Monday, June 23, 2008

Brighton beach memoirs

There was a time when Paul and I went to Nantucket every summer with a group of friends. We would rent a big house for a week and putter around, spending our days on the beach or cycling around town and our evening gathered together over elaborate meals that everyone had pitched in to help prepare. We started making the trip pre-kids, then there was that memorable summer when we all waddled around town with burgeoning bellies and then in the 2 years that followed, you were as likely to find empty baby bottles on the table as you were to find empty wine bottles when you wandered downstairs in the morning.

Our Nantucket days were wonderful and I still think of them fondly, but we knew it was time to stop making the trip once the children were all a few years old. Nantucket was great for the adults, but kids, we realized, need kid-friendly vacations -- rental houses that don't have breakable tchotchkies and local restaurants that welcome children and maybe some mini golf and a boardwalk to keep them entertained.

I remember feeling strongly that family vacations needed to be geared toward the kids, remember arguing this point vehemently during a late evening debate on the subject on one of our last Nantucket nights. We have the rest of our lives to go to Nantucket, I insisted. But first, we have an obligation to give our kids proper childhood memories in the kinds of borderline tacky environs that children adore. The following year -- and the year after that -- we talked wistfully of Nantucket and then we loaded up the car with buckets and tricycles and headed off to the kid-paradise that is the Jersey Shore, confident that we were doing the right thing for our children.

All that lofty catering-to-the-children nonsense went out the window when we moved here, of course. We traded vacations built on boardwalks and ice cream stands for holidays filled with castles and cathedrals, shouting "once in a lifetime" over and over again as we dragged our children to see all that Europe has to offer. Along the way, as it became clear that I had severely underestimated my kids' ability to enjoy attractions and activities which are not expressly kid-focused, I started to think that maybe I had overestimated the importance of the child friendly vacation destination.

It turns out I hadn't.

We took the kids on a day trip to Brighton this weekend. Just an hour south of London by train, Brighton is perhaps the English equivalent of the Jersey Shore. It is broad expanses of beach fringed by an endless stream of souvenir shops and Fish and Chip stands. It is a giant pier with funfair and amusement arcades. It is families with small children begging for one more ice cream, young adults hanging around the beach during the day and crowding into the local nightclubs when night falls. It is flashing lights and win a prize here and please-can-I-have-some more-ride-tokens-Daddy. I had completely forgotten how much kids like places like this.

All told, we maybe spent a grand total of about 5 or 6 hours in Brighton. In that time, the kids hunted for shells on the rocky beach and collected giant piles of smelly seaweed for reasons known only to them. They dropped 10p coins into the kiddie version of a slot machine and gorged themselves on candy floss (otherwise known as cotton candy). They gleefully rode a 2-seater merry go round and giggled endlessly as they rammed their Dodgems cars (bumper cars, natch) into each other. Evan rode a kiddie coaster. Julia had her first log flume ride. And then they universally declared our handful of hours in Brighton the best trip we've ever taken. Four days in Paris? Meh. A little under a week in Barcelona? Just fine. But Brighton, they insisted joyously, was the best place EVER.

Paris wasn't meh, of course. My kids loved Paris. Ditto Barcelona and Stockholm and Edinburgh and Rome and... must I type out the whole extensive list? I totally underestimated my children that night in Nantucket when I made that broad sweeping blame-it-on-that-extra-glass-of-wine proclamation that you must take kids to kid-focused destinations in order to have a good family vacation. But watching them delight in Brighton this weekend, I realized that I hadn't been all wrong about those child-magnet places, either.

I'll never forget or regret any of the trips we've taken here. But I'm looking forward to next summer and the promise of some time spent "down the Shore" all the same. We've given our kids endless European memories and now I want to give them some of those proper childhood memories in borderline tacky environs. Not because it's our only vacation option or because it's our "obligation" as I believed a few short years ago. Just because it's fun.


Blogger Suburban Hippie said...

Oh, it looks wonderful there! Puts me in mind of Atlantic City in the old days, back before the casinos and general urban blight. Amazing. I forget where you go down the shore in Jersey? We were Long Beach Island faithfuls, a week in Ship Bottom every summer, when I was a kid.

It's interesting, the timing of this trip. Sort of a way of experiencing home again before you even arrive back there. Oh, and I see Julia is even smiling!

4:36 PM  
Anonymous Cami said...

My kids love Brighton too. I can't believe how cold it is there.

But for "proper childhood memories in tacky environs"... you really need to do a weekend at Butlins before you move!

7:56 PM  
Blogger Iota said...

Glad you had a good time in Brighton. Great picture of the lifeguard rescue.

When we were in Brighton, we watched the coastguard rescue a windsurfer who was rather a long way out to sea. Unfortunately, it looked all great fun, and I think the message the kids took away was "if you get in trouble, a speedy boat comes and gets you, and there's an audience when you arrive on the beach". Not very helpful.

3:23 PM  
Blogger Steph said...

Looks and sounds like everyone had a good time. That last picture is great!!

9:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember how much I loved Brighton and Nantasket as a kid but now love Cape Cod, Nantucket & Martha's Vineyard now. I think you hit this one out of the park or as they say where you are now,knocked it for six.

10:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok, follow my train of thought on this one... I read the sweet entry "English" about Evan wanting the rest of you to hold his hand on learning all things American, then scrolled down to the vacation in Brighton. I'm laughing out loud looking at the cut-out photo of lifeguard Julia carrying Evan onto the beach, because it made me imagine the two of them swimming across the pond from England and her carrying him straight onto the Jersey shoreline!

4:04 PM  
Blogger Dayna said...

Your kids have had some wonderful adventures; the same sort I hope to give my own children someday (if and when I have them). But there's a bit of me that will always think that yes, Europe is amazing, and my time living there was fantastic, but summer isn't summer without hearing "Watch the Tram Car, please."

11:16 PM  
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