You know the feeling. Your family’s going to everyone’s favorite summer spot. In our case, it’s the same house on Cape Cod each year. It’s nice to spend time together, something that’s rare now that the kids are grown. Still, a question lingers — can we survive a week in close proximity? After all, we’re out of practice.
We arrive on Saturday afternoon after a grueling four hour drive. We’ve enjoyed this weathered two-story colonial on Bass River for fifteen years and go through the usual first-day rituals – checking out the water, opening all the windows, getting fans going, making our grocery list, stocking up, and getting our first meal of take-out seafood.
Days flow along. We eat dinner at that pretty place in West Dennis with the gorgeous gardens, frequent the breakfast joints on Route 28, and devour fried clams, scallops, and onion rings in the back yard. We watch Bass River with its hypnotic, never-ending parade of sailboats, cabin cruisers, and fishing vessels. Swimmers splash around. Seagulls swoop and cry to each other.
We take sentimental journeys past my grandmother’s former motel in South Yarmouth, now owned by a national resort chain. I make my annual pilgrimage to the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis (the one seen in all those documentaries). The place looks the same and is apparently now owned by Ted Kennedy, Jr.
My husband Randy and I enjoy reconnecting with our twenty-something year-old sons, especially Patrick who moved out months ago.
By day five we’ve eaten every kind of lobster, driven past miles of beaches, and made our way to our favorite t-shirt shops. We’re starting to get sick of fried clams. We’ve had almost every meal together and are getting along pretty well, considering. Every night we watch the democratic convention on the one ancient television in the living room.
Still, border skirmishes are starting to break out.
My sons are drinking all my specially brewed herbal iced tea. I need to write on my laptop in peace, but CNN is always blaring in the living room (now our common area). I’m starting to miss my terrier Libby and am driving everyone crazy with dog stories (how can they not miss her adorable yips?)
My husband Randy — ever the musician — plays music constantly. (Does it have to be outside all the time? Can’t we enjoy the sound of birds?) Sometimes (to me) he plays at decibel levels that would close down Woodstock.
I keep my mouth shut…for the most part. Especially since I know he’s getting sick of my compulsive cleaning. I can’t stop emptying garbage cans, wiping counters, straightening like I do back home. Except now it seems magnified and manic in these closer quarters.
Why can’t I relax?
I look around and see our younger selves everywhere. In the backyard is the maple tree where the kids first held Fourth of July sparklers, eyes wide with wonder.
Just off the water sits the dock where they jumped off as little boys, gathering all their courage to take that leap. There were sand crabs in pails, water wings, blue popsicles and inflatable green crocodiles. There was the local arcade and batting cages they’d beg us to take them. Rainy days meant summer blockbusters at the local theater.
But now we’re four adults.
“You’re drinking another beer?” I ask my youngest as he reaches for his third “Red Stripe.” I hear myself and cringe. He’s 23. But I can’t help it. Motherhood’s ingrained. I swallow back the poignancy. How did we go from juice boxes to single malts so fast?
The days fly by. Before we know it, its time to go. I feel a funny tug. Unlike the old days when we stayed together, our sons are returning to independent lives — jobs, friends, and school.
Another summer vacation has come and gone. We did pretty well for four grown-ups.
Before leaving, I perform my own annual ritual. I walk to the backyard, saying goodbye to the river. Without this body of water, without this giver of life and energy and movement, this home would be just another house.
This waterway has watched my family grow. We’ve all changed. We’ve all gotten older, but the river has stayed the same. And I find that strangely comforting.
I hear my name called. We’re leaving. I smile and wave goodbye. With God’s grace, we’ll be back.
Overhead a seagull swoops and cries. I stand a second, watching it fly away.
How do you fare on family vacations? Do you have a favorite spot? Comments are always welcome. Thank you for reading and if you like, please share.