I have lost children in the park, in the shops, at a farm, at church, at Soul Survivor (a huge Christian festival for teenagers), in the woods, at the beach, in our own home, in school, on holiday…actually I think that pretty much covers everything. I have not lost any children in the car or down the side of the sofa (which I count as good parenting on my part).
One adventure that sticks in my mind was losing Ben at West Wittering Beach. This is a beautiful beach in West Sussex. Miles of sand, dunes and clear waters. The perfect spot for a hot summer day! Well it should be, but word has got around and as soon as the sun pops up the people of West Sussex head there fast. All roads to the beach are clogged for miles. Hundreds of cars, neatly decorated with Windbreaks and surfboards sit stationary for hours, whilst the hot faces of their inmates are rammed up to windows clutching towels, spades and boogie boards. Those of us who live close by have to adapt, if we feel like a trip to West Witt’ we wait till midday and then go, taking with us our tea rather than lunch! Never mind that we have missed half of the sunshine…we have beaten the traffic and get to feel rather satisfied with our ability to go against the flow.
On this particularly sunny summer day we decided to head to the beach. We left at midday and arrived a short time later full of the smugness that only traffic avoidance can bring. Loaded everyone up with beach gear and made our way through the dunes, the sand had gone! In its place was a sea of windbreaks, all colours of the rainbow, not an inch of beach was left. Towels covered it as though we were all on some beach covering mission. After walking for what felt like several miles we managed to wedge ourselves between two large family groups (who had made the mistake of leaving a walkway to the sea in between them). As I am sure you know, the next part of a beach visit is the most stressful. It’s like a ‘Minute to Win it’ game. The task is to:
- Put up the windbreak with a stone that you must scavenge for (because you left the mallet at home).
- Lay out the towels, separate bags into piles of ‘sand allowed’ and ‘no sand at all’ piles
- Get them into their swimmers.
- Wrestle three children to the ground, spray sun cream frantically aiming to cover as much skin as possible.
- Wash sun cream out of three screaming children’s eyes.
- Get your swimmers on.
- Apply sun cream on yourselves.
- Put the windbreak back up.
- Pop up the sunscreen tent.
- Put the windbreak back up.
- Blow up inflatable shark.
You must do all this in one minute, whilst holding the children back (without the use of crude language or shouting) otherwise they will run off to the sea without you.
Having achieved this in the most undignified manner possible, it was time to take the kids down to the sea. Once released they took off like lightning and for a time we leapt about in the sea having great fun. Carefully we timed our departure on the colour of the kids skin… purple = 3 minute warning / sky blue = time to get out.
It was then that disaster struck, Millie tired from her swim decided to examine a little pool we passed on the way back, much to the impatience of Ben who now wanted an ice cream. As Millie relaxed and took a moment to ponder the big things of life, I bent down to negotiate moving with the little sloth, but on standing up I realised that Ben had gone! Grabbing Millie (negotiation over) I marched back to our camp. He wasn’t there. I then paced the beach, weaving in and out of different groups peering this way and that, but no joy. After 10 min’s I started to feel panicked! I spotted a Life guard and explained the situation. His immediate response was both reassuring and frightening. He got on his radio and reported back to me that 12 other life guards were now looking. He cheered me with “Can he swim?” and then walked back to our undistinguishable windbreak with me. Once there he proceeded to have more urgent sounding conversations on his radio, much to the delight (I mean concern) of the all the families around us. A beach Buggy was dispatched to pick us up and take us to the control tower.
It is not easy to look glam as a 30 something, mum of three on the beach. It takes hours of prep, expensive hair products and extensive research into finding ‘the swimwear’ that magically conceals and holds. It’s not easy, so I don’t bother. It seemed to me, as I climbed into the Beach Buggy that this was more like a collision between Embarrassing Bodies, Top Gear and Jeremy Kyle than Baywatch.
As we ploughed along the beach we received a radio message that Ben had been found! Phew! And as the Control Tower came into view I could just make out the shape of a very excited child waving frantically on the balcony.
On the walk back Ben and I exchanged many words, mine centred on topics of safety, following instructions and causing near heart failure in others, whilst Ben’s were about the exhilaration of adventure and lifeguard towers. Ben’s only disappointment was missing out on the beach buggy ride.
We arrived back at our camp to a heart-warming cheer from the surrounding families.
One man said: “I don’t know how you stayed so calm!”
“Oh” I replied “It happens all the time.”
I am not sure that that conversation showed my parenting skills in the best light.