Love. A True Story.

Bonita Beach Sunset

The beach was beautiful as the sun set. The sand was mostly broken, crushed shells that sparkled in the pale orange light of the sun. Small waves rolled lazily, quietly onto the sand at low tide. Just a few clouds were spread in the darkening sky, dissipated from the storm clouds that had threatened rain just an hour ago.

I pulled my camera out and tried to capture the beautiful night. As if on cue, dolphins broke the surface of the water. We had been watching for them all day and suddenly there was a group of them, right as the sun was sinking below the horizon.

We had walked off down the beach a little bit, to a stretch where there were fewer people, umbrellas and chairs. Better view of the sunset this way.

I was busy trying to snap photos and get the dolphins in the shot, and then before I knew it the sun was gone and the sky was just quickly fading pink. I turned to put my camera’s lens cap on and put it back in my bag. Jim had a big book in his hand and was telling me he had to give it to me. My first thought was that it was his mom’s or Lauren’s book. It had been in Lauren’s bag, and I was wondering why they needed to bring this big book down to the beach and now why Jim had it.

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Real World Summer

This is my first summer in the real world. It’s the first summer where I have not had ample free time, hours to lay in the sun, or days to do nothing. It’s the first summer where I’m actually working a real job, a job that requires me to come in every day at the same time and leave when the sun has already passed its prime.

Last summer, I had graduated college, but I was still clearly not in the real world. I was still job searching and teaching swimming lessons and didn’t start working in a restaurant until later in July or August. I still had plenty of time to enjoy the summer months.

And all the summers before that my summer job didn’t count. As a lifeguard, I went in to work around 11 AM and spent my days in a bathing suit, soaking up the rays, lounging by a pool. I got nice long breaks where I could lay out or swim or read a book. I taught a few swimming lessons and left the pool at 7:30 PM, with time to either go home and relax or hang out with friends, knowing that I didn’t really have a care in the world, and that an 11 AM start time the next day was plenty of time to sleep in.

Just a typical day, on my break at the pool.

Just a typical day, on my break at the pool.

Unfortunately, I didn’t appreciate those days when I had them. I have had a summer job since I was 15. I started working at a pool–selling ice cream bars in the snack shack and cleaning up the wrappers that escaped the garbage cans. The next summer I was a lifeguard at a different pool and just couldn’t bear to leave that easy life. I knew that it was an easy job. It was a great job for a swimmer, and I could use the skills I already had. But by the last summer or two that I spent there, I started to hate it. I was tired of the sun. I hated putting on sunscreen every day. I was appalled that I had let myself sit there staring at water all that time, basking in boredom. And I had read too many articles about lifeguards getting skin cancer. I finished up my fifth year lifeguarding and never looked back.

It was an easy job. But I still didn’t fully appreciate it. It’s hard to appreciate something until you’re done with it, until you’ve seen the other side.

And here I am. On the other side. And now I see that the old grass was greener.

I am a summer person. I love summer. I love sun and the beach and warm days put me in a wonderful mood. So now I wake up in the morning, shower and put on a sundress. But when I get to work, I can’t even tell if the sun is shining because my office doesn’t have a window. I leave work at 5:30 PM and I feel that summertime is passing me by. I find it difficult to do anything after work knowing that I just have to wake up again early the next morning. My skin will be permanently ghostly this year, unless I try really really hard on the weekends to lay out–but on the weekends, I have other things I’ve been waiting all week to do.

Summers in the real world have turned out to be much more depressing than I originally anticipated.

So this week, I am lucky to be on vacation. I am incredibly lucky that the organization I work for was able to give me a few days of paid time off (and that my vacation happens to be over the 4th of July holiday, when our office is closed anyways). And I can say for a fact that I am taking full advantage. I have turned off my work email syncing on my phone. Our beach house actually doesn’t have wireless internet connection this year, so I won’t have to worry about seeing all the emails pop up on my computer. (I’m writing this from a Starbucks.) I brought plenty of books and bikinis, with the expectation of clearing my mind and de-stressing.

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During those lifeguard years, I would get to the beach and it would be just a different version of my work-day. Sun, water, sunscreen. But this year…this is vacation. This is the true meaning of vacation. It’s a relief. Taking some time to yourself to unwind and relax, to get away from the real world for a short time. And to figure out how to better appreciate the real world when you go back.

So far it’s off to a rainy start. But honestly, I don’t even mind. There will be other days to lay on the beach. Today I will read a book.

