We went away for a week at the beach last week and, while it was not as eventful as it was last year’s vacation during which a nearby hurricane took out the electricity for a few days as I wrote about here and here, I don’t think it’s possible to have a tame vacation (or anything really) during a pandemic.

The sand dunes and sky at the beach.

Or maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe most things feel tamer, a bit quieter, in some ways. We’re sticking a bit closer to home and to the familiar. IN previous years, there might have been a trip, at the very least, to the boardwalk or to an amusement park. This year, we didn’t even make it over to the nearby nature preserve or the farm up the road for lunch. Several businesses that we would have visited in previous years — a general store and cafe, a cheese and sandwich shop, the fresh seafood shop where we’d get crabs — were all closed. A few of the standbys were still open, but things felt, perhaps, a little more subdued. Although, I don’t really know as I was mostly at the house and on the beach with the kids.

It was lovely to be somewhere with so much extended family nearby and, of course, with Eric not having to work (well, other than a few times) and with the ease of having activity and entertainment, a change of scenery all nearby at the beach. Different family members took charge of dinners each evening and we rotated through each of the different places where family was staying — eating, for the most part outside where possible. Our kids still can’t be vaccinated and it was lovely to be surrounded by people who acknowledged and respected that and were willing to make the sacrifice (mask-wearing) when necessary. I painted some and sat some mornings out of the front porch. We went kayaking one morning.

I came back exhausted. Had I not been sleeping well in an unfamiliar bed and house? Perhaps. Or just sand and surf tired? Or from driving long distances which I’m not used to? It really only took a few days for me to “recover” but during that time it felt, of course, like I would forever be exhausted, that I would never get back into the swing of non-vacation life. I felt drained and unmotivated. I requested a take-out dinner more than just that first night back. It was only today, four days after we got back, that I seriously got back into cooking decent food for my family. I’m lucky that I live in a place and with the resources to have decent take out.

During the days after our vacation, I was thinking a lot about this: “If vacations are so great, what about them can we hold on to and carry into “normal life”? I never really arrived at a satisfying answer. And I think that this might be because asking the question, I’d been looking at vacation wrong. A big part of what I love about our vacation is just being nearby the ocean. And I love having down time with family. But would I want to live near the ocean all the time? I don’t think so. Not much great take out and even a trip to the grocery store is a bit of a trek. Unlike my current neighborhood, there’s not much diversity of, for example, languages and cultures and food at the beach where we go. Would I like to live near all of my family such that we would be able to see each other more often? Sure. But I know that part of what I enjoy about my family is that we live in such different places and so when we come together, we each get to learn about each other’s very different lives and cities and places.

And so I know it’s cliche and it’s obvious but, when I think about what can I bring back from vacation, what is the lesson? Much of it is simply gratitude for the things that I have in my normal life and being able to appreciate those things that I had, perhaps, started to take for granted and failed to even realize where there.

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