I started writing a beautiful piece about how these two boys are getting along splendidly at the beach, how they dig holes and/or convince Papau to dig them a hole that they can continue to work on after the hard work is completed. How they made friends with another brother pair and spent hours digging and playing. How they acted like pirates and laughed as they engaged in a sword fight on a pirate ship.
Then BigBrother punched LittleBrother in the head upstairs after I told them to go find something to do because they argued over a game.
Vacationing can be hard on brothers. On parents.
The close proximity feels awesome for a few days. As neither seems afraid of the ocean this year, they’ve enjoyed the togetherness as they jump waves, ride boogie boards, and swim in the warm ocean waters. They’ve oohed and ahhed over a clump of seaweed filled with teeny, tiny hermit crabs. They’ve eaten lunches, snacks, and dinner together. Showered together. Sat on the porch together. Read in the morning after breakfast but before beach time. Together. Everything. Together.
I’m not surprised that this morning, Thursday, they’re feeling a little punchy. Literally.
I don’t approve of punching your brother in the head just because he took the really cool blue pillow in your shared bedroom, but I get it.
Right now, BigBrother is reading two more chapters in his book. Alone. In the bedroom. LittleBrother is relaxing on the couch, downstairs, away from his brother. Silently. Because silence. When the reading is done, I’ll bring them back together and talk about how lucky we are to have a vacation like this with each other, with our extended family. I’ll use my most often used phrase when I talk to them about brotherhood: “He’s the only brother you’re ever going to have.” I’ll talk about expectations for the rest of the day.
And then we’ll go about our day.
I don’t know if it will go perfectly. Or, rather, I know it won’t go perfectly, but I have hope that it will go. We have some beach time planned this morning. By afternoon, my husband will be back from golfing with my uncles, hopefully in one piece as he will be in charge of the afternoon hours while I do a little work. Then we’ll all head off for our annual dinner out at our favorite restaurant on the island, The Crab Shack. Birthday cakes will follow as this week brought about a lot of family birthdays.
I’m hoping for less head punching and more happy times today. Because we all deserve happy times right now—even two punchy brothers.
Mothering at the beach presents some fun, some challenge.
Today I floated sideways on a raft with my youngest son, kicking against the current until a wave came and then flipping us back toward the beach to float with any wave that came out way.
Today I watched as our oldest son got too cocky out in the water with an older cousin and found himself on his boogie board out past where he could touch. Thankfully he was right near my mother who helped him until my husband made it out and pulled him back in to shore—for safety, for a serious talk about how we have rules about how far they’re allowed to go out for a reason, for a time out in his beach chair.
Yesterday I watched as my husband and father pulled the boys by on their boogie boards, sending them tumbling and laughing into the surf.
Yesterday I watched as my oldest son showed no fear, diving into the waves over and over and over again. I marveled at how he has changed since this time last year.
Today I carried six chairs down to the beach before our normal beach time so that I could ensure our entire multi-generational vacationing family could have the primo spot of the day.
Today I slipped into a new bikini, one I purchased yesterday. I pulled at the bottoms looking at my reflection in the mirror. I almost second guessed myself until I paused to feel how comfortable the suit felt on my body. I looked briefly at my stretch marks, extra white against the slight pink from the sun exposure the previous day. I smiled; I earned those marks.
Today I watched as my sons played with a cousin the same age as their sister; my heart broke as I thought about what it would look like if things had been different.
Today I watched as my sister-in-law stood in the waves, her eleven month old falling asleep in her arms. I remembered that phase of parenting. I felt nostalgic for a moment, asking my husband if he missed that phase—the water slapping, sand eating, happy giggling phase of the newness of the beach. Then we laughed the laugh of parents sitting in their chairs while their children figured out how to float on their 1980’s style raft.
Today I watched as two tired afternoon boys argued over the big shovel, one swinging the shovel at the other. I simply pointed at the one who swung the shovel and pointed at the chair—the same chair used earlier for time out. Then we packed up all of the things—the toys, the chairs I carried by myself earlier, the cooler, the towels, the everything of beaching with children—and walked back to the beach house.
We showered the children, clothed them in clean, dry clothes, and set them down with The Lego Movie so they could relax away from the sun for just a little while. I showered the excess sun block, salt, and sand from my body, dressed myself in clean dry clothes, and settled down with a book for a little while. Later, we had dinner, we had snacks, and then bed time rolled around. As I tucked them in, one said to me, “Today was the best day ever.”
