Vacation's end

July 25,2008
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

Yesterday's column took a lot out of me to write because, after six full days at the beach surrounded by family and many small children, I officially not only have a clear case of vacation brain, but mommy brain, too, which I thought I had recovered from when T. turned four. But it's back--in full swing, causing me to do things like forget how to string a coherent sentence or two together--unless the sentences are things like "stand back from the water!" or "Get your swimsuit on NOW!" or "No, no, no! Don't put sand there!" I believe there's a natural progression of consistent emotional stages that you experience when you're at a week-long family reunion at the beach. When you first arrive, there is excitement and jubilation and an almost delirious desire to soak every last thing in. You spend too long at the beach on Day 1 and Day 2, and get too much sun. You stay up late and drink too much wine, forgetting that your kids never sleep in on vacation, and then bounce out of bed the next day, pushing aside your sleepiness. You roll up your sleeves and gladly entertain other people's children because it's all just so much fun--having all the kids around, and the noise, and you feel you can Take It All On. By midweek you feel tired, sunburned, and a little deflated, because you've hit the halfway point in your vacation. The kids fuss and drag a little at the beach, and you pause to calculate how much time you've spent thus far applying sunscreen to wriggly, unruly bodies (let's see: three times daily x two kids x about 6 minutes per child...) and rinsing off sand (repeat above formula, but add in time for shampoo and hosing off sand from nether regions). By the end of the week you start to wonder HOW ON EARTH anyone has more than two children, as you attempt to wipe off popsicle juice from four screeching bodies who declare at once that they all wanted the red popsicles and not the yucky orange ones. You stop caring about keeping the bedroom clean, and let your kids (and one bonus one) eat oyster crackers in bed, and drape their wet towels and swimsuits all over the place. And you might, like I did, have an Italian chocolate-dipped cookie for lunch, washed down with a cup of good coffee--after spending almost the entire week trying to figure out how to make a good cup of coffee with the beach-house rental Proctor-Silex coffee maker. You wipe too many noses. You long to take a bath in a tub that isn't lined with sand. You wish you'd brought your slippers. You long for a return to the normal schedules and routines, and think longingly about Family Cook Night and early bedtimes and the way the pine trees look outside your kitchen window when you sit and drink your cup of coffee in the morning. Did I mention early bedtimes? And you wonder, as you sit in an Urgent Care clinic on your next-to-last day of vacation, how your germaphobic son managed to contract strep while at the beach. All of these stages are important, for without them the prospect of leaving the beach would be too much to bear. Last night we took the kids out to eat, and after dinner we stopped at the boat docks to watch a fireworks display. It was well past 9:00 by that point, and dark and mysterious out--the water inky black and the lights from the surrounding pier sparkling and dancing here and there, like gems scattered against dark velvet. T. forgot her sleepiness, and L. his sore throat, and we watched the fireworks explode into the sky. I thought about how it will very be hard to leave the beach tomorrow--and the magic of this week behind. It will be good to get home, but leaving will be bittersweet, like the salty taste of the sea. I know that in even a few days time I'll be standing in the walk-up line at L.'s school and wondering whether this week was all some sun-soaked dream.