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On Beach Trips

For the past decade or so (with the exception of the Covid years), we've taken a shared vacation with my husband's parents, his brothers, and our nieces and nephews each summer. Typically, we've stayed around the Rehoboth or Bethany Beach areas in Delaware, but this year my brothers-in-law booked a beach house near the southern edge of North Carolina on Carolina Beach. This new location added driving distance, but made up with warmer water.

The location doesn't matter much, I've found. As long as there's a beach and a house, we're set. The years blur, but themes emerge: games of Yahtzee with my mother-in-law on a porch, piles of sandy flip flops discarded at the entryway, mismatched beach towels hung to dry over a clothesline, sunscreen bottles tossed into canvas bags, help-yourself dinners of spaghetti or tacos because these meals are easy to prepare for a dozen people, strolls to collect shells, and the obligatory picture of all the cousins together.

We've been taking these trip long enough to notice how afternoon nap times for the youngest children have been replaced with all the kids staying up late, lingering around the kitchen table with tortuously long games of Phase 10 or progressive rummy. Instead of supervising as our toddlers splashed in the shallow surf and made sandcastles, as we did during years past, we parents now lounge and catch brief naps in the sun as our teenage kids charge into the waves and play Spikeball.

Like all summers, I bring my tote bag of books. This year, I sat on the porch, propping my feet up on the railing, listening to the waves, and breathing in the restorative ocean breeze as I plowed through three novels about fictional people with fictional life complications as they summer in Nantucket. For a little while, I forget the complexities of my own life.

We play mini golf one evening. We leave partially drunk water bottles that nobody can confidently claim as their own on end tables and countertops. One rainy morning some of us visit the aquarium while others take a nature walk along a trail and get bit by mosquitos and chiggers. I wear a swimsuit continually, substituting a new tee shirt and shorts each day, and let my hair go untamed with saltwater-styled waves.

We occasionally ask, "What day is it?" or "What time is it?" but the answers to these questions don't really matter. Measurements of days and hours don't carry the same weight when you're on the beach as they do in regular life.

This beach trip is different than years past. It's the same as years past. It's wonderful.

You'll Feel Better Knowing That You're Done

Yesterday marked the last day of school for my kids. I could reflect upon how I now have a rising high school senior, a rising high school freshman, and a rising seventh grader, but I'll save that for another day. Today, I'll continue to pretend I'm young.

This morning I was sitting at my computer grading assignments for my summer semester when my youngest asked, "Mom, do you want to go on a bike ride with me?"

Now, I'll always say yes to a bike ride with my kids. Perhaps this is because during the pandemic I watched them molt into furniture as they were glued to devices for ungodly amounts of time, so anytime any child suggests physical activity, I'll ride that positive wave. Moreover, today happens to be one of those perfect days -- warm without being hot, breezy without being windy, sunny without being oppressive.

It's utterly gorgeous. I cannot overemphasize the loveliness of today's weather.

I told her that I'd love to accept her offer, adding that we could either leave right now, or I could go in a half hour once I finished my grading.

"Oh, I'm fine waiting a bit," she said. "You'll feel so much better on the bike ride knowing that you're done with your work."

Her words made me smile and pause. She's right, after all. And, on occasion, you've parented long enough to realize that your kids have actually internalized some of the lessons you've tried to teach them, even to the point that they use those lessons to wisely advise you.

When the Grocery Line Gets It Right

Some people are skilled at picking fast lines in the grocery store. I don't have this gift. I'm gifted at picking a line that looks like it would move quickly, only to find that the person ahead of me is paying by check, but they forget their pen, and once the cashier hands them a pen, they drop that pen, and after they slowly pick up the pen, they pivot course and decide, "Oh! I meant to pay in cash. With pennies, actually. Let me count them out for you. What's the total again? Thirty five dollars and sixty three cents? I have that exact amount. I think."

Such was the case when I ran to the store to pick up one last-minute item recently. My lane looked like it would move swiftly, but after a minute or two, I realize that we weren't going anywhere. Nobody had inched forward. Nobody was any closer to the register.

That's when I noticed the woman at the front of the line. She repeatedly swiped her credit card, only to be met with angry beeps from the register that the transaction wouldn't process. A man ahead of me began tapping his foot. The woman behind him made eye contact with me and shook her head. Mild frustration was settling. These people, like me, had places to go.

But that's when something wonderful happened. One member close to the front of the line stepped forward. "I think you're inserting your card upside down."

The woman glanced at her card, flipped it over, and tried once more. Success! As the receipt printed, she turned to the line behind her and line and said, "I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to hold you up!"

The toe-tapper smiled and said, "Not a problem." The woman who had been shaking her head changed her countenance and said, "It's okay. We've all been there!"

And the woman at the front of the line went ahead with her day just as she should, without judgment, without anyone behind her adding another layer of frustration in response to an inconsequential mistake.

My grocery store line? We weren't the fastest, but we did get it right.

Don't Miss The Peonies

Friends, I haven't written this entire month, and we're quickly nearing its end. Let's see, what's happened over the past weeks?

I finished my spring semester and posted grades, then I started teaching two new classes during the summer semester. We celebrated three family birthdays in the span of two weeks. (We eat a lot of cake during the month of May.) I attended track meets, a spring middle school choir concert, and a middle school art show. I watched my oldest daughter attend her first high school prom. I took my car to the shop after the brakes failed. I emptied, painted, paired-down, and then reassembled our bedroom closet. We began hosting weekly summer dinners with football players at our house for my my husband's job as team chaplain. Like I do every May, I conceded to inevitable failure of being behind with end-of-year emails that my kids' schools relentlessly keep sending. With heaviness of heart, like the rest of the country, I attempted to process the news of yet another school shooting.

In short, somehow the past month got filled up. Months do that.

Even in the bustle, or perhaps because of the bustle, I take time for one daily ritual: an evening walk around our yard. If May is busy with birthdays, semester shifts, and end-of-school countdowns, our gardens offer visible reminders to slow down and savor. Our peonies are especially beautiful -- elegant and vivid, but oh-so-friendly with their sizable blooms.

They don't last exceptionally long, but that's a part of their charm. I appreciate them more because they aren't here forever.

So, as we wrap up the month, let me share these beauties with you. I hope you find them beautiful, too.

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