And the other one said, “Yes, thank you, mommy.”
And somewhere between the time out and the floating, the bad and the good, the exhausted and sand covered and delicious food and beautiful beach breeze, I came into my own. Somewhere on a beach in North Carolina, I felt okay with who I am, right now, as a mother.
I napped. I never nap unless I reach a point of absolute and utter exhaustion. I apparently can also nap if I reach a point of absolute and total relaxation, aided by lots of sunshine, cool sheets, and the company of a book from a local independent bookstore found in the “Southern Fiction” section. I woke up disoriented and oh-so-happy.
I ran. I ran fast — hitting a record for one of my fastest mile times ever. I ran slow — dragging along a teenage cousin who said she’d slow down for me because I’m old. I ran with my 50-year-old uncle who pushed it into race mode as we neared the end of our run. I ran in raindrops. I ran in relentless morning sun. I ran after dinner on the first night, after a 10.5 hour drive. I ran early in the morning to beat the heat and the humidity. I ran until I got a blister — and then didn’t run the last two days. I missed running on those last two days — but I ran the evening we got home after a 10.5 hour drive.
I ate. And I ate. And I ate. I don’t go on vacation to diet. Well, I don’t diet anyway. But I definitely indulge on vacation. I haven’t consumed that many snacks — chips and crackers and dips and Popsicles and ice creams and yes, even fruits — in ages. I ate delicious steaks and hamburgers. I maybe slightly gorged myself on seafood. I ate bagels and bananas for breakfast. I texted my uncle to bring back a candy bar one day; I don’t even like many candy bars. (He chose Mr. Goodbar because peanuts.)
I drank. Ahem.
I slept. I slept the deep sleep of a wife and a mother and an everything to everyone who… didn’t have to be everything to everyone. I dreamed strange dreams. My sleep was not interrupted by little feet and stage whispered voices of “MOM” in my face as they slept the sleep of little boys worn out by waves. My sleep was interrupted by a wicked storm that caused both my husband and I to check our radars on our iPhones in the dark of the night, wind whipping and whistling and whirring around the beach house. But oh, I slept. On one of the mornings I decided not to run because of my toe, I woke up — and went back to sleep. I forgot what being caught up on sleep feels like, how it makes everything a little less edgy.
I played. I played frisbee and ball. I made “quicksand” for LittleBrother. I stood in the waves so BigBrother could boogie board until he couldn’t boogie board any more. I got on the boogie board; I rode those waves. I made wet sand dripping castles, as they’re my favorite; I don’t need no stinkin’ bucket. I buried my feet and unburied my feet and buried feet and legs and arms and butts of kids and other individuals. I looked for shells. I stepped on shells. I stepped on a little cactus, pulling it out of the ground and waving it around in the air with the heel of my foot. I chased little boys. I smacked my husband’s butt. I watched the dolphins. I jumped waves and got crushed by two. I made my cousin snap pictures of my family, and fell in love with the goofy one over the “perfect” one. I bought a Wonder Woman monokini. And wore it.
I laughed and talked. I relaxed and gave thanks for all that I have — for all that stresses me out, for all that makes me doubt who I am or what I’m doing, for all that makes me who I am on a daily basis, for the good and the bad and the stuff somewhere in the middle. I sat on the beach with my feet in the sand, breathing a sigh of contented, restful relief. I breathed in the sweet salt air and exhaled the stuff and weight of the everyday. I allowed myself some time and space, and I am all the better for it.
52 Weeks of Brotherhood, Week 24
This picture is why we wake up at 2:30 in the morning, shuffle children to the bathroom, herd them out to the garage, lift them gently into car seats and set off before the clock reads three o’clock. This picture is why we go gently but speedily into the darkness of night, making our way carefully through the fog until the sky begins to lighten, chasing the clouds away somewhere deep in the mountains of West Virginia and Virginia. This picture is why we hand one brother a bag to throw up in, why we grab his hand and race out of the breakfast restaurant so he can puke in the parking lot, why we get a sand bucket out of the sand toy bag, why we unbuckle and lean over into the back seat to help him throw up while going 70 miles per hour, why we stop at the next exit and wash out the bucket with a bottle of water, why we stop at the next exit after that to buy some chewable Dramamine at a rest stop. This picture is why we giggle as the Dramamine doesn’t immediately work and that brother begins to talk a mile a minute about how good he feels and all the things he’s going to do at the beach and, omg! yay! And then, then quiet descends over the vehicle and the two adults go back to silence, to listening to music little ears might not need to hear. This picture is why adults decide to forgo their own lunch in favor of continuing onward without waking the sleeping, non-puking brothers. “Let’s just get to the beach.”
