We have a bad habit of planning trips SO CLOSE to the beginning of school. Usually this happens because of two things, my habit of procrastination and Kendell’s inability to deal with crowds. This year, we ended up in Florida during the week before school started because of, yes, crowds—that was the first week that the Orlando crowds changed from red to yellow—but also because the flight prices were the cheapest that week.
We had a lovely, if imperfect, vacation in Florida. I didn't even take a regular bra with a wire, I just wore my sports bra and running skirts for the whole trip. I let my hair go curly in the humidity and didn't care about the frizz. I touched an alligator. I laughed with Jake and Kaleb and we shared memes on our phones and took goofy photos by the tiny hotel pool. It rained at inconvenient times and I was flabbergasted by the summer crowds, but we just went with it anyway.
One of my favorite moments came right after I calmed down after having my usual we’re-at-the-beach-I’m-terrified-someone-will-drown anxiety moment (which dissipated after Kendell went out in the water with Jake and Kaleb). I was sitting on a conveniently placed wooden lounge chair (I’m pretty sure it was only supposed to be used by the residents of the beach house behind me…but no one stopped me so I went for it) that I’d covered with my beach towel (which has flamingos on it) and I had some almond M&Ms in my bag and a book to read. I read, I looked up to check on my three boys, I read some more.
I let the feeling of relaxation steep deep down into my center, because I don’t get enough of that in my life. (I’m sure no one does.) The sun made a brief appearance (it rained the whole time we were in Florida), making the crests of waves and the bits of shell fragments and the tips of my toenails sparkle, and I could see half of my family laughing together in the water, and it was just…calmly blissful.
Of course, all vacations end, and then you have to go back to real life, which has fewer opportunities for calmly blissful moments. After a few airport shenanigans that included sprinting through the Phoenix airport and leaving a bag on the long-term parking shuttle, we made it home at 2 in the morning.
And Kaleb had to be to school by 7:45.
So for our family, the end of summer vacation was literally the end of summer, almost down to the second.
And we re re-entering real life all at once.
Even though it’s been many decades since I was a kid, and my summer afternoons were spent lying on the back patio of my childhood home, reading by the peach tree (literally: I would read for hours and I could just enjoy it without thinking I should be cleaning the kitchen or wonder if the laundry is done washing or all of the million other things I think about when I’m reading now as an adult), summer still feels like a break, somehow. A months-long escape from reality. I sleep in way too often during the summer, and we eat out more, and, I confess: I haven’t sorted socks since June. It’s a sock free-for-all in my laundry room!
But then school starts and it’s time to reenter real life. Up with an alarm, and the annoying line at the drop-off zone, and making sure Kaleb is on top of his homework again.
I’ve been cooking much more since we got home. The laundry is done and put away and I even sorted the socks. Our mornings are going smoothly and I’ve started working the post-drop-off run into my routine again. Honestly, reentry is much easier when you only have one kid in school, and he doesn’t hate it this year, and he’s functional in the mornings.
But I keep going back to that moment at the beach, that feeling of calmness that filled me on that stolen chair.
Why can’t I have that calmness in my regular life, too?
Is it like the freedom of reading on summer afternoons as a child, something you just can never get back as an adult because how do you really put down the to-do list, how do you silence the voices reminding you of what you should be doing as a responsible grown up instead of relaxing and doing nothing? Is it just that I need to be more organized and work harder when I am being a responsible adult, and then I could justify relaxing like that?
Or is it that I need to figure out how to allow myself to relax anyway, somehow? That I need to learn that while yes, I am an imperfect adult who doesn’t get everything done or everything right, I still get to find and fully appreciate my moments of calm?
And how do I figure that out?
As we dip now, at the end of summer (on the school calendar if not the actual weather) into the start of fall, that is what I want to take with me, from our vacation into real life: permission. Permission from myself to let go more, to relax when I have the chance, to give myself credit instead of criticism.