In the days leading up to our annual vacation on the Azalea Coast of North Carolina, I posted my feelings of frustration on the Mommyhood’s Facebook page. Endless loads of laundry, packing for four people, securing pet care, fighting with children to stay out of suitcases, running errands, making lists, arranging for a housesitter, and notifying clients that I would be without email access for several days. Are we having fun yet?
A reader replied that one of her favorite lines from the TV show, Modern Family, summarized the experience perfectly: “I’m a mom traveling with my kids. For me, this is not a vacation. It’s a business trip.”
Exactly. I’m on the job whether I’m on the computer or on the Turnpike. And, with all due respect to my husband who paid for this excursion, he had the luxury of getting in the car and driving to the beach. Did you pack my flip-flops? Yes — and your underwear, swim trunks, favorite tee-shirts and baseball cap.
When we pulled into our home away from home, we lugged suitcases and canvas tote bags, boogie boards and toys to the doorstep. After I put everything away and briefly greeted the Atlantic, we returned to the car for a trip to the grocery store. We needed milk and juice, items for breakfast and sandwich meat and bread for lunch. We needed bottles of water to survive the 105-degree heat index.
The next morning, we made our way to the seashore, setting up camp for a day in the surf. Towels, sand shovels, buckets, molds for sand castles, magazines, hats, rash guards, a cooler of cold drinks and bags of Goldfish crackers, Lunchables, the camera, his and her iPods, and two door keys — one to lose and one for spare. I sprayed each girl with enough Water Babies lotion to put another hole in the ozone, gluing their faces with sticks of SPF 50+. They raced off to the water’s edge, and I reclined in my chair under oversized sunglasses to block the light. With feet up and head back, I began to lose track of time. I listened to the pounding of waves and felt hair-blowing breezes. And something cold dripping down my chest. It wasn’t sweat. It was a child.
“Mama, can we go to the pool?”
Vacation Day 2: We started off by the outdoor pool, a marquise-shaped body of turquoise water that hadn’t yet achieved the oily sheen of Panama Jack. I saved two chairs with our striped towels, tucked our cooler away from the sun’s melting rays, and handed out the girls’ supply of fun: Goggles and scuba masks, diving sticks and squirty toys. More sunscreen. I lay back in my chair and turned to the first page of the August issue of InStyle magazine, eager for shopping inspiration. Page two. Page three. Page four. Life was good! Suddenly, a shadow moved across my 10 a.m. UV rays.
“Mama, I have to go to the bathroom.”
That night, we visited the indoor pool to work off the girls’ energy, which never seemed to tire despite record-setting heat and the abusive waves sent by Tropical Storm Brett. No sunscreen. No sand-coated feet and hands, scraping lotion onto noses and backs. No boogie boards to chase in the swift current. No $2.00 sand buckets with broken handles containing shells and dead crabs. I chose a chair in the corner of the room and listened to the piped-in favorites of Bob Marley. This isn’t so bad, I thought. Early dinner, evening swim, maybe even a movie when the girls are asleep. A familiar voice broke through the raggae beat.
“Can we go to the playground?”
The next few days passed in similar fashion: Powerwashing sand off little bodies and out of green-tinged hair. Hanging gritty towels over the banisters like outdoor flags. Dishing out cereal. Taking away candy. Rinsing out swimsuits. Chasing children with bottles of chilled aloe vera. Clearing dunes out of the bathtub. Begging children to eat their overpriced Lil’ Captain’s Platter. Straightening someone else’s condo, fearing a cleaning fee upon checkout.
Vacation Day 6: Our last full night at the beach was spent getting everything ready for the long ride home. Repacking suitcases, finding places for new purchases and space-eating shopping bags, tossing broken sand shovels and ripped kites into the trash, filling laundry bags with saltwater-stiffened clothes that had soured beneath damp towels. The next morning, we piled into the car after saying goodbye to the ocean, and traveled exactly 45 miles when I felt tapping on my shoulder.
“Mama, I’m going to throw up.”
And she did. And again. And one more for the road. Our youngest suffers from motion sickness, and even though she had chewed a half-tablet of Dramamine, her stomach rejected its helpfulness. Luckily, I was prepared as previous experience taught me to be, keeping a “yuck-it bucket” by her feet. Unfortunately, she didn’t hit it.
We pulled into the parking lot of a gas station and began the process of cleaning the area around her. We unpacked the cooler to retrieve a bottle of water so she could rinse her mouth, then a tin of mints, a package of Wet Wipes to wash off her face, hands and legs, and then a barely-clean beach towel to protect her seat (and sister). Everyone got back in the car and for the duration of the trip, we fought bumper-to-bumper traffic and a two-hour crawl through Wytheville, Virginia.
Finally, we “arrived at destination” according to the GPS device, and the process of moving back in began. After everything was put away or thrown down the basement steps, I flopped onto my beloved couch and let out a deep sigh of exhaustion mixed with relief. A 7-hour trip had consumed a 12-hour day. I needed a break from the family vacation. Both girls sat down beside me, their faces evenly tanned and their blond hair highlighted by golden strands. Home is where the heart is. There’s no place like home.
Ava rested her head on my shoulder and took my hand.
“What’s for dinner?”