We spent last week at Ocean Isle Beach in NC. It was my family, my sister Holly's family, and my parents. We stayed one street back from the ocean, and the house we rented had a pool. A recipe for fun and relaxation, you're assuming.
For the kids, yes, but not so much for me.
First of all, the wind. "Another damn wind," as Anne Lamott says in Help Thanks Wow. "I hate wind so much. It can make you feel hopeless, even in world-class beauty." The wind was ferocious on all but one of our days there. I mean, it's fun to fly a kite, but not all day, every day. At least that "damn wind" helped me make a word picture in my mind a few days ago when I read James 1:6 about "a wave of the sea, being blown and tossed by the wind." I'd prefer not to get tossed, personally.
And second, I obviously don't know how to relax with my family. I know how to relax alone. I take walks, copy down quotes, write letters, organize recipes, and sit in the sun and read. But to relax with four kids plus more kids doesn't really work for me. I am just barely stable on most days when I have the structure and familiarity of home and a schedule and list to guide me. At one point during the week, Holly asked me if it felt easier or harder being at the beach versus being at home in my normal life. I wish I could have said the beach felt easier because I wish I knew how to enjoy it. It's a gift, to have that time as a whole family, for my parents to provide the gathering place for us, for the opportunity for us to get away from our routine and our work in order to create memories together.
I know all that, and yet...
In the moment, I was out of my element, feeling blown and tossed by the wind (not the literal one this time) all day long. Without my regular tasks before me, things like cleaning, cooking, practicing Bible verses with the kids, grocery shopping, returning library books, even scheduled reading time with the kids, I had a hard time feeling grounded. I kind of puttered around, trying to find it in myself to get kids suited and sunscreened up, and then hauling our load to the beach. It was different and hard. I only suited myself up once, if that says anything. I mostly sat by the pool in my clothes and semi-watched the kids, semi-read my book, and semi-talked to my sister.
And that is probably why I felt semi-present.
Lauren Winner, another of my favorite writers, wrote in her book Still, "something that the art critic Peter Schjeldahl once said: when he looks at a painting he does not like, he asks himself, What would I like about this if I liked it?"
Next time before I go, I'm going to write that line on my hand and then rewrite it there every day of the trip.
What would I like about the beach and time away with family if I liked it?
I would like that I don't have to cook everyday.
I would like that I get to read a whole book in a week.
I would like the bigness of the ocean.
I would like that "The ocean gives not the slightest hint that any time has passed, ever," as M.L. Steadman said in The Light Between Oceans.
I would like buying the kids frozen lemonade from that pushcart on the beach.
I would like talking to my sister and watching my kids play with their cousins and watching the OJ series at night after the kids are in bed.
I would like looking for sharks' teeth and wearing the shell necklace Cash made for me.
I would like listening to my dad's interesting stories about people he meets while walking on the beach or on the sidewalk.
I would like doing a puzzle with my mom.
I would maybe like building a sandcastle with the kids.
I would like to take early morning walks and I would also like to not take early morning walks, opting to sleep in that extra half-hour instead.
I would like listening to Coldplay while I fold beach towels at night.
I would like writing letters and going to get doughnuts one morning and visiting an old family friend who works near the doughnut shop.
I would like buying Pringles for old times' sake and teaching the kids to make duck bills out of them.
I would like the improved adult to kid ratio.
I would like taking a nap one day and going to see "Finding Dory" with the big kids another day.
I would like to look at all the names of the beach houses.
I would like to drink margaritas that my brother-in-law makes.
I would like talking to my sister more and letting her help me process my life and find healing for the holes.
See? There are so many things to like. And actually, most of the things I listed are true things from this trip. It's amazing how when I started looking for good, I found it. Lots of it. And although I failed to enjoy and engage in some of those things while they were happening, I am thankful I can go back in my mind and find the lovely to look at and lock up in my heart.