I’ve started writing multiple times and then deleted…type, backspace, type, backspace, type, backspace, like the ebb and flow of the ocean waves I hear as I type this. We are on vacation, and first and foremost, I am grateful. I’m afraid in writing this essay I will appear otherwise. We are lucky to have the time and resources to go spend an entire week, together, on the beach. I am grateful.
And also, our vacation resembles the one described in this article. A lot of normal life and everyday work and the usual annoyances came on vacation with us. At this stage of life, trying to “vacate” is not actually possible, because my occupations travel with me and have more needs than ever away from their home and routine.
The first morning, we woke up to our usual pre-6 o’clock alarm clocks. There are two of them and they are insistent and loud, their snooze buttons broken. We moved out onto the balcony, listened to the waves and watched the surfers at dawn. It was spectacular. And then there were dolphins, a whole pod, surfacing and spraying, gliding effortlessly through the ocean.
And then there was this shrill, constant, nasally noise that brought my nervous system into high alert and initiated my fight or flight response, otherwise known as whining. In their excitement to get up early for the first day of vacation, the kids hadn’t realized that they added hours to their wait for the pool to open.
We tried to call their attention to the amazing thing happening right now in front of them, but they would have none of it. They wanted something else; they could think of nothing else but that what they wanted wasn’t happening.
I wanted them to stop whining. I felt like my desire for them to stop whining was more legitimate than their desire to have pool time at 7am. I got frustrated and thought about how unvacationlike vacations can be. I wanted something else; I could think of nothing else but that what I wanted wasn’t happening.
I started missing the amazing thing happening right now in front of me.
I get stingy sometimes with my generosity towards my family. I start thinking of myself as an overdrawn bank account whose patrons better make some deposits if they expect the good stuff to keep flowing. A morning walk on the beach alone = sizable deposit. Negotiating who gets the red ball for the 327th time today = sizable withdrawal. On top of the frustration and difficulty of raising kids, I add righteous indignation and score keeping.
This week I’m trading my bank account for an ocean view. Literally, yes. But also in the way I view myself, my family, my time, my vacation.
In the morning when the wind is calm, the sea can be so still that the fin of a dolphin is visible 300 yards off shore. The waves can be a peaceful white noise that provides the perfect background for laughing kids and melodic bird banter. The water can race over sand to cool hot feet. The ocean is peace.
When the wind picks up, the waves break in layers and the chop makes it impossible to see any sea life. The noise can be so loud it clouds my brain and makes me wish for silence. The water can be so powerful that it can drag an unsuspecting toddler down on his back and tumble him like a seashell back towards the sea. (The toddler will then bellow his rage and fear at the sea while his parents pick sand out of his ear.) The ocean is turmoil.
It’s all there. Ebb and flow, ebb and flow. All that I need to be fulfilled, happy, content, refreshed, and at peace is there, in me and around me. All that I need to be left wanting, disappointed, dissatisfied, exhausted, and in turmoil is there, in me and around me. I will have moments of each this day and every day, and those moments will flow back out and bring in something else. If I can accept that the amazing thing happening right now in front of me is whatever is happening right now in front of me, even the moments of turmoil will be meaningful.
In the movie Good Will Hunting, the therapist Sean tells Will how his late wife used to wake herself up by farting in her sleep. He goes on: “Ah, but, those are the things I miss the most. The little idiosyncrasies that only I knew about. That’s what made her my wife. Oh, and she had the goods on me, too; she knew all my little peccadillos. People call these things imperfections, but they’re not – ah, that’s the good stuff.”
The arguments about the red ball, the newly-broken ceramic fish that belongs to the condo owners, the endless feeding and dishes and changing and laundry, the whining and bickering; that’s the hard good stuff. The swimming and wave frolicking, the reading and shell studying, the fresh-picked strawberries and corn on the cob, the laughing and smiling and sandy toes; that’s the easy good stuff.
It’s all there; it’s all the amazing thing happening right now in front of me.