On the fourteenth, we strapped both kids into their car seats and made a fifteen-hour beeline to the gulf. We left our environment behind: our work and our routines. We packed as light as we tend to now. We brought our clothes; a stroller and crib; food for the road; and supplies (knitting for mama, books and crayons for Audrey, a computer for Jason). We brought each other and the desire to relax. We brought high hopes (and even higher expectations). We didn't pack as light as we originally intended.
Some places have a weight all their own. Destin is such a place. Some moments, it is light as a single grain of sand: the slap of salty water against my toddler's ankles. Sometimes, it holds like an anchor: the place my husband called home one year that pulls him in like the tide. It is rooted in the deep: friends of such rare make and generosity, they have become a part of our history. It is a surface of shifting sand: adventures that quicken our hearts and send us clamoring for our daughter's hands (or arms or feet) as she throws her hands up touchdown-fashion and exclaims "I've figured it out! I know how to swim!" It's that place. The one you visit, over and over again. Even when you're not there.
We stayed a week. At some point, we realized this was not the vacation we had inked into our minds when we jotted the dates down on our calendar. Work had found its way into our luggage. Our once gold medal-sleeping infant began waking each morning at four. Our wise toddler discovered that by asking every person in the house to read her a couple stories, she could easily postpone her bedtime by an hour. Some of the very things that draw us to this place year after year became cautionary flags: hazards from which to guard the kids. (Luckily, we were blessed with our friends and their careful and watchful - and oh, so patient - extra sets of hands). We crept into our garage at 2 a.m. Saturday, exhausted and questioning (although, the children were extraordinary passengers) our sanity regarding our mode of transportation and choice of a vacation spot for two children with varying ages, needs, and wants that often pulled our family in two directions rather than making us whole.
Today, the suitcases are unpacked. The laundry is stacked in dresser drawers. The children have adapted back to their normal bedtime routines. And I've realized, that we took a vacation in the truest sense - a letting go of our normal days to allow these little ones of ours to do what we had hoped: make this place their own.
Their moments from our week away:
On Monday, we made a trip to an outlet mall. As we passed two women, one said to the other, "I wouldn't eat a frog for a million dollars."
"What would yo do if I ate a frog?" Audrey asked.
In the car leaving the mall, Audrey raised her voice at Nate. "Don't yell at your brother," Jason instructed. "Mom and I can yell at him because we're his parents. When you're a mommy, you can yell at your own kids." (I should note that we were not yelling at the slightly disgruntled baby whose tone Audrey was attempting to match).
"But it's such a long time!" she said.
Our friends have a bird, Packy. Wednesday, Jason was speaking to the bird, getting Packy to repeat "bye-bye."
"Audrey, do you hear Packy saying 'bye-bye'?" he asked.
"Am I going home today?" she said.
"Then why do I want Packy to say goodbye?"
Wednesday morning, I overheard Audrey singing the following made-up song:
Someday, I will be a special mama, but not yet.
Someday, I will be a special mother, but it's a long time.
It's so hard to wait and listen.
It's so hard to wait and listen.
Audrey spent much of her vacation hording band-aids, which our hosts were kind enough to hand out in generous quantities. When Audrey began running out of band-aid-free body parts, our friend told said, "we don't have any more band-aids."
"You don't?" Audrey asked.
"No. That's it."
Audrey disappeared for a few minutes, then came running out of the kitchen carrying something in her hand. "I found a whole other box!"
Wednesday evening Audrey asked, "Where do bees pee?"
Friday, I took Audrey into a gas station bathroom. We went into a stall and a pushed the lever over to lock the door. When a lady opened the door a few minutes later, I realized that the pieces of the lock didn't line up properly. The lady apologized and quickly slipped into the stall next to ours. "I didn't like that lady who came in here," Audrey said loudly.
Apparently, Nathan thrives on vacation. This week, he began saying "day-day-day", which Jason quickly coached into "da-da." He added "ba-ba" to his vocabulary as well.
He waved a couple times and also learned to clap (he holds his left hand still and brings his right hand down to meet it). More impressively, he has picked up on the merits of positive reinforcement. He claps for me after I change his really dirty diapers and when I pick him up when he fusses. I think I need to hide my old college psych books on operate conditioning. It seems someone has been doing a little reading. In the meantime, I'm changing that kid's diaper and picking him up whenever he wants. I love the applause.
Here's to a week of sand under our bare feet, treasured friends, calming rains and roaring waves. To home-cooked meals at someone else's table. To getting off task. To applauding, just because you can. To the adventures that you don't see coming. And, to coming home.