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My family— my husband, our two boys, and me— spent last weekend at the beach. I hesitate to call it a vacation, because there’s no such thing when you’re traveling with small children. We were merely parenting in a different locale, albeit with more family time and slightly more relaxed expectations. I find traveling with kids infinitely more exhausting than simply staying at home— everything is harder in un-child-proofed spaces, and when out of a predictable daily routine. At one point, when both of the boys were running towards the waves and my husband and I just wanted to stay in our beach chairs under the umbrella, I remarked that next time we’d coming to the beach without them. But regardless of how relaxing or not it is, it’s nice to get away, to have a change of scenery, to mix things up a bit. 

For “vacations” we typically head to Port Aransas, a small town on the Texas coast that my husband grew up vacationing in. The beach itself is nothing to get excited about— this is the Gulf of Mexico, after all. But the town is charming and family friendly, and about a 4-hour drive from Austin. So we keep going back. 

This time we stayed at Cinnamon Shore, a newer development on the edge of Mustang Island. It is exceptionally bougie— pastel colored houses in the million dollar range, and multiple salt water pools, including one with a cafe where you can order french fries and margaritas and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. In the evenings, they show movies on the Great Lawn, set up DIY s’mores by the fire pit. Everyone drives around in golf carts ($140/day), and for $35/day, the resort will set up an umbrella and two chairs for you on the beach. Their (trademarked) slogan is “Welcome to a Simpler Way of Life.” I am unsure if they are saying this with any amount of self-awareness. 

It is the Disney World of the Texas Coast, and I enjoy it for the same reason I enjoy Disney World, because it demands you accept this reality, sanitized and atheistically pleasing, and forget what your life is actually like, crumbs on the floor and piles of laundry and no one around, for miles, to bring you a cold drink.

We hadn’t been down to the coast in exactly a year (normally we try to squeeze in at least 2 long weekends in a calendar year), largely because the day after we came back last year, we closed on our current house, a 1960s ranch on a large lot in a quiet, established neighborhood. We spent the rest of last summer and fall having it remodeled before moving in over Thanksgiving. It turns out that remodeling a house is time consuming, even when you’re not doing the work yourself, and, of course, expensive.  

But at the coast we were fortunate to have great weather, and both of the boys enjoyed the aquarium in nearby Corpus Christi.  The toddler adores ducks, and was delighted to see one taking a bath in the first 5 minutes of our visit, while my oldest excitedly kept an eye out for Kai, a dolphin he remembered from previous visits. At Cinnamon Shore we cycled between the pools and the beach, and there was a lot of sand and reapplication of sunscreen, and too many episodes of Paw Patrol. I read an entire book in maybe 24 hours, so the trip was far from a bust, at least from my perspective. 

On our last morning, while my husband finally succumbed to the toddler’s repeated requests for “Melmo” and downloaded an episode of Sesame Street  (about a baby bird, natch) to his laptop since it was not available “on demand” on the cable box, he called my attention to an injured bird on the sidewalk below our balcony. 

I’m not an ornithologist, but it looked like a dove, not a baby but not an adult, either. A juvenile. It could move around a bit but was obviously unable to fly. Nearby were two adult doves, one (the father, I assumed) perching on the half-wall surrounding the patio of a ground-floor unit below us, while another, obviously the mother, pecked around nervously on the ground nearest the bird. We had come in mid-tragedy, without any knowledge of how or why the accident happened. Maybe there had never been an accident— what if the bird had never been able to fly, and his parents finally pushed him out? I wondered how the parents felt, knowing something was wrong but not being able to do anything about it. I thought about how many times I have identified an issue, an area of concern, a problem, with one of my children, and not had any actionable way to correct it, to have to accept that the only thing to do is wait, and pray they grow out of it, hope for a miracle. I could feel the mama bird’s anxiety rising the way mine does, heart hammering in my chest, face flushing, the urge to pace, and putter, without actually going anywhere or accomplishing anything other than feeding my anxiety. 

At eye level a few feet from our balcony, in the green fronds of a palm tree, was a tidy nest with one perfectly white, perfectly round, egg. The nest appeared to me to be abandoned; perhaps the egg hadn’t hatched. Sometimes things don’t work out the way you think they will, the way you want them. 

“That nest is obviously too small,” my husband said, with a little bit of judgement to the daddy bird, wherever he was, who had failed to provide his family with an adequately sized nest, one that would keep them all safe and comfortable. A practical misstep that could have easily been prevented, with more money, time, or attention to detail. 

“You don’t even know that it’s their nest,” I replied. After all, there is more than one type of bird, and they all have babies. There was nothing except proximity to tie this nest to the trio of birds below us. Sometimes nature is a series of questions that aren’t immediately answered. Whose home is this? Why did it happen this way?

A little while later, we headed down to the beach, and passed the injured bird on our way to the golf cart we would drive over the wooden boardwalk over the dunes, to the beach, where, just on the horizon line, I would count 5 oil rigs. Far enough away to be easily ignored. The bird’s parents were nowhere around now, perhaps they had flown off. I could see the bird’s chest rising and falling gently.

Some friends of ours happened to be at the coast the same weekend we were, and we met up with them on the beach. Those few hours actually felt like a vacation; the five kids played well together, which freed the adults up for day drinking, and conversations that did not revolve around screen time and snacks. 

Later, when we returned to our room, covered in sand and smeared with sunscreen, the bird was dead, and covered with ants. “Nature is cruel,” my husband remarked, and I agreed. What could we have done to prevent this?

We came home on Monday. The house was cleaner than it has ever been; I had a cleaning company do a deep clean while we were gone. It is Wednesday now and already there is a load of laundry on the other end of the dining table, mocking me while I write (Isn’t folding laundry a better use of your time? No one’s gonna read this anyway, sneers my inner critic). A pile of stuffed animals on the floor while I type this. Nothing stays for long. 

My 5-year-old is out of preschool for the month of June, he has some day camps lined up but I also wanted him to have some time off for us to go on little adventures, a decision I am, two days in, regretting a little bit. We’re trying to stay busy; this morning I went to barre, dropping both boys off in the play lounge while I moved up an inch, down an inch, then trekked to Target, for diapers and dark chocolate and squeeze pouches and granola bars. While there I ran into two friends, separately, each dressed in athleisure, as I was, and each with at least one of their children. After I spent $200 even though my list was three things, I took my children to Chick-fil-A for lunch, another decision I regretted since it was crowded and my 5-year-old insisted we eat there, rather than going through the drive-thru. Once home, the toddler went for a nap and the big kid got screen time; I made another cup of coffee and forgot to eat lunch myself. Later, we will run an errand and go to the public library, and I will feed them dinner at 5 and send them off to bed.

I am aware that this is a particular season, and I am trying to “lean into it” or whatever. By mid-August, both of my children will be in school until 3 pm each day, a transition that I hope will bring me actual writing time for the first time in many years, hours to explore the terrain in my own head, a chance to have a career, maybe, now that I know what I want to do with my life, finally, at almost 35. 

But this transition comes, I know, with new schedules and routines to master, and a half dozen problems to solve that I can’t even fathom right now, to say nothing of the greater anxieties that come with letting both of my baby birds leave the nest. At the same time.  

I want to lean it but it’s hard, because what is here, really, if not abbreviated conversations with friends, and forgetting to take care of yourself, even if you would swear up and down that yes, you deserve more than coffee and almond milk creamer and your toddler’s leftover chicken nuggets for lunch. Also no matter what I do, however many times I say “yes, you can have another cookie/ watch more YouTube/ wrestle your brother to the ground,” it’s never enough, and there will always be tears, and frustration, from all three of us. 

Nature is cruel, and I’m not sure there’s anything I could have done to prevent this.