(Originally published on Divine Caroline in September of 2009)

Ask my husband about his family’s vacations and he will deliver a chirpy recount of playing guitar at beach campfires, sleeping in a pop-up camper, and the frolicking multitude of cousins. My fractured family vacation memory is one trip to a cabin. There was yelling involved. Add the 15-mile endurance hikes complete with gorp and hard-earned sleep on the ground, a coincidental side effect of divorce and my mother’s new beau, and I don’t have much for the great outdoors or vacations.

Then I grew up, got hitched, had a kid and me and mine just returned from our annual September sojourn to the beach. Yes, it is off-season (also known as hurricane season), but I sleep in a king size bed and relax knowing the rates and crowds are halved. Crowds do not relax me, but neither does wearing a bathing suit. Sacrifices.

Back when we were only “two for dinner,” my husband and I traveled a few times. Our first trip was to England and Ireland. This trip clinched my future “I Do” to this man. If the long leg cramping plane ride, jet lag, and barreling down the side of a mountain in a Ford Fiesta on the wrong side of the road in the pouring rain doesn’t stress you out enough to even bicker, he’s the one. We each had our duties; he was the money man and I was the navigator. We still have these roles in our daily life.

Our first beach trip was a birthday celebration for me and we checked into our hotel anticipating a little vacation nookie. We agreed, “Nice pool” and “Killer water slide.” The next time we visited, I was knocked up guaranteeing our future return with a “family” perspective.

We took no vacations with our baby. He was already too much work. I couldn’t imagine spending all that money to not relax. We didn’t even eat out a lot in his third year because mostly he’d act like a jackass when we did and, once again, I didn’t want to waste the money.

We finally took the kid on an overnight when he was three and a half. It was okay. He was thrilled to press the elevator button, ride on the luggage cart, and find our room by reading the numbers. Although, when we told him it was time to go to sleep, he said he was ready to go home and sleep in his own bed. I spent that night sleepless, in and out of both beds, and the kid slept soundly.

This year’s trip proved he’s a big boy. I did not constantly feel irked or think about his every need. We ate out three times and he ate a third of his food each time. Huge deal. Not a lot of back-up food was really necessary. Other highlights included hunting down a special shovel and bucket set for the low, low price of 8.49 plus tax. This made the beach an event.

Every year we improve our experience. This year we found a restaurant with a playground, sand floor, good food and beer, and a sunset water view. And though we neglected to bring a DVD for the hotel room, Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood playing on a classic movie channel did the trick. Pirate themed putt-putt golf was a riot. Little dude’s job was to sink the final shots into the cup which he did stooped over and choked up on his little orange putter. We got some great pictures and, fortunately, I was wearing makeup!

I wanted to travel the boardwalk in one of those multi-person pedaling cycle cart things called a surrey. Much like the Flintstone mobiles, it took all your leg power to get it moving. And when a certain four-year-old had to sit on the steering wheel lap to steer and weave his way up the boardwalk through terrified pedestrians, the remaining person was pedaling. That was me. The lap person’s job was equally hard balancing the bruising of the driver’s sensibilities with the saving of lives by grabbing the wheel or slamming on the break. The heat and humidity were an added bonus.

Our last hurrah has become the arcade on the boardwalk followed by fries, lemonade, and a photo-booth picture. This year I added shopping, of course. Jewelry for me and pirate tee for the boy.

It took me a day to realize I didn’t have to do much of anything. Maybe you have to vacate home to focus on the small stuff that doesn’t include the dirty floor, bills, laundry, incomplete projects, or upcoming events that lack to do lists. I sat and I read a lot. And I really did enjoy just being. I enjoyed being the mother of the a cute kid on at the beach. I enjoyed the cool husband who took the first shift in the pool. I enjoyed spraying really cold water-repellent sun block on my kid which made him scream. I enjoyed going down the water slide with this cute ghostly pale kid with the shark swimmy on who yanked off his wet shorts when we got out of the pool.

Sometimes, you need a special mental and physical zone where you have nothing to do but enjoy the scenery. You may need to vacate your comfort zone and find a place where you prioritize creating memories and smiles and tradition. Where you spend a little extra time and money to enjoy your people and the life you usually take for granted and where you generate the photo-op for this year’s Christmas card. Did I mention the kid’s really really cute?

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