I remember the year everything about vacation changed.
It was sometime in those middle school years, I think, and my parents took us on a trip to Florida they or someone in our family had won through some kind of promotion. And of course, there was a catch. The kind where you go on the trip in exchange for sitting through an hour-long promotion from an agency that sells condos. (We did this on our honeymoon to score some gas cards and a restaurant gift card. It wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever done, but it also wasn’t pleasant.) My parents sat and listened to the man and his sales pitch while my brother and I did whatever we could to entertain ourselves. I remember they told my parents afterward how well-behaved we were. Maybe that was part of the pitch.
Our family walked away from the meeting that day the proud new owners of a time-share condo in Daytona Beach. I secretly thought my parents might be crazy, but I was a kid, so what did I know?
From then on, our vacation destination was set: Daytona Beach, Florida. Or, if it wasn’t too much trouble, somewhere else we could exchange our week. One year, it was Arizona. (The aforementioned honeymoon was in Williamsburg, Virginia, and is thanks to that time share week, so I guess I better not complain!)
The beach. Most summers we drove for two days to spend time at the beach.
And what I remember most about those summers is ridiculously painful sunburn (the fate of the fair-skinned) and overwhelming feelings of inadequacy about my body (the fate of the non-bikini-clad, at least that’s what I thought then). I was never a partier, so a week at the beach was not the raucous good time I’m sure some of my peers might have envisioned. In truth, I was happy to sit on the balcony of the condo (in the shade) and read book after book after book. But that was how I would have spent my summer no matter where I was. The view was just a little better in Florida.
Two years ago, our little family of four got to go to Daytona together with my parents, and that trip redeemed most of my so-so memories of Florida vacations.
But I still had my reservations about the beach. We are reluctant acquaintances.
Months ago, our friends posed the question: What would we think about taking a vacation to the beach with their family?
We’ve lived in Pennsylvania for six years and the “shore” has been on our list of things we wanted to do, just to experience what so many of our friends and acquaintances know and love. But we didn’t know where to begin or if we could go for the day, and frankly, we’ve never had the money or time to do it. Our friends go to Cape May, New Jersey, and they stay in the same house each time, and we’ve heard wonderful things about that area. So, this seemed the perfect opportunity.
Still, I was hesitant.
I’m not really a beach person, I told my friend, who is the complete opposite. She could live on the beach and be happy the rest of her days (and I love her for that). But we kept talking about it and because we love this family so much and their kids and our kids are friends, we agreed to look into and consider the costs and availability.
Long story, shorter, we booked a week in a house in Cape May, New Jersey, and last week embarked on our first-ever vacation with another family to the beach.
In the week leading up to vacation, I was super stressed out. Our kids had been back from Illinois only a few days before our beach week was to begin, and I hate packing. Plus, our travel was going to be split up. The moms and kids were going on Saturday and the dads would follow on Sunday. So, I had to segregate the packed belongings into Saturday and Sunday piles. It was overwhelming.
By the time I got in my friend’s van on Saturday, I was ready for some R&R. Except that we had five kids between the two of us and more than three hours of driving ahead of us. R&R was maybe a far-fetched dream.
Traffic snarled and crawled as we drew closer to the beach. The miles ticked down on the GPS and time seemed to stand still. Then finally–FINALLY–we were at the house and out of the car and unpacking our meager belongings (the second wave of provisions would arrive Sunday night with the men). And we could hardly wait another minute to see the ocean. So, we piled back into the van and drove out to the park where the lighthouse stands. We raced over the dunes, spread our arms wide and exhaled.
With a breezy welcome, the ocean crashed its greeting onto the shore. We cast off our shoes and let the sand fill the gaps between our toes. The ocean teased us with its gentle lapping, and we let the cool waters wash our feet. It was a foretaste of the week to come, just enough to remind us that we had made it. We walked the shore, the kids running off their dormant energy, collecting shells, until our feet couldn’t take any more. We bid the ocean “good night” then searched for a pizza place to satisfy our hunger.
We woke the next day with plans to hit the beach for real and after a Herculean effort to wrangle five kids into swimwear and pack a lunch, we made it to the beach and the children frolicked while we soaked up sun and let the rhythmic ocean waves soothe our weary souls. (But lest I forget, the wind was fierce that day and the sand was stinging us. We may look relaxed in our pictures but we were fighting for our happy place.)
It is not easy getting to the beach, but once you’re there, it’s worth it. Each day we were at the beach, I felt like time stood still.
After dinner, we walked the promenade and stumbled upon a wedding taking place on the beach. As my friend, Beth, so eloquently observed:
We (2 exhausted mammas and 5 full of energy children) walk the mile or so to the end of the promenade-where ocean meets rocky shore-where a wedding party forms. Bridesmaids clothed in teal, hairspryed hair withstanding wind. Groom wringing his hands. A bridal white horse drawn carriage rolls to a halt. The girl children-busily imagining their weddings 20 years the making-“Ohhhh and Ahhh” as they see her, the Princess bride. As we all are taken by the magic of the moment-of the majestic ocean and mystery of love-the horse, adorned with braided hair and roses, urninates while all five of our kiddos loudly observe, “Ewww He’s peeing.”
Our men arrived later that night to find their wives barely hanging onto sanity. They’d never been more heroic in our eyes.
The week was full of surprises. Perhaps the most surprising was this: I actually had a good time. And by that I mean I would do it all again tomorrow. All the packing, all the driving, all the washing sand out of everything, all the protecting our lunches from seagulls, all the sunscreen, all the lotion, all the walking and sweating and cooking and cleaning.
It’s not that I expected to have a horrible time. I knew it would be fun because our friends are fun and seeing new places is fun and being together as a family is fun. I just didn’t expect to have so much fun I’m actually missing it today. Me? Missing the beach? Who’d have thought?
I had hoped to write a post listing all my favorite things about our trip or recounting all the best moments, but the truth is, I can’t choose favorite moments because there are too many. Each day was special for lots of reasons and to single out a best moment is too hard. (Plus, I don’t want you to hate me for having a fabulous beach vacation. Trust me, it’s a rarity for our family. We do not live glamorous lives all the time. Case in point, this blog post.)
So, how would I sum up our vacation? You’ve read this far, so I owe you a word, and that word is the word that I’ve been meditating on all year long.
From the splashing in the water to the digging our toes in the sand to the climbing the lighthouse steps to the date night with tasty seafood to the shared meals around the kitchen table to the late-night talks to the overall ambiance of this historical seaside resort, I enjoyed our vacation. (And if you need to know why it’s so hard for me to enjoy life, read this post.)
So, here’s my question for you: When’s the last time you were surprised by how much you enjoyed something? Care to share your story? Leave a comment so we can enjoy together.