On our way to the beach, my mind whirred with the to-do list for our week at the beach; write a few articles, unpack clothes into dressers, prepare dinners, find ways to keep the boys entertained if it rained. Despite having prepared for days, I felt like I was missing something. I was planning, prepping, preoccupied-in other words, my mind was not yet on vacation. Once we unpacked and found our way to the beautiful, sparsely populated beach with warm, inviting water, once I sat with my baby in the gently lapping waves and taught him to splash in the sea, once my toddler decided there is no greater game on earth than jumping over the salty spray of ocean waves, and that s’mores are just as good in the microwave when beach bonfires aren’t allowed, something shifted. I was reminded of some simple life lessons.
Play, Don’t Sleep
I was sitting on the beach blanket watching the late afternoon sun bounce off the waves as the tide went out, sharing pretzels with my three year old, watching the wind tousle his hair. “You know what the beach is great for?” I asked him as I lay on my back, closing my eyes and covering my face with my hat. “Taking a nap,” and I snored loudly while the sun warmed my belly. “No, mommy! Don’t sleep; you’ll miss playing in the water! That’s the best part!” The seriousness of his response, the urgency in his voice, his little hand on my arm, made it clear that he did not find my nap a joking matter. This beach was to be treasured, the waves jumped, the sand molded into castles. There was no time to waste, play was the order of the day. I sat up, put my arm around him and nodded solemnly, “you’re right, honey, playing is the best part.” And it was. We pretended to be mermaids, sharks, we searched for buried treasure, and collected sea shells, holding them up to our ears to listen for the ocean even though it was right in front of us. For five days, we lived to play. On our last night as I sipped wine on the porch, I reminded myself to play more often.
Life After Wifi
I was a little hesitant to learn that our rental had no wifi service, but breathed easier knowing the local cafe had free wifi if I needed a fix. The surprising thing was, I didn’t. In fact, our family went four nights and five days without watching TV or using internet (okay, my husband and I did have our iphones…), not on purpose, but it just happened that once we deviated from the well-worn paths of routine and habit, there was more to do than watch tv. The boys explored the limits of the screened-in front porch, watched golf carts whizzing by, played in the surf, discovered hermit crabs. In the evenings, my husband and I sat on the porch and drank wine, watched the sun go down, talked about what’s been on our minds. We caught up with each other, we checked in. I left my iphone behind when I left the house instead of stashing it somewhere within arms’ reach. And the surprising thing? I didn’t miss anything. The world kept spinning. Instead of checking facebook, I checked in with my family, and was rewarded with silly dances from my babes, chocolate-covered kisses, renditions of our favorite songs through the mouths of our boys, liberally interpreting lyrics. We turned off the electronics and found a whole new world of entertainment right in front of us.
Turning off the electronics also gave us the gift of time; we had more time for each other, for ourselves. We went to bed early and woke up late (well, late for us!). My husband and I woke up refreshed, eager to get to the beach, play in the sand, jump in the waves with our boys. The gift of time, of low stress, of new schedules even seemed to heal the biggest of wounds. We took back our time and gave it to those pieces of our life that needed it the most, restoring the holes created by a cancer diagnosis, an unexpected move, a clinical trial. We applied extra time to those places in our lives that needed it most–and began to heal.
No Mess Stress
In my normal life, there’s a place for everything and everything in its place. I attribute this to our living in a small townhouse where space matters and clutter kills. My husband attributes this to my OCD. Either way, the beach house was my lesson in restraint. One afternoon after returning from the beach and rinsing the sand from our toes, I walked to the kitchen for a glass of water. I found dinosaurs in the fruit bowl and monster trucks next to the blender. Books abound underfoot. I felt the urge to clean rising up within me, but then thought, why? The boys will find their toys eventually. I got my glass of water, returned to the porch and watched my boys read to each other in their mini folding chairs, clad in nothing but diapers and underwear. I was right where I needed to be, and the mess could wait.
Bend Don’t Break
Remember the pretzels? They were made with white flour. And sugar. And not organic. If you know me, you know this violates almost all of my food principles. But there was a moment where I had to decide: give my kid a great memory of an afternoon on the beach with his mother, or let the moment pass because we have to go home and cut up an apple. In the non-beach world, I would opt for the latter. Instead, I cut myself some slack, fed my son some plain old pretzels, and enjoyed an afternoon of “just us”. We talked about the usual things a three year old on the beach talks about: sharks, robots, dolphins, belly buttons. And how delicious pretzels are–even though they had sugar and sugar isn’t something we normally eat (I cut myself some slack, but not that much slack). I learned from our beach vacation that, sometimes, rules are made to be broken, and flexibility definitely has a time and place-like on a beach blanket with my son in August.
On the drive home, I felt refreshed, inspired, relaxed. An amazing thing happened on this five-day stint at a quaint, quiet beach on the East Coast: I let go. I let go, and I learned a few things. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I was reminded of a few things; some life lessons that are easy to forget in the daily grind, the deeply rooted routines. I suppose that’s what vacations are for–to shake the routines, to live a more relaxed version of our real lives. But with the sand and sea salt and the breeze on our skin, I felt a more permanent shift in myself, and I hope not to forget it through the change of the season.