Summer So Far

The first week or so of our summer break looked like this:

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All joy and bright sun and ocean waves and drippy Spanish moss and new adventures and smiles and salt air.

Our summer started with a very last minute, only slightly thought-out trip to South Carolina. My parents were going to be vacationing there and about two weeks before their arrival date, we decided to join them. We took the kids out of school a couple of days early, threw some swimsuits and beach towels in a bag and hit the road. I think we all benefited from the change of scenery.

And, it looks so, so lovely, doesn’t it? Just like the perfect, idealized version of summer.

The second week or so of our summer break looks like this:

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The contents of Henry and Charlie’s backpacks on the last day of school in a giant floor pile. When they arrived home with bursting bags of school desk detritus, I directed them to a spot in my bedroom where all of their school shrapnel would be out of the way while we prepared for our trip. I figured we would just address all of this upon our return. It’s been almost three weeks now. The pile remains, occasionally changing shape and spreading out a bit in a blob-like fashion. Bob keeps stepping over all of it on the way into our closet and we both have acknowledged that this pile exists and will need to be sorted but neither of us have taken steps to do anything about it. I feel like we’re sort of in the cheese-in-the-suitcase episode of Everybody Loves Raymond here.

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The kitchen table. Where we’re supposed to eat. In fact, most flat surfaces in our home right now look like this. No clean, unobstructed surface is safe. If such a surface is found, it must be immediately covered in Lego, toy soldiers, things kids have borrowed from my desk and not returned or just plain garbage. At this rate, I’m not sure what shape our house is going to be in when school starts back up again but the outlook is not good, folks.

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A kid, still in pajamas at a late-morning hour, relaxing in MY bed watching a small screen for way, way too long. I know I’m supposed to be carefully monitoring their screen time with some sort of clip chart/reward system/chore list but I’m not there yet, guys. I’m still just trying to catch up on laundry from our vacation. I have half-heartedly suggested they play with Lincoln Logs or read a book or run around the outside of the house in racetrack-style but we always seem to circle back to a small screen. I’m not going to win this fight before the fourth of July so I’m just going to make a mental note to try better next month.

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A sink full of dishes. There are never NOT dishes in my sink. Kids home for summer break never stop eating. Never ever. Never. I made a big pronouncement to the entire family that I was only going grocery shopping on Fridays this summer. That’s it. I’m not running to the store for more Doritos or Nutella or bread that doesn’t have little nuts and seeds in it. If we’re out of your favorite foods, tough. You’re going to have to go deep in the pantry cupboards for sustenance and eat the rest of that one box of cereal that inexplicably no one likes (Kix, for the record. No one in my family likes Kix.) We’ll see how long my grocery shopping holdout lasts. We’re dangerously low on peanut butter right now and that’s a dietary staple around here so I’m nervous my plan will backfire.

TELL ME, how’s your summer going?

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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.

On a Jet Plane

I’m headed to the airport in a few hours to fly far, far away from my husband and children. For eight glorious days I will not be responsible for wiping anyone else’s behind. I’m excited, you guys.

Bob and I had to think really hard to remember the last time I got a break from parenting. (A few hours of solo grocery shopping at Target doesn’t count.) Our memory is hazy but we both remember a time back in 2013 when I spent a couple of days with friends visiting Virginia wineries. That was almost TWO YEARS ago. Two years since I’ve spent a night apart from my kids. I’ve certainly never been away from my children for anything even close to a week before. That’s nine years of parenting without a vacation. My goodness, that’s the worst employee benefits package EVER. Perhaps I need to add ‘gain a little distance’ to my new year’s resolutions.

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I’ll be visiting my friend, Jenn, in London and we’re taking the train to Edinburgh, Scotland, for a couple of nights. I’ve never visited either city but I’ve been promised a tour of a castle so prepare yourself for a nauseating amount of Instagram pictures of Very Old Things.

Jenn and I have been best friends since sixth grade. Sixth grade! Almost thirty years now. She has been living in London with her family for more than two years and I haven’t seen her in about a year and a half so I’m excited to catch up. Even though, she’s the type of friend that you don’t really have to catch up with. When we get together, it’s like we’ve never been apart. That type of friend. Everyone should have a friend like that.

I’ve tried to be strategic about my packing and have my belongings down to one (1) suitcase and one (1) purse. Which is a big deal since, on my honeymoon, I brought a suitcase just for my shoes. I’m trying to travel light this time.

When my cousin was visiting over Thanksgiving, I fell in love with the bag she was carrying. Over my protests, and because she is incredibly kind, she left it behind for me as a gift. Turns out her mother, my aunt, made the bag! Because I have absolutely zero skills when it comes to making anything of any kind, I am simply amazed with her talent. It’s the Market Bag from her Etsy shop and fits everything I need for the airport and long flight (my Kindle, my huge MomAgenda) while leaving plenty of room for snacks.

It’s my new favorite bag and it’s making me very happy. As is that Orla Keily (for Target) wallet peeking out of the top there. I take my handbags very seriously.

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I have filled a good portion of the front of our fridge with magnets and notes to help Bob survive over the next eight days. He’s a completely competent father but even with his superior parenting skills, it’s the details I worry about. My brain is filled with all kinds of specific information and general knowledge that keep this household humming along and there aren’t enough Post-it notes in the world to share that data. So, I’ve given him bus stop times, Tylenol dosing information, the number for our pediatrician and contact information for a couple of neighbors.

I’m sure everything will be FINE. But, just in case, you might want to keep Bob in your thoughts and prayers this coming week. He’s going to have his hands full. And, probably, going to need his own eight-day vacation upon my return.