We returned from our yearly pilgrimage to North Carolina's Outer Banks around 11pm last night. Overall, it was an excellent trip. We talked excitedly about the future and cried a little about the past. We marveled at how quickly the kids have grown up with a mixture of relief and sadness. We retold the same family stories that we tell every year and laughed even harder this time. We sat on the deck one evening and taught the little kids how to distinguish stars from planets in the night sky while my younger siblings played guitar and sang. Yes, we actually do that, and quite unabashedly I might add.
All of us arrived identically armed with stacks of beach reading, i Pods, laptops, games, and most importantly, recipes. We used to plan the menu for the week ahead of time and, upon arrival, endure a post-apocalyptic grocery shopping trip battling every other beach goer for the last jug of milk in the local Food Lion. But a few years ago, we came up with a new system: Every family should arrive with contributions for breakfasts. lunches and snacks, to be thrown into the general pool. Then, each night, one family cooks for everyone else. They are responsible for buying everything for their meal and cleaning up their mess afterward. What started out as an exercise in convenience quickly developed the spirit of a competition, with each family coming up with better and more elaborate meals. This past week, it was like eating out every night; the meals were that good. To illustrate: On Friday night, we pulled together leftovers for some appetizers a few hours before dinner. These included oven roasted figs topped with goat cheese and toasted walnuts then drizzled with a balsamic reduction. Get the picture?
This was something of an odd trip for me in that for the first time in nine summers, my children did not require my constant attention. They can all swim, even Carys, who only just turned four a few weeks ago, so I didn't need to be in the pool with them at all times. The six little cousins had barely seen each other all summer, so they were mostly interested in each other and are all old enough to keep themselves busy with board games, make believe, books and stuffed animals for hours on end. The older girls got the nerve up to swim in the ocean without adults and the littler ones were perfectly content to search for seashells and build sand castles or otherwise occupy themselves with other sand-based activities (searching for crabs, burying themselves or others, digging holes to nowhere).
All this left me with a lot of time on my hands. More time than I've had to myself in I don't know how long. This seemed a good thing at first, and I was glad I had brought no less than five books to read, a Beth Moore bible study, some new music on my i Pod, and my laptop with 800 photos from Ireland that needed sorting.
But I didn't read the books. Nor did I do the Bible study. Or sort the pictures. Or listen to my i Pod.
I talked to my sisters and parents, of course, but mostly I feel like I just sat and stared. I watched the kids play. I watched the ocean. I watched my sisters read. I watched my husband goof around like a kid. I watched my parents interact with their grandchildren and my brother tend to his beautiful, pregnant wife.
And I quite enjoyed it, actually. At first, I felt kind of shiftless. This led to guilt, so I would try to read something or make a list of things I needed to do when I got home. But, I just couldn't make myself do either. So, I would return to sitting, staring, and occasionally chatting. I wish I could say that I spent all this extra time thinking deep thoughts, but I didn't.
I realize now what that was all about. I think in some parts of the world they call it resting. Yes, that's exactly what it was. And it was good.
Postscript...In all that sitting around, I managed to acquire a good dose of sun-poisoning, the kind that results in hives, queasiness, and swollen, blistered, cracked lips. Yes, I used sunblock and I also wore a hat, yet here I am, not really all that red, but looking as if I'm wearing a mask of my own face fashioned out of Rice Crispie Treats. I've decided to interpret this as a rather painful object lesson as I dive back into real life, a reminder to ease back into my groove slowly, so I don't burn up on reentry.