My Big Fat Family Vacation

I just got back from my family vacation in Myrtle Beach. It was actually a smaller beach just south of there, called Garden City, but no one would know what I was talking about if I told them that. My family has been vacationing there every summer practically since I was born. My grandparents rent a huge house and we stuff in as many parents and kids as we can. There are 29 people total on my dad’s side of the family and recently we’ve usually had about 20 people in the house (after subtracting the busy kids who can’t make it). We’ve done the same kinds of “vacation-y” things every year. We lay out on the beach, jump the waves, swim in the pool, go goofy golfing (“put-put” for you non-Pittsburghers), play games at the arcade, and browse the cheap gift shops.

For the past three years or so, I keep saying that they might have to count me out of vacation. I kept thinking I wouldn’t be able to take a week off from my summer job or internship, or I’ve just been crossing my fingers that I’ll have something important happening that will start my career or change my life. And for the past three years or so, none of those things have been happening, so I’ve enjoyed all of my family’s vacations. This year was probably our last one because after 20-some years, we are just too big. Family vacations are always fun; it’s always great to get away from life at home (even if my life at home kind of is a vacation right now) and just spend some time at the beach. But we’ve been looking forward to the exact same thing year after year and all of a sudden, you realize that everyone is growing up.

All the families and all the kids used to come down to the beach. Now we’re missing a whole family and a spouse and a couple kids who have jobs. Kids used to be small enough to sleep together in beds or share with parents. But now, some kids refuse to share beds, others are just to big to share. We brought down like six air mattresses this year, because there weren’t quite enough places to sleep. We’ve got kids on the living room couch, some rolling down the hallway. It was just easier when they were babies.

I keep saying “kids” but what I really mean is “kids/teenagers in large adult bodies.” We practically needed to take out a loan just to go out to dinner, because these large adolescent boys can eat. The kitty for grocery money needed refilled more often than it used to. We went through six boxes of Krispy Kreme donuts in two days. No joke. (I am proud to say I resisted and only had one and a half the whole week.)

We used to get tired of the beach when we were little, so our parents would take us to Wild Water and Wheels or the Cheese Maze. But not every parent would want to go, of course, so those were the days when we would throw ten kids in a car, double-buckle and put some behind the backseat of the van. (I’m pretty sure the old “double-buckle” tactic would be highly frowned upon in today’s uptight, car-seat-till-they’re-ten world.)

When we were younger, the parents were very wary of explosive devices (for good reason). I remember the first time they let us have sparklers under the house. It was the best night at the beach ever. And as we got older, we just couldn’t be satisfied with tiny sparks that lasted two minutes. We had to get the big guns, and spend a small fortune on major fireworks that were probably not allowed on the beach anyway. We wanted to sit right next to them and the best part was when they shot off the wrong direction and almost hit someone! And then this year, we mentioned not doing the fireworks thing, especially since we’d just seen them on the 4th of July, and most of us were like, eh, whatever, I just want to get a tan.

And finally, the things we pack have changed so dramatically, I can hardly begin. We used to bring toys and shovels and buckets. We brought a craft box full of paper, markers and stickers for when we were tired of the sand. We brought paint to decorate our collections of shells, and movies that always got lost or taken home by the wrong family. We brought board games and GameBoys and Walkmans and CD players. We brought Barbies and action figures to play with in the car. All of these fun things have been replaced by umbrellas, chairs and shoes. (A pair of shoes to match each of the outfits we wanted to wear out, running shoes for our morning work outs, beach shoes for the hot sand, etc.) We don’t need toys or beach stuff anymore, all we need for entertainment for the whole week is a few books and an ipod. Instead of crafts, we pack chargers– phone charger, camera charger, ipod charger, Nook charger, computer charger. Instead of movies, we bring hair dryers and straighteners and make-up bags. But even though we’ve technically replaced things, we still can barely fit everything into the car to make the trip because we’re just so big! The boys knees are digging into the backs of the seats, their feet near my lap. My seat is pushed forward as far as it will go, but we still have no space because this year we needed three bags of golf clubs instead of one.

We had a great time at the beach, like we always do. We relaxed on the sand with books and ipods, we drank beer and went out to a really great local restaurant called the Hot Fish Club. We played cards and volleyball and got a little sunburned. And 72 donuts and one week later, we were saying goodbye to the beach all too soon. It’s too sad to think that this might have been our last year at the beach…but maybe we just need a bigger house.