So here we are on a vacation I’ve been dreaming about for eighteen years. I haven’t been back to Cape Cod since I was just out of college. At that time I was carefree and wandering and wondering where my life would take me. I swam in the bay with my mother on that last day and we enjoyed an unhurried morning where there was no one else in the world but us. Suddenly, a freak accident landed me in the emergency room and I had to get numerous stitches in my leg after being cut by a seashell while out on a swim.
I don’t hold it against that seashell, but that shock, pain, fear, regret and vulnerability were the last experiences I had on Cape Cod before taking a hiatus from vacations, and carefreeness and wandering and wondering for many years to come. For the next eighteen years, I worked in a few corporate jobs, relocated several times, got married, went back to school, started a second career and had a few kids. This was the summer I planned to catch up where I left off before that sunny morning ended up going so bad.
Prior to that day, all my previous memories of Cape Cod were happy ones. I associated Cape Cod with an escape from reality. My serious concerns of the day were which shorts to wear, how long I’d go for a swim and what flavor ice cream cone to try. Those are the kind of major decisions my life has been lacking in recent times. Lately I’ve been too caught up in the grown up realities of mortgages, debt, family stress, work stress, dreams deferred, and growing older. If I were wealthy it might be called a “midlife crisis” – something easily resolved with buying a convertible and a toupee. But I can’t afford a convertible, and I’d look ridiculous wearing a toupee on top of the hair I still have. I’m sure everyone goes through this at some point in their lives, but retreating to a time in my life where happiness was never-changing is pure genius. It seems like something I should have thought of years ago.
My own kids have never been on a real vacation, either. This is their first time out-of-state. I was so worried how they’d tolerate a half-day car ride that I went overboard with every possible amusement they could need. I was so eager to show them all the places I went to as a kid, and tell them about the things I did for fun, what I saw and where I went. My kids are happy beyond belief with everything we’ve done so far. So many firsts for them: first time seeing the ocean, first time swimming in salt water, first time climbing a sand dune, first time running from a wave. I see my own childhood in their excitement and wonder. They have already asked me where we are going to stay when we come up here again next year. One of my kids even said he is going to bring his own kids here someday. I am so happy to know that my own childhood dreams, happiness and memories are now somehow passed over to my kids so they can start building their own on top of them.
But, it’s kind of funny being here as an “adult.” Now I’m the responsible one, the driver, the planner, the coordinator. I’m the one who budgets the money, decides when we will go and where. I break up the squabbles and decide what souvenirs my kids should buy. For the first time ever I’ve driven in a town where I used to walk everywhere. Something I never considered before…the crazy traffic and problems with parking. Making sure the kids are quiet in the motel so the neighbors won’t complain about the noise. Making sure we don’t go through all our clothes before the end of our stay. Trying to do the most we can even when the weather is straight rain for days on end. Realizing that many people up here on vacation don’t seem as concerned as I am with money. Such is life.
I’m also learning that returning to a childhood haunt as an adult can have some sadness to it as well. Ghosts of people in my life that aren’t around anymore – who we used to spend our summers with – have haunted me these past few days. People taken by old age, distance, and one tragically taken too soon. I realized I’ve been subconsciously looking for them in the crowds. I could see their faces in some of the other people I’d see here on the beach or waiting outside a store. Their memory is still with me. Good memories that I cherish.
You can’t go back in time, I know. But that eighteen year gap really froze everything in my mind. This was the summer the memories started to grow up again. Going back to an amazing sand dune that had our close family friend’s home was next to is now all grown over with trees, grass and an unsightly new McMansion sitting directly on top of it. With permission, we were able to climb up a path on the dune so my kids could have the empowering experience of standing on top of a mountain of sand. They had a great time, but I quietly felt the end of the chapter on a wondrous memory of mine.
One good thing that hasn’t changed is the town pier. My favorite ice cream, chocolate soft serve with chocolate sprinkles in a cake cone, tasted just as I remembered. And the warm wind melting it faster than I could eat it so ice cream and sprinkles were blown all over the table – to the horror of my family and the surrounding patrons – was just as comforting as I remembered it to be. But this time I’m the adult – and I prepared ahead with plenty of napkins and indifference. We all ate our ice cream cones and went out onto the beach – collecting shells and enjoying the day as if time had stopped and there was no one in the world but us.