"Come walk with me along the beach where sunsets seem within reach, we'll search for treasures in the sand as we walk hand in hand."
In the pitch black of night, I loaded up my single carry-on suitcase, a mug full of piping hot coffee and some Tootsie Pops leftover from Halloween, things to keep me awake and alert on the two hour trek to Minneapolis. The temperature teetered right above freezing, lowering incrementally as the night technically turned to morning. Drizzle coated the windshield, the wipers swiping off the droplets that turned from rain to fat, wet snowflakes and then back to a light sprinkle. I blared music and sang along as I drove away from my family tucked snugly in bed.
Months ago when my cousin announced that her wedding would be in North Carolina, I immediately thought it wouldn't work for us. I devised ways to get a family of four with two young children across the country, balking at the money aspect and the hassle of airplane rides and layovers and interrupted schedules and missed naps. It sounded less like a vacation and more like a big ball of stress. A trip for my husband and I, sans kids, would have been ideal, yet the idea of lining up care for our kids while we were away was even less appealing. So the idea for me to go alone was born, and with it, the excitement and anxious anticipation of being just me--not mommy or wife--for four whole days. No butts to wipe. No fights to referee. No nap schedules to work around. No hands to grab in busy parking lots. No extra outfits to pack on day trips. No kid menus to worry about in restaurants. No antsy kids to chase around during preferred adult time. Just Angie being Angie for once. Finally. Once the plans were made, I waited and waited and waited, until finally I found myself on the highway with the handful of other cars traveling at midnight, North Carolina bound.
I met my brother, sister-in-law, nieces, sister and grandma at an off-site park 'n go that shuttled us to the airport. And we waited. We waited for the airport to open to go through the security. We waited in the line at the tiny McDonald's to fill our bellies with grease and coffee at 4:00 a.m. We waited to board the plane. We waited to take off. And then, finally, we struggled to rest our confused bodies that were missing our regularly scheduled sleep before landing in Charlotte for a layover. Then we waited to board again, waited for take off, and waited to sneak in a bit more rest. We arrived in Wilmington around 10:00 a.m., loaded into our rental cars and headed for Oak Island, North Carolina, where a beach house awaited.
You know how in every new experience there are lessons to be learned? Well, we learned when renting a beach house, you must select a linen package. Otherwise you will arrive after a long trip from Minnesota, sans sleep, to no towels or toilet paper in the bathrooms or sheets and pillowcases on the beds. And you may find yourself improvising at a tourist shop cutting up a clearanced beach towel to make wash cloths for your grandma. And lying atop the comforter and draping a sweater over your pillow while you sleep. And then your brother just might call up the rental company the next morning and use his deep, authoritative voice to rectify the linen situation--for free.
The beach house was this quaint little house set between two towering monstrosities. The neighboring blue house served as our guidepost, either on the beach or on the road, ushering us home. My sister and I shacked up in one room, a throwback to our childhood days when we shared the pink bedroom downstairs. A door off the living room opened up to the back deck. Four white, rickety rocking chairs were lined up off to the left side, a place we spent most of our time in the house, soaking up the view. And a long wooden aisle on the deck pointed straight to the ocean, directing the way.
That first day we arrived at the beach house, before discovering the linen situation, we bolted down the deck, across the dunes and straight for the beach. Despite the chilled temperatures, my niece wore her swimming suit, dancing in the waves. Our fatigue was momentarily forgotten as we walked the length of the beach to the pier and then, finally, back to our beach house to freshen up for the groom's dinner at my cousin's rented beach house. If our beach house was quaint, theirs was the Ritz, the perfect setting for a wedding. As the night wore on, our bodies started succumbing to the effects of being awake for a straight day and a half. Our first night of vacation ended at 8:00 p.m., crashing atop beds with no linens.
Waking anew, we spent the morning sipping coffee on the deck in rocking chairs and then making our way to the beach for a walk. I opted not to bring my big girl camera, deciding the convenience of my iPhone was much preferred.Yet, I still took hundreds of pictures on that beach, crouching low to catch the waves, perched under the pier to capture its structure, angling my arm out for selfies, and holding it steady to take videos. I was mesmerized by the beach, and anxious to save it all with my little iPhone camera.
The wedding was simple and elegant. A few rows of white wooden chairs on either side of the aisle, accentuated with glass vases wrapped halfway up with blue yarn. The bride and groom stood in front of a small gathering of their loved ones, the beach as their backdrop. The reception afterwards followed in the ceremony's simple fashion. Dