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Family Vacation Edition

We went down to the coast a couple weekends ago.

My husband grew up vacationing in Port Aransas, and we’d been dating for a couple of years when, after hearing so many of his stories start with “In Port A…” I suggested he take me to this place I’d never been to. It didn’t take much for me to fall in love with the small town, what with the vintage beach cottages, the palm trees, and the grocery store that looked like a time warp back to 1990 (my mom failed to see the nostalgia in this, but it’s not her childhood we’re talking about).

I’ve romanticized the idea of having a regular vacation spot since a trip to Ocean City, Maryland in my teens. The idea of returning, year after year, to the same place that could, in time, become as familiar as home, was hugely appealing (it probably goes without saying that my family did not have a regular vacation spot). So the fact that our 4-year-old already has a backdrop of memories in Port Aransas, that he frequently asks to go to the beach, makes my husband and I equally happy.

I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve been back since our first trip together, sometimes 3 times in a year, usually for long weekends that never feel quite long enough. We’re always trying to optimize our trip: the best time to leave Austin and the route to take, where to stop along the way for bathrooms, snacks and/or diesel (always Buc-ee’s, which you have to see to truly appreciate its brazen American ways), what to pack, and what to do while there.

This was our second trip to the coast since our youngest was born and Hurricane Harvey ripped through the island (Texas Monthly had a great article about the destruction and the rebuilding; I read it while in Port Aransas, which felt very meta). And as much as I enjoy our trips down there, it’s a tremendous amount of work on my part. The laundry, the shopping, the planning, the packing, arranging pet care… it’s worse with two kids and sometimes it feels easier just to stay at home, as sad as that is. I know it won’t always be this way. At some point, I hope, I’ll be able to send the boys off to pack for themselves, and not worry about loading up all of the needed baby gear and packing for three out of four members of our family (thankfully, my husband can be counted on to at least gather his own wardrobe for the trip).

Of course, I always enjoy myself once we’re there, although Eli, my four-year-old, probably had the most fun out of all of us on this trip. Invariably, I ended up hanging out inside while the baby napped or went to bed at his preferred hour of 6 pm, while Eli and my husband took full advantage of the schedule of evening activities: soccer on the Great Lawn, s’mores at the fire pit, a movie under the stars. He chatted up anyone who would listen and played hard on the wooden pirate ship playscape. (I did enjoy a couple of cold margaritas poolside over the course of the weekend, so don’t pity me too much).

We have a lot of proverbial balls in the air right now, and I’m wound up even tighter than usual. It was probably on Day 3, waking up again in our rented condo, that I felt myself relax. It sounds ridiculous, but I could actually see the things that currently drive me nuts about my children in a positive light. The baby is on a different schedule every day? Great, that means we can go with the flow since it’s impossible to know what his naps will be like (he took a delicious and unanticipated one-hour nap in my arms at the aquarium while my oldest played on the splash pad). Four-year-old has endless energy and a need to talk to strangers? Perfect, we’re at a family-friendly resort with lots of other kids around and room to run.

I don’t think I need to tell you how refreshing it was to just be with my family. Even though I still ended up preparing meals (dining out with my children right now feels more like a punishment than a treat), tidying up, and even doing laundry (which definitely reminded me of this Onion article from a few years ago), it was infinitely easier there than at home. Why? Was it the poolside margaritas? The breeze off the gulf?

We drove back home on a Tuesday, scraping together an on-the-road lunch with the remainder of the groceries we’d bought. Everything was sandy and the baby fussed for much of the drive home. So long, vacation. Once we pulled back into our driveway I knew we’d be dealing with the beginnings of a home remodel and getting Eli ready to start summer camp at a new preschool.  I could feel my shoulders creeping back up towards my ears.

I know these are the days or whatever, and someday I might be nostalgic for my boys not needing me to make they sure they have enough clean undies and dry diapers to make it through a weekend at the beach. But when it takes you three days to unwind from the everydayness of your life, what’s the secret to having perspective in the middle of the 17th tantrum about snacks, or when the baby wakes up in the middle of the night for the fourth time?

Probably by the time I figure this out it won’t matter anymore.