We found a disabled parking space, close to the promenade. We sat for a moment watching families walk up and down the promenade stopping only to check that the sand had finally dried off their feet.
We climbed out of the car while listening to the plans our younger two sons had- “First I’m building a sand castle then I’m going down to the sea to get water for it and…” “Well you can do what ya like I’m going in for a dip and then...” our older son spoke over his younger brother.
Guys, you know we can’t stay here too long so don’t be making huge plans, just use your time here as best you can” I smiled at them both “As I pulled the wheelchair from the back of the people carrier.
We do beaches differently, heck, families like ours do almost everything differently.
Sometimes I find myself watching other families and imagining what it must be like just to bring the kids out, to just go - to me that sounds absolutely amazing and impossible.
Our days out are almost like investigations before we commit to anything.
A lot of the time I find myself asking the lovely lady on the phone, who doesn’t know if the venue is wheelchair friendly or not, “Can a buggy go in an around easily enough?”
Often they answer yes, but that comes with the idea of being able to lift the buggy over small walls or steps or taking the child out of the buggy, things wheelchair users can’t do.
Often we’ve been out and excited about finding a wheelchair friendly place to visit only to discover that there are no toilets or a million steps to the toilet - it is laughable sometimes other times I want to scream about how unfair everything feels when you can’t enjoy something because you can’t walk.
Then there are family days advertised, especially over the Summer, and when I make that phone call to inquire about the accessibility, the answers are often that they don’t know for sure or that it is, as far as they know.
It gets tiring trying to find places where we can visit as a family of five. The extra work we have to do before we go anywhere can leave us feeling deflated and a little pissed off
We all stood on the promenade, it was time to split up and try to ensure everyone had a good time for the short time we could be there.
My husband ran off down the sandy path out into Galway Bay as my two younger sons followed trying hard to reach the sea before their daddy did. I smiled at the passers by as I turned my sons wheelchair and began our stroll along the busy promenade.
My eldest son, Ethan loves the promenade, he loves people watching.
He used to love the beach and dipping his toes into the fresh sea water when he was able to outrun me but because there isn’t an accessible beach and he now uses a wheelchair, he can no longer do that.
The funny thing is that there are ramps down to a lot of our beaches but there just isn’t a path from the beach to the sea, it really wouldn’t take much to make a beach or two along our promenade wheelchair accessible.
We take turns, my husband and I.
He finds me along the promenade and swaps so I can go down and build sandcastles or jump in the water at other times we get a bit braver and carry the chair part of the way to the beach and then carry Ethan; I say braver because carrying a child while walking in the sand and trying to avoid seashells or seaweed isn’t easy nor is pushing a wheelchair through sand, but we have done it and will do it again.
We are not feeling brave on this trip to the beach as the sun is out and with it being a typical Irish Summer no one knows how long that yellow ball in the sky will last.
Salthill is absolutely swarming with everyone and their sister. It is far too busy to try to carry a wheelchair through a beach and then a child.
We stay for one hour in total. Ethan enjoys the cool sea breeze which we are thankful for as he was never a fan of heat, even if he doesn’t say as much as he once did, we remember the things he used to be vocal about.
I remember he once pulled down the blinds in our house because he was sick of the ‘sunny sun shine ruining his tv’ - he would often refuse to come out and play until the sun ‘went away’.
Our others boys try to convince us to stay a little longer, by then they have found a few kids to play with and are having a blast.
We feel guilty. We explain that it is too hot for Ethan and he is now bored of the promenade as he has been walking it with daddy or I for the past hour.
They complain because they are just boys who want to play like every other child there. They wipe the sand off their feet while muttering under their breaths.
We pretend we don’t notice, everyone has to let a little steam off when they feel they are being treated unfairly. We all get back into the car and pull out of our space as the sea becomes a snapshot in the rearview mirror.
“So, will we stop off and get some Ice cream?” I ask.
“Oh yes” the two boys are our friends again and all is forgiven.
I ponder for a moment wondering how much ice cream I can give Ethan without him coughing.
My husband reaches across and places his hand on my lap for a minute, almost like he is reading my mind he states “I will share a small cone with Ethan, I reckon he will get away with that” he winks.
And so our day at the beach is really one hour but when our sons talk of their time at the beach they talk about the fun they had, how they pushed daddy into the water and threw sand down mammys top (by an accident, I’m not convinced)the ice cream they ate and the friends they made - I guess it is true, it’s not about the quantity but about the quality of time we spend with those we love and that is something families like mine know more than most.