A life without love is like a year without summer. Swedish Proverb
Summer just screams beach trip to me. Back in June, my husband packed up our SUV and we headed down to Ocean City, Maryland, for a fabulously relaxing week with my in-laws. They have a cozy condo right on the bay and are gracious enough to let us tag along on their annual vacation. We have been making this trip for almost a decade and this special time together is our most cherished week out of the entire year. Our three year old, Emma, has made this trip since birth and each year gets more enjoyable and stimulating for her.
For a long time I foolishly thought it was the ‘vacation from work’ aspect that was my most beloved component of the trip. After all, it was certainly something to look forward to while stuck in a life-sucking, dreadful office, stressing and multitasking. Just three more days until vacation! This mantra and similar countdowns have helped me survive the thankless work week for many years and the mere thought of a day at an OCMD hot spot like Harpoon Hannah’s or Fish Tales provided the motivation to toil on.
This year was different though. I am unemployed and no longer glued to a desk juggling a million and one tasks. My countdown until vacation started later than usual, almost sneaking up on me, but my excitement for the trip was as strong as ever. The reason behind my enthusiasm had inadvertently shifted however, and the realization of this occurred after my actual trip. It hit me out of nowhere, as do most of my revelations that are obvious to everyone else in the world but me. It’s not about escaping an unrewarding job after all. This annual trip is our ‘family’ vacation. The emphasis shifted from the word ‘vacation’ to ‘family’. The memories we make while on vacation are worth more than all of the grains of sand on the beach and all of the crabs in the bay combined. I feel like the oblivious Grinch on Christmas morning when he realizes that he didn’t prevent Christmas from coming. (It came! Somehow or other, it came just the same.) Well, duh! We have been making wonderful memories all along right under my nose.
Good thing too because I subconsciously crave these priceless vacation memories, not just for myself, but for my daughter more so. Deep down, in the place where I tend to cram my impracticable wishes and irrational fears, I desperately need her to have these joyful memories. Memories compiled of jumping waves in the ocean and taking the boat out for a stroll in the bay. I want her to have recollections of catching her first fish at the Bahia Marina and flying a kite on the beach with her dad (even though the kite ended up in the ocean a few times and she was more interested in burying herself in sand than flying the stupid kite, but I digress). I want the reminiscence of a warm breeze and the salty air to be filled with the memories of setting crab traps in the bay and going for a bike ride with her grandfather. I want the smell of sunscreen to remind her of building sand castles with her grandmother. I long for these memories to be ingrained in Emma’s brain because they are experiences that I never had as a child. For the most part, fun vacation moments are not part of my childhood catalog of memories, with the exception of one extraordinary summer week when I was nineteen.
Like I inferred above, when I was a little tot, we didn’t take many vacations together as a family; in fact, I can count the total number of family trips on just one hand. Up until recently my only frame of reference of vacationing is of the National Lampoon variety with Clark Griswold fastening a dog’s leash to the bumper of a station wagon on the way to drop off a dead Aunt Edna that is tied down to the roof of the car with bungee cords. So, yes, I don’t have much in the way of experience, but when I was nineteen we took our last family vacation together and I envision particular moments of this trip often. This trip is by far my favorite vacation memory and, as with everything in my life, this is because of my mother. Nowadays, I curse the humidity and my lack of central air conditioning come June, but I truly do love the summertime perhaps because of the nostalgia it brings regarding this one special week almost two decades ago. I spend an inordinate amount of time daydreaming about the last vacation my family took together. Not realizing then of course that the memories we made during that week back in 94’ would rescue me from dark places in the future, time and time again.
We spent a perfectly sunny week down the Jersey shore almost 20 years ago. We stayed right on the beach at the Spinnaker in Sea Isle City and my mother was so excited to spend time with her teenaged kids and enjoy her much deserved vacation. My mom’s closest friend took her family down the shore during the same week and we had a blast. We spent countless hours tanning on the beach, reading gossip rags while enjoying the summer sun, patiently waiting for a breeze to make the heat bearable. We engorged ourselves with belly-busting pasta dinners intertwined with hilarious story-telling and jokes. At night, we would hit up the local attractions and boardwalks. We were savoring our vacation together, never realizing at the time that it would be our last trip together. We were making memories. It is these very same memories I turn to when I want to picture my mom happy and laughing, her body robust with a healthy and golden bronze. These are the memories I cling to when the horrible images of sickness and dying creep into my mind during my weak moments. It is a memory of my mom, smiling in her beach chair, basking in the splendor that surrounds a beach day with your loved ones that chases the tears away. A memory, so powerful and sincere, it has endured the test of time and kept my nightmares at bay most nights.
There weren’t many opportunities to see my mom as elated and at ease as those few days on the beach, so I am keeping this set of memories in my pocket forever. In the meantime, I will take preemptive measures and keep making memories with my daughter on vacation, and encourage her to have a blast with all of her loved ones. When she gets a little older, she will actually be able to retain the memories herself (or repress the embarrassing ones if she wants). Until then I have done my best to capture our weeks in Ocean City with thousands of photographs. One day, hopefully many decades from today, she may need to rely upon one of these precious moments to help ease her pain. As for me, I am counting down the days until our next family vacation. There are a million more memories to make and the beach assortment is my favorite.
This is an original post for Jersey Moms Blog.