand between their toes and the knowledge that salt water cures everything!!