And so we do.
Shortly after arriving, then men folk go grocery shopping — because the women folk like too many shiny things to do so in a timely manner. The boys beg for a bit of time at the beach, and so we lather and spray and smear and rub on lotion and sunblock and face stick and anything and everything SPF to protect our pale, sensitive skin from the sun’s rays — the same sun we’ve been longing to sit and play and splash and run and laugh and read under since we left it behind last year. We gather up chairs and toys and floaties and flip flops and slowly, because of the weight of all we carry, but quickly, because of excitement, make our way down the boardwalk just outside our front door. The boys’ toes sink into the sand and the chatter becomes more animated, voices mixing and crossing over one another. “Oh! I forgot how much I like this sand!” “Oh! It’s so warm!” “We’re gonna dig the biggest hole!” “And a tunnel!” “And a tunnel!” “Did you say tunnel?” We walk straight down to an unoccupied spot, one waiting for us and our large group — yet another joy of vacationing in such an uncommercial place.
And they run.
They run toward the water before I can set down my own chair, before I can take two deep breaths of the salty sea air. They skip run jump twirl yell to the edge of the water, the last trickles of a wave licking at their little boy toes. “Oh, it’s not too cold!” I set everything down and fish my waterproof-protected phone-slash-camera out of my bag and walk down to the edge to join them. The water washes over my tired, travel weary feet; a shiver runs up my spine. “You guys are liars.” They giggle. “Oh, mommy, it’s not that bad.” Another wave washes over and I concede. They are right. You get used to it quickly as it fills your soul with memory, your body relaxing with each and every touch of a wave.
They want to jump waves and swim and run. “Wait, you guys. I want a picture before you get all wet and salty and sandy.”
No argument. They stand next to each other, throw an arm around the shoulder of their brother, and look at me, smiles stretching the expanse of their little faces. I crouch down and snap a quick shot. They’re off before I can check to make sure the results of my quick capture meet my expectations. It does. And more.
Still so much to do.
I have to finish packing my clothes, because going naked on a multi-generational family vacation is not only frowned upon but extremely awkward. Work stuff needs worked on, laundry needs laundered. The dog needs extra special attention before we ship her off to stay with my brother for an entire week. The boys need to pick books and games, even though they’ll argue while picking and then they’ll argue over the picks while we’re there and, really maybe it would be easier if we left all the stuff of aruging at home — except the car ride would be more intolerable with the whining. I need to buy, in no special order: conditioner, tissues for my non-stop runny nose, more sunblock, ear plugs, snacks for the drive. I want to take a quick run despite this infernal cold. I want to sit, to sleep, to already be sitting on the beach in the sun.
I rush around, as I always do, but more so, because there’s so much to do and the time left to do it keeps ticking away. My rushing devolves, as rushing usually does, and I don’t quite get done what I intend to get done. I end up forgetting why I have entered a room or exited the house. I stand on the front porch with the vague recollection that I was going to ask my husband a question… or go to the garage to get something out of the vehicle… or ask the boys to do something… or… something… when I look down.
My dahlia has bloomed its first flower.
I stand, my toes dangling over the edge of the porch, and bend slowly to touch her petals. My breathing, all through my mouth since my nose has left early for vacation this year, slows as I am overcome with the simple beauties of this life. Despite what William Allen White said about women needing to raise more hell than dahlias, I’ve raised a lot of hell in my day. I continue to do so — pushing the envelope and standing firm and being all when I need to be all. Sometimes I just want to sit on the edge of my flower garden and gaze at the beauty springing forth from the Earth. Sometimes I just want to slow down from all of the rushing and the here and the there and smile at the pink and green and yellow and tones in between. Sometimes I just want to stop and give thanks for the small things.
I plan on relaxing more than raising hell this vacation. I plan on looking for more of the beauty. Creating and participating in memories. Laughing and loving and living and eating and drinking and napping and sunning and reading and chasing and jumping in waves and being part of a family. There will be time again for raising hell when vacation ends. This is the time for slowing down. (After tomorrow, that is. One more day to get through!)