Last Friday morning we got a late start heading out to the beach. I find that determining when you set out is a pretty common tension on vacation days. On the one hand you want to get an early start, to stretch day out, and soak up the sun. Then on the other hand, you want to rest, catch up on sleep, and return to the everyday not all strung out. Mini-vacations, and full-blown vacations for that matter, are filled with these sorts of adult conundrums.
On Thursday, July 4th, we chose to stretch the day. Actually I use the term “chose” rather loosely since in fact I just work up at 5:50 and couldn’t get back to sleep. In fact, often vacation days have me too keyed up and in a strange bed to do too much sleeping in. We were on the road by 6:30. The roads were clear, and the skies cleared up as we approached the shore.
We pulled into the Fenwick Island State Park at 8:30, and the beach was remarkably empty for the 4th of July. For eight glorious hours we lounged and waded, walked and picnicked. We came back all tuckered out and had a beautiful little sunset cruise around an inlet of the Chesapeake Bay.
But Friday morning I slept in an hour longer than the day before and Evan slept even 20 minutes after me. We chatted more with family over breakfast. So when we made the two-hour trek from his Aunt and Uncle’s to the beach, 20 miles from the shore the traffic got heavy. It was hot, and the traffic crawled.
And by the time we got to the Fenwick Island State Park, the lot looked almost full, and there was a very long line of cars. The idea of sitting in a long line of cars for a half hour only to be turned away didn’t seem very appealing so we drove on.
“Well, we’re grown-ups. We can handle this. We’ll just head north,” I said, “I saw on the map there is another state park.” “Ok,” Evan agreed amiably. But as we passed what google maps said were several “parks” that had no entrance signs, my confidence dropped. It was hot. Part of me was temped to just blurt out, “Let’s just go home.” But I knew it was a little ridiculous to have come 2 hours and have a 3 1/2 hour trip home, without any beach time, just because the first beach was full. Still, even though I knew it was silly, part of me just wanted to whine.
But I held on to some semblance of self-control, and I allowed myself to just whine about the heat. Evan, rationally, turned up the air-conditioning. As the cool air cooled my skin and my temper, I remembered I really was one of the two grown-ups in the car. If I said that I wanted to go home, well, we very well might just turn around and go home. My words have power, and I can’t just throw them around in cathartic hyperbole.
So with the aid of additional AC I held my tongue, and within 30 minutes we found the Delaware Sea Shore State Park by a large bridge. It had a few spots left in the lot. We parked, rubbed the runny SPF 50 sunscreen on as we stood on the sweltering black asphalt of the parking lot. Then we left our stuff in the car and took a nice long walk on the beach without having to worry about our beach gear sitting unsupervised on the beach.
We walked for 2 1/2 hours, ducking under shore fishing lines and chatting about some of our favorite topics: current plot problems in my novel, how we’d reform graduate school and the academy, how Evan’s classes are shaping up, church, Harry Potter, and where we’d buy a vacation cabin if we ever had enough money.
It was breezy and the water lapped at our ankles. It was a sweet time. I always used to watch couples amble down the beach arm and arm, and think it looked incredibly romantic.
But I have to admit that being a grown up at the beach sometimes isn’t always very romantic. No else is there to slather sunscreen on you to prevent you from burning your behind. No one else is there to help you schlep the 5 blankets, 4 books, 2 coolers, 1 picnic basket, 2 camping chairs, and 3 beach games to the perfect site. Also at 28, how you feel about scampering around in a swimsuit is considerably more self-conscious than you did when you were 8.
And when your red $8 Walmart special beach umbrella comes out of the ground and blows across the beach, you have to chase it down. Then you have to figure out how to tie it down with that bag full of books and beach games.
Nope, it is just you. You both just have to be the adults—the-find-another-beach, sunscreen-slathering, pack-mule, gutsy-in-just-your-skivvies, impromptu-umbrella-engineer, adults.
And sometimes, as adults, you choose to sleep in more, even though you have to fight traffic because it’s later. And sometimes, as adults, you choose to get up earlier, even though you’ll be tired. And no one is there to tell you which one is the right decision that particular day. You just have to try and make sure you are making the best decision at the time.
You turn the AC up, have a sip of coconut water, take a deep breath and try to be the adult. Because adults get a lot of privileges like long walks on beaches, late bed times, splashes of vodka in your fizzy water at the end of the day, and the power to find another beach or the power to go home. But being an adult also takes practice, and sometimes you just have to pretend you feel like being an adult when you don’t feel like it. But that is, I think, what being an adult is: acting like one when you don’t feel like it—even on vacation, even on the beach. Perhaps, especially then.
When do you find it’s hardest to act like an adult?
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