Another stage in my life has arrived, one where my children are all at an age of relative independence. I am stretched out on a towel, the waves in my ears, the sun on my skin, not a care in the world at this very moment. Blissful. I can do this because I am not in charge right now. Nope. I’m not trying to shepherd toddlers or keep them from being swept off by a whim or the tide. My kids are older now and that means I get to be “Elizabeth”, that stranger who’s been waiting quietly for a couple of decades to come out and play. “Mom” has been driving this car for a long time and she can finally take a vacation. My kids? They can sleep in as long as their vampiric teen and twenty something bodies desire and then pair off to explore shops, go on hikes, or even join me at the beach. They can come and go as they please, and since I cook and freeze enough dinners for an army the week before, they can eat when they are hungry (which is often) while I laze on the beach, soaking up every last drop of sun and sea until that sun dips low and the cool evening air nudges me back to the cottage. There I find happy, already showered and fed children engrossed in their smart phones or laptops and an open bathroom just waiting for me. Only ME. I don’t have to pack up the crabby, salty and yet sweet babies that I utterly adore and drag the low blood sugared crowd back before I’m ready to leave the beach just so I can start cooking and cleaning and then drop from sheer exhaustion only to wake early the next day and start all over again.
Please understand, I love these vacations. I have always loved them. In January I begin nostalgically longing for this time. I would circle the week and count the days. As hard as it could be, it was worth every drop of sweat, every tired muscle, just to see everyone laughing and playing in the summer sunshine by the beautiful sea. But to be sure, vacationing with children is not a simple task. Family holidays at the sea side used to mean wrestling babies and young children reluctantly in the direction of the group, weighed down with shipping container sized coolers, suit cases filled with changes of clothes, gallons of sun block, dragging a cart full of toys, bodies laden with huge canvas bags of towels, and beach chairs strapped across our backs like Sherpas heading into the wilderness for a year long trek. By the time we had set everything up, fed hot, cranky kids and hotter, crankier adults and counted heads twenty times until we came up with the correct number 3 times in a row (there is always, ALWAYS a runner. In every single family…) and headed down to the waters edge, I was ready for a stiff drink and a long nap. Neither of which would be had by me anytime soon…
There was the odd holiday my husband couldn’t join us for. I broke my foot two weeks before one of these, taking my 5 very young children alone (2 in diapers, and one still in pull-ups) for a week at the beach. The rental was a mile and a half away which, under normal and sure footed circumstances would have been a boon since I couldn’t afford to pay for daily parking AND be on vacation, made dragging my knee high hydraulic boot as I pushed the double jogger with the three youngest stuffed into it quite a site. Quasimodo, or Igor and the band of merry madmen. Not quite the pulled together look I had envisioned of myself as a young mother. I looked like I was fleeing the country on foot with only a ten second notice to pack. Thank God my parents are always up there too, lending more than a few hands to keep everyone alive and somewhat sane. For the curious, a hydraulic boot serves as an excellent anchor in the water, absorbing a thousand pounds of sea water in an instant and planting you firmly to the floor of the ocean when waves raise the water level and your offspring (clutching your hands) over your head. An unanticipated and delightfully terrifying experience. Do not try this at home.
With each passing year traveling with the kids became less stressful, less exhausting, and less like being voluntarily water boarded by adoring, if parasitic, offspring. They could all walk without needing to be carried at some point, and could be called on to carry a sand pail and the odd “absolutely NECESSARY” toy dump truck the size of a toaster oven. There came the day when I could strap small back packs to their bodies and disperse the contents of the towel bags and changes of clothes among them, leaving me pushing the still impressively loaded cart of food, chairs, umbrellas, first aid kit, gallon of sunblock and the kitchen sink. Heavenly.
The trade off of course as your children grow closer to, and cross over into adulthood, is that not everyone is always able to be there. Summer jobs and internships for your college kids and the next stage of life stuff for them can mean they are necessarily otherwise engaged. I miss them dearly when they are away. It is nice, though, to get reacquainted with myself as a person. It’s not that my mom-life has not been amazing, it has been inspiring and educational. My mom-life has stretched me in ways I never imagined and I love who I am because of my children. But “Mom” is not the whole me, and it’s really nice to have Elizabeth back at the wheel.