I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Tag: family vacation

Striving For Contentment

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Summer Vacation

We have done some variation on the family beach trip every year. My daughter is 19 and my son is 16. That’s a lot of memory-making. Each year we bring the previous years with us, hanging on to our favorite experiences and recreating what we can of those good times. Each year, though, we are a little different, a little older, a little shifted in a new direction. Last year’s trip, or that really fun one from years ago, cannot be recreated. Each year builds on the past and is a bridge to the next year.

The week always puts the kids growth and maturation into sharp – shocking – relief. Remembering a year ago, or five years ago, stuns me. Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was sitting in the shade of an umbrella with an infant son and a bright little girl? Now I am going for long walks with my daughter, a beautiful young woman who amazes me with her bright light. Listening to her sort out her thoughts and aspirations. Counseling her when I can, but mainly listening and loving her, in awe of her humanity.

It’s humbling to have lived through 53 summers. I feel every one of them this year, each making me who I am – the quiet and sensible one who occasionally surprises everyone by dashing spontaneously into the ocean – not the funny one, not the gregarious one. A little sad, a little more relaxed than I was as a young woman, but a little more urgent about not wasting time. After all, how many more summer beach trips will we have together?

When I travel, I make a point of taking a yoga class at a local studio. No matter where I go, I feel at home in a yoga studio. The rituals are the same. Take off your shoes. Set up your mat. Breathe. Move into the familiar poses. Listen to the teacher. I usually hear something in a new way from a different teacher as I listen to my body. Be. Me. This particular beach vacation morning, I knew I needed the grounded familiarity of yoga and snuck off to a class. The studio had Angel Cards. I had never experienced Angel Cards before. I figured it would be fun and was mildly curious as to what I would get. You close your eyes and reach into the bowl and pick a card. What would it be? Wisdom, Birth, Healing? Something powerful and inspirational I was sure. I closed my eyes, stirred the cards, and picked one. Contentment. Contentment? Contentment?! Boring. I laughed and said, “Well, that was not the card I was expecting.” The teacher wisely said, “It usually isn’t.” Indeed.

But, that’s my work. Especially on vacation. How can I be content? Happy with what is instead of unhappy with what isn’t. How can I appreciate where we are right now and not wish for it to be different, longer, more joyful and not dread the end of vacation and the return to another busy busy busy school year and the constant challenge of work.

My 16-year-old son, who likes to stay up late and sleep in, made a firm determination that he wanted to see the sun rise while on vacation. The youngest of the extended family group sharing the beach house this year, he was the one who had (perhaps) most changed, at least in obvious ways, shifting from boy to young man in the last year and taking his place with the men of the family. The first morning, he came down to the porch around 6:45 and learned that you can’t see the sun rise from our porch view. He took some photos on his phone but was teased that he must have taken these photos at noon because the day was already so bright.

He set his ambition with more commitment. He researched the time of sunrise. 6:42 am. We discussed whether this meant the sun would emerge at 6:42 or whether the sun would be fully above the horizon at 6:42. We shared some stories of sunrise watching and sunset watching, considering the benefits of each. He resolved that he would get up at 5:30 so as not to miss a speck of the dawn. I insisted that that was too early, but he was quite adamant. His plan was set. Everyone wished him well and went to bed, pretty sure none of us would be joining him at 5:30 and pretty sure he would not emerge that early either.

Around 6:20 am, I jolted awake, the slight shift in light through the window rousing me. I tiptoed out of bed and down the stairs to get him. He was already gone! Really? Proud and excited, I gazed out from the porch and saw a slender figure in the distance sitting on the beach. He had made it. I headed down the stairs and over the dunes toward that lone figure. When I got there, we knowingly smiled at each other, sharing in the quiet beauty of the moment. The clouds at the horizon were gray, purple, pink, orange, the light gently spreading across the expanse. We gazed. And waited. Waited and waited. Like watching a pot of water prepare to boil. We waited some more. The clouds were heating up with a burning glow. You could see where the spot would be. We gazed and stared and waited some more. Finally – suddenly – the crescent sun peeked above the clouds. Then steadily and quickly rose. There it was! A new day, new hope, new beginnings. I did a sun salutation dance and babbled on about how this was the real meaning of “awesome.” But my son put it best, using a word I had never heard him say before. Majestic. The rising of the sun was majestic.

Filled with awe and love, how could I not be content?

Another vacation, another year is behind us. It was an important week. A week of growth and love and sadness and nostalgia and intimacy and connection and hope. With glimmers of an elusive contentment. It was the kind of week that builds memories as we all grow older by another year.

Photo Credit:  Aidan Murphy

Paradise Revisited

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What is Vacation?

For me, vacation is when I have time. Time away from daily routines. Time to listen to the people I love. Time to speak to the people I love. Time to do something different and new. Time to do something familiar and comforting, but with a fresh approach.

With limited time and money for vacations, we have worked hard to make vacations a priority, planning meaningful family vacations that are an opportunity to nurture and connect, a time to take a break from our overscheduled daily lives and have fun together, and a source of memories, especially for our children’s memories of their years with us. Our vacations fall into a few categories. The visit to family and friends. The annual ski trip. And lately, our sailing trips, with my children and I learning to sail to find out if we share my husband’s passion.

For Spring Break, we traveled to the British Virgin Islands, chartering a 35’ sailboat for a week.  (We’re pretty sure it was the smallest boat in the Caribbean that week.)  We lived on the boat and crewed it ourselves for the week in what I expect will be the last official family vacation before our daughter goes away to college. My husband planned the trip. I was calm and cool (or pretended to be). After all, it was the third time we’d done this trip. But let’s face it, I have to work hard at being calm and cool and having fun is not something that comes easily to me.

What am I Going To Wear?!

Two days before vacation, I spied the cutest pair of white shorts in the store window of a local boutique. I had to have them! They were perfect. I suddenly realized that the vacation wardrobe I had decided would be fine was completely lacking in the perfect pair of white shorts and that I could not possibly have a good vacation without these shorts, not to mention the elegant gray tunic that would look perfect with my white pants. I should probably get that too. This panic over what to wear was vestigial anxiety, left over from old patterns that I’ve outgrown, but which rears up when I am under stress. For every special occasion of my life, I have dealt with my anxiety by shopping for the perfect outfit. If I had the perfect outfit, then I would: fit in; be liked; be admired; be confident; hide my flaws; mask my anxiety. I would impulsively buy whatever specific item was going to solve all my problems this time, only to regret the purchase later and still feel anxious and dissatisfied. Recognizing the old familiar anxious pattern, I did not buy the white shorts nor the elegant tunic.

What If We Die?

One day before vacation, my daughter whispered that she had a sore throat. I groaned. A cold. But then I panicked. What if it’s not just a cold? What if it’s strep and we can’t get to a doctor for antibiotics? Should we run around like lunatics the day before vacation and get a prescription? What if she dies? (I had a childhood friend who died of strep while on a family vacation when she was the age of my daughter. It Could Happen.) Recognizing the old familiar anxious pattern, I breathed, and told myself to STOP.  I was overreacting and being illogical. (I did watch the safety video on the airplane, identifying the exits and locating the flotation devices.)

Judgment Day

After my overt anxiety dissipated, I transitioned to a mixture of envy and judgment of my fellow tourists, who I deemed either fabulously wealthy, which made me jealous and feel inferior, or crass, loud and obnoxious drunks who didn’t respect the local culture nor the natural beauty, which made me scornful and feel superior. Neither feeling of inferiority or superiority, of measuring and comparison, allows for much social connection. Either way, on this third trip to the BVI, I was more acutely aware of how the tourists and the locals rubbed up against each other.  Paradise?

After the long travel day with 15 hours of taxis, planes, a ferry and customs; after our first day adjusting to cooking, sleeping, bathing and peeing on the boat (I try to poop only on land), oh and not to mention sailing; after our first quiet morning with coffee on the boat and our first evening watching the moon rise and looking for shooting stars, I began to settle. It usually takes me until Tuesday. To get out of my head. To focus on someone other than me, myself, and I. That is the antidote to anxiety. Focus on other people. Finally, with time to observe and listen to the people I love, I saw what was really going on.

My daughter was grappling with where to go to college. Not just where, but what kind of curriculum she should undertake. If she pragmatically decides to take the path of Science, Technology, Engineering, Math – underrepresented with women – what happens to her love of popular music, fashion, and pop culture? Can she be both a girly girl and a wicked smart engineer? Excited to leave home, scared to leave home, how does our relationship shift and evolve as she becomes an adult child?

My son was grappling with the hormones of puberty. Exhausted, he wanted to sleep all the time. Eager to please but afraid of making a mistake and inciting a scolding, he withdrew a bit. What does it mean to not be a little boy any more? How does he separate from us and become more independent, his own self, while still living with us, a teen child?

My husband was grappling with the responsibility of captaining the boat with us as crew, a not-very-skilled crew at that. Does he do everything himself? Does he delegate, with less than ideal results? When does he have fun? Perhaps the best day was when I said, “I am the Captain now!” I made him take a break and forced my son to take more responsibility as my first mate. Or perhaps the best day was our day off from sailing.  We just sat on the beach reading our books and taking walks and staring at the amazing clear turquoise water.

We were all grappling with the impending shift in our family. How will it be when my daughter is at college and my son is not so far behind? How will my husband and I connect when we have time for the two of us instead of pouring our energy into our children? When and what will our next family vacation be?

Jason Mraz sings “You don’t need a vacation if there is nothing to escape from.” I disagree, dear Jason. Everyone needs time and space away to reflect and reconnect. To experience the shift.

It happened, the shift. My daughter has made her decision and is behaving with a new maturity. My son is considering some options for the summer that will require some separation and independence, with awareness of his mixed feelings about this awkward, in-between state transitioning from childhood to manhood. My husband and I are talking about what our hopes and fears are as we get older and prepare for our next phase together.

Our week in the BVI was not always perfect, but it was paradise – a special and momentous vacation, with many memories.

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