Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Family Vacation

Let me just say that it was not MY idea.

In fact, I presented my husband with a long list of reasons we should not take a family vacation.

"Do you have any idea how much stuff we would have to take - how long it will take to pack and unpack it all?" I asked when I found I could no longer ignore his hints about taking a beach vacation.

I mean, I was having enough trouble keeping my ahead above water with our crazy life at home. I wasn't sure I had it in me to take this show on the road yet.

I was convinced that our disaster-prone two-year-old would almost certainly get lost on the beach, or perhaps even find his way over the railing of the hotel balcony.

"It will not be relaxing," I assured Phil, citing the very real possibilities of sunburns, destroyed hotel property, and sand in so many body crevices it wouldn't all be found for months.

"And you know he won't sleep for us there."

Phil considered that one for a while.

Now, I love vacations as much as the next person. I personally have many wonderful memories of family vacations from when I was a kid.

It wasn't however, until I became a parent of young children myself that I recalled how tired my parents sometimes looked on vacation, and how impatience crept into their voices as we fought in the backseat surrounded by all manner of junk and repeatedly inquired as to how much longer it was going to take to get there.

Phil was right, though. If we had the opportunity to enjoy time at the beach as a family, we should certainly do it.

So we loaded up and set off to make some memories.

In the end, neither Phil or I would call it relaxing. Getting ready to go to the beach each morning was no small accomplishment. There were 20 limbs to slather with sunscreen, and then swimsuits, hats, glasses, towels, chairs, umbrella, sand toys, snacks, diapers, etc. etc. to dig out of the chaos of the room.

At this point, someone would inevitably rub sunscreen in their eyes and begin writhing on the floor in agony and tears.

Finally, an hour or two after we started the process, we would lumber out to the beach and set up camp, just in time for someone to announce, "I have to go to the bathroom!"

Beaches, I've discovered, often attract an interesting mix of people, and this one was no exception. There are plenty of young families watching their children play in the waves as their babies eat sand. Situated next to them are tattoo-adorned individuals, many of whom are concerned with weighty worldly matters, such as experimenting with how many parts of speech certain four-letter words can serve as.

We got to have some lovely conversations about drugs and alcohol with Grace, who is now old enough to be very aware of things around her, and wondering why scruffy men occasionally shuffle by shouting fiercely at no one in particular. (For that matter, why is Mommy often muttering to herself?)

Through all this, I was reading a book written by a mother of four children, who encourages overwhelmed mothers to live in and celebrate the moment. There is no guarantee, she reminds us, that we will all be here next year, or even next week.

I am thankful for that reminder. I didn't have my camera with me as often as I should have to snap every memorable moment, but I saved some of the images in my mind.

I can still see my kids standing on the beach late one afternoon as the sun sparkled off the water. Amid all the skin on the beach, their sun-conscious mother had them dressed in rashguards, oversized hats, and sunglasses. They were dancing and jumping up and down gleefully, shouting out cheers for their daddy who was marching nobly off to do something worth watching: he was going to attempt surfing.

Their excitement was simply uncontainable as they grabbed hands and danced around with surf splashing at their feet. As their Daddy became another dot beyond the waves, they eventually wandered off to negotiate over sand-encrusted cotton candy, furtively attempt to pee in the sand without anyone noticing, or become inextricably wound up in kite string.

At the end of the day, Caleb declared: "This is the best day of my life! When I grow up, I'm going to tell my kids about this day! Aren't you, Dad?"

I am happy to report that even though we did not relax and sleep in every day we had a great time together as a family.

And no one got sunburned.

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