North Carolina or Bust

We spent part of last week in North Carolina. We were supposed to spend ALL of last week in North Carolina but Bob and I quit our family vacation approximately 50 percent of the way through. We are quitters of the highest order.

A few days after school ended, we headed to North Carolina in search of a boat. Specifically, the USS North Carolina, which is permanently anchored in Wilmington. Bob had wanted to take the kids to see this battleship for years. So, we decided to make a vacation out of it and take a week to explore Wilmington and the surrounding coast. Friends and friends of friends had all expounded on the greatness of Wilmington and the close by beaches so we got pretty excited. I found a great suite in a lovely hotel in the ideal location with a big pool. We had high hopes for this trip.

Our vacation essentially ran off the rails before we ever drove away from the house. Since our destination was only about a six or seven hour drive, I waited to pack until the morning of our departure. In hindsight, this was an awful, terrible, lazy idea. I didn’t get a lot of sleep when I headed to bed the night before because my brain was running an endless loop of all the things I had to do first thing in the morning. Then, when morning arrived, the kids were up and completely underfoot before 6:00 because, vacation is very! exciting! when you are little. I spent three hours throwing things into bags, pleading for the kids to “just watch something on a screen somewhere else” and wondering aloud where in the world the swimming gear was. Finally, like some kind of Pavlovian response to the word, “pool,” I found the kids just… sitting in the car, buckled in and everything, so impatient they were for our departure. They sat there for an hour while Bob and I finished loading our belongings which meant they had plowed through all of the good snacks and most of the battery life on the Kindle before we ever pulled out of the driveway. This was a bad omen.

When we arrived in North Carolina, we found Wilmington to be a perfectly lovely place. The only problem being that the outside air temperature was essentially the same as the broiler setting on my oven. The days we happened to be there, the forecasted temperatures were in the 97-99  degree range. That’s not even the “feels like” thing that the news talks about. That was just straight, full sun, air temperature. It was so, so hot. I am a delicate flower when it comes to heat and humidity so I had started complaining as soon as we crossed the state line. The heat made everything we had wanted to do on our vacation that much harder since our hands kept melting off every time we touched the hotel doorknob. We still did things, even when the heat advisories suggested we shouldn’t, but everyone got hot and tired and cranky pretty quickly.

Also, it turns out, keeping everyone alive in the Atlantic Ocean is kind of tricky because there are just two of us and three of them. We hit the beach twice (once at 8:30 a.m. and once at 6:30 p.m. because of the heat) and each visit was not the relaxing book-in-hand, kids-digging-sandcastles-nearby vision everyone posts pictures of on Facebook. Henry, can suddenly swim just fine, wanted to go further and further out into the water, diving into waves, jumping through the surf and presumably swimming with all of the sharks North Carolina is hosting this summer. He’s a good swimmer but not a great one yet so supervision was required. Charlie spent most of his time in the shallow end, which, that’s the first considerate thing he’s done for us in awhile. Millie was just plain nuts. At one point, I watched her start to run down the beach, heading in the opposite direction from where Bob and I and the boys were all playing. I assumed she was exploring a bit and would turn around eventually but she just… kept going. Kept jogging down the beach. Like a three-year-old version of that Chariots of Fire scene. I watched with disbelief as she started to fade into the horizon and started frantically calling her name but by this point, she kind of had a decent head start. A man sitting next to us looked at me like, you better run, lady. So, that’s what I did. I had to break into a sprint to catch up to her because she just kept running and running. All of the running then made me sweat more so I loved that.

The little ones weren’t the easiest to manage this trip, either. Our last true family vacation was two years ago, when Millie was still 18 months old and Charlie had recently turned four. They were kind of just along for the ride last time and easily directed between activities. By this trip, they both had found their voices so there was this constant cacophony of opinions and demands and expectations and tears. It was exhausting managing what everyone wanted to do.

By the third day, we were all sweaty and sandy and chlorine-y and heat stroke-y and slightly sunburned and just kind of done.

Like a thought bubble appearing above our heads in a cartoon, it occurred to Bob and I that we didn’t have to actually STAY in North Carolina if we weren’t having a great time. We were the adults-in-charge and could decide to head home whenever we wanted. We had managed to fit in lots of beach and pool time, a great movie, some shopping, a trip to an aquarium, a civil war site at Fort Fisher and, of course, some time at the battleship. We accomplished a lot! The kids had fun! We missed our bed! Our decision to abort the whole mission was solidified when I checked my phone and saw that the high temperature forecasted for our hometown was around 72 degrees. So, we threw everyone in the minivan and hit the road for home after just a few days with no regrets.

When our neighbor wished us goodbye the Saturday we left for North Carolina, she was specific in saying, “Make some memories!” She certainly didn’t say, “Have fun!” Because she knows. She knows everything that goes in to traveling with three young kids. We took her wishes to heart and did just that – made some memories.

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As Bob and I sat on our front deck a couple of days after we returned, in the cool evening air, with the mountains in the distance, watching the lightning bugs blink, we both wondered why we had ever left.

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