Monday, August 25, 2014

Vacation, All I Ever Wanted

Tonight's cocktail is a cucumber infused gin and tonic. It seems fancy, but basically you just put some cucumber spears in a container, fill the rest of the way with gin, and let it sit for a few days, then make a regular G&T. It's really refreshing and delicious.

The past few weeks, along with the ubiquitous ice bucket videos, I've been seeing the usual August array of happy family vacation pictures on social media: smiling kids hugging costumed characters, building sandcastles, and standing in front of various landmarks. And it's all good. I know these will be the happy memories the family looks back on when the kids are grown and have kids of their own. I love those pictures down to the roots of my cynical little heart.

However. We all know, but don't like to acknowledge, that those pictures are just the highlight reel. The flip side includes overstimulated, overtired kids tantruming because the crappy amusement park toy they convinced you to shell out $20 for broke the moment you got in the car to leave. Being puked on in an airplane and not having a change of clothes for yourself. Rinsing and hanging pee pants in the hotel bathroom. Kidz Bop blasting over the speakers in the minivan in hopes of drowning out sibling squabbles so that your eye might stop twitching. And, of course, the ever-popular urgent care visit for that unexpected fever/laceration/fracture. You're naturally going to think that your family is screwed up when everyone else seems so shiny and happy and you feel like a hot mess.

This summer, I decided to give Tweak and Tink the kind of beach vacation I loved as a kid. The kind where you make a road trip to the beach (we chose Rehoboth Beach, DE), load up on junk food at the grocery store, and spend as much time as possible on the beach, hunting for shells, body-surfing, and making sand castles, interspersed between rest time at the cottage, watching crappy TV, playing cards, consuming snack chips, and staying up too late. Maybe throw in some mini-golf and go-carts for the overachievers. There's really no agenda other than being indulgent and useless because, dammit, you can.

After we got settled at our cottage in the late afternoon of the first day, the kids and I walked to the beach, intending to scope our surroundings and proceed to dinner. The kids decided instead to charge into the waves fully clothed and then bury themselves in sand. At first, I tensed. They weren't following the plan. They were going to be cold, because I had no towel, and they were going to have to walk 2 blocks back to the house with grit in their underwear. And then I realized: fuck it. There was nowhere we had to be. If they were hungry because they would have to clean up before dinner, that was on them. Ditto if they developed chub rub walking back to the house. But more importantly, how many years do they still have to be able to react to anything with such complete, full-frontal joy and abandonment? How many times as adults do we get to experience that? I decided to roll with it.

Soon after, a WASP-y looking family of five in coordinated outfits (Madras plaid shorts/skirts/dresses, white shirts) came down to the beach with a professional photographer to get pictures taken in the late afternoon light. Sandy brown-haired dad with a strong jaw. Willowy blonde mom in a shift dress. Stairstep kids, about 3, 5, and 7, two older boys and a little girl. Beautiful tans, perfectly clean and groomed, ALL AT THE SAME TIME (how does one accomplish this)? As the mom instructed the photographer on the shots she wanted, the kids edged closer and closer to the water, staring at Tink and Tweak in fascination. The mom had to keep calling them back. Finally, everyone was situated, and they got several Christmas card worthy pictures in the golden light, all smiling and looking at the camera AT THE SAME TIME (what witchcraft is this?).

The kids must have been gradually ooching toward the water with each shot, plus the tide must have been coming in, because all of a sudden a rogue wave surged up the beach and knocked the little girl over. Everyone's legs were soaked to the knee. The little girl came up screaming, and her brothers started splashing everyone, ruining all those ironed clothes with spatters of sand and seawater. The mom got frustrated. I'm sure she paid a lot to have that photographer show up, but the Stepford portion of the shoot was clearly over, like it or not. Through it all, the photographer kept taking pictures of the kids. The little girl, having gotten over her initial scare, was jumping up and down and laughing as the next wave came in, hair plastered against her face. The older boy was doing karate moves; the younger one was dancing Gangnam Style. They were gorgeous. Eventually, the parents seemed to relax into the moment, and they got some really funny shots.

I really hope that they hold on to all of those pictures. Not just the family portrait or the last few frames of them goofing around, but also the part where the kids were being cracked-out and the parents were bickering about what to do next. I hope they remember everything that happened so that the next time things are going pear-shaped, they take a moment to breathe and consider that this is part of the deal, too, and that's OK. If they're really brave, they could even include the whole thing on their Christmas card.

My kids soon came back to me to give sandy hugs, and the rest of our vacation was pretty awesome. Well, except for the part where Tink got swimmer's ear. And the part where it rained for an entire day and I got so fed up with the fighting that I let them play Minecraft for 2 (OK 3) straight hours. And the part where Tweak was pouting about leaving the beach, and I got a little too shrill, and some dude gave me side-eye (which made me listen to myself and snap out of it). That's not the point. The point is that we also got a great highlight reel: sticky hands from saltwater taffy, stuffed animals won at the arcade, a gigantic hole in the sand, cuddling up together for a Harry Potter movie marathon, toasting our awesomeness with a micro-brew (for me) and Shirley Temples (for them). What more could I want?


  1. Sounds like a great trip! And I would also love to see that family use all of those pictures...that would bring big smiles to the faces of their whole Christ,as card list, I bet!

    1. Thanks! It was so chill. And I did feel sorry for picture mom - you could tell she had gone to a ton of effort to get everything just right. This is why I no longer try to do that. :)

  2. I spent every summer from age 8 to 17 at Rehoboth. I love that place! So glad your kids got to enjoy it too. Sounds like a really fun vacation!

    1. We had so much fun! I can't wait to go back.


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