“What was your favorite part of vacation?”
He shrugged his shoulders and looked away.
This is family vacation with a tween. The non-committal shrugging of shoulders beats white hot anger directed at everyone and no one. It beats apologizing for his disinterest, or rather, his feigned disinterest because I can see in his eyes that he still wants to play.
It also beats this.
I’ll take anger and stomping to his room and so-called boredom over limp-noodle toddler wailing any day of the week. Parenting at the beach in those earlier days felt like the opposite of vacation. Toddlers outside of their own home, eating completely off schedule, and crashing from repeated sugar highs always made me wonder why we drove ten hours to “relax.” Where was the relaxing part?
It’s not that the older of the two boys didn’t have fun on vacation. Occasionally he forgot himself, a smile spreading across his thinning face. He ran and jumped in the waves, crashed boogie boards on increasingly taller waves, and even dug holes and tunnels with his younger brother.
But not before this exchange on the day they put up the red flags on the beach, signaling a strong rip current and to stay out of the water.
Something inside of me snapped, but not in the angry way.
I didn’t get to go on vacation with the boys last summer. We sent them along with my parents as neither my husband nor I could get off work. I missed his last year of childhood joy without tween attitude, and I realized very quickly this year how the dynamic had shifted. Both boys still wanted to play, but only one was content to do so without looking around to see if anyone was watching.
I explained that it was practically impossible to be bored at the beach, listing off a never-ending list of things he could do. More shrugging of shoulders as he walked away, kicking sand. I watched him go, kicked sand myself.
The trip wasn’t all sullen looks and grumpiness though. I watched as something new emerged from our oldest son, especially when we did our day outings to places like the Maritime Museum, the book store, and more. He found lots of joy in these activities, ones that in previous years may have been met with the aforementioned boredom. He declared the museum trip the most fun ever even though we’ve been there about five times in ten years. He also won on the Go Kart track, but I maintainin that’s because I didn’t race this year.
By the end of the week, the red flags disappeared and we frolicked in the waves once more. By frolicked I mean that we got the living tar beat out of us by the waves as there were still storms off shore. The boys loved it. I watched him forget, again, to be a disinterested tween. I watched as he threw himself into the ocean, time and time again, with the pure glee only the ocean can bring.
I did the same. The ocean is the great equalizer, turning us all back into children if only for a few hours.