Here's the truth all you parents know: a vacation really isn't one if you're taking the kids. I'm back from a ‘relaxing’ week at the beach and I'm exhausted. Lest you find me a complainer I had a great time.

We made memories I’ll have forever etched in my mind. The wide eyes of Wilder as the waves (who were clearly after him personally) lapped at his chubby big baby feet. His exuberance as the clearing opened to that vast ocean each morning "Ello, wa-er, wa-er, wa-er!" The ridiculous love that was heaped on this dude by his Mimi and aunts.

We aren't big on the spoiling thing at our house or the one I grew up in. All the more ironic when I looked up on the beach one day to see Wilder was surrounded by two aunts and one grandma doting on his every need. Mimi washing his feet from the sand and drying him for a 45th sunscreen application and Aunt Lolly hand feeding him fruit snacks. King of the beach. The man wanted for nothing. That, my friends, is the life.

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You, dear parent, will want for much on such trips. Here are my must haves I'd advise every beach going momma get:

A puddle jumper - perfect flotation device for his age. Bonus: he hasn't figured out how to unclasp the buckle on the back. Yet. But, that little manipulator was determined to find an adult who would do it for him each day.

A hat for you that's nice and snug. Gone are the days of my big floppy hat that often requires one hand to keep it from escaping in the ocean breeze. Ain't nobody got an extra hand on a baby beach trip. I opted for a battered cowboy hat while my sister who is also a mom did the baseball hat.

Wet skin sunscreen. There's no way to de-sand and dry your kid on the beach. We did Aveeno 55 SPF for baby before we left each day then the Neutrogena 55 wet skin every 80 minutes. My hatred for preventing sunburn (carried since learning more than once that this milk white skin will blister the size of egg yolks without it) is tenfold with Wilder. The poor soul has inherited this super white skin and the task of keeping it not pink was a great one. I considered just buying him a wetsuit from neck to ankle. Not that his getup showed much more than that. And so while his cousin, Emery, was rocking a bikini and turning brown despite ample sunscreen, my little chalk baby was being doused with sunscreen every time he turned around.

A shovel. Many people advised we bring a kiddie pool, which I promptly forgot as I was too concerned about finding myself a cover up and Wilder an SPF 800 rash guard top. So, we dug one. And I think (if your kid is cool with the salt water thing) it was a much better choice. Each day we dug a nice shallow spot near the water with a little path that allowed the water to flow into our ‘pool.’ The building process, of which Wilder and Emery were instrumental (and by instrumental I mean throwing sand back in the pool at every chance), was one of the best memories of the beach.

And that’s the thing about vacations and memories and truth. The further we are from them the rosier they look. At some point I’ll forget my 7 a.m. baby woke up at 6 every day (six! I mean, really. I’m on VACATION. Six in the morning!) no doubt because we kept him up way too late (yeah yeah yeah sleep begets sleep). And I’ll forget that sunscreen battle. Or what my back felt like carrying that 32-pound dude up 4,509,393 stairs to and from the beach.

I’ll remember the first wave that knocked him over and the grin when his face surfaced, like ‘wow, that was awesome.’ I’ll remember his King of the Beach moment. I’ll remember the squeals of my niece boogie boarding like a surfer in Blue Crush. And I’ll look at the ridiculously misleading pictures of us fully clothed walking on the beach holding hands like we weren’t sweaty and tired and ready to go eat dinner. Vacation, as in many things post baby, has been redefined. It's a life that's not as easy, but one that's much rosier, much more colorful. And certainly much more beautiful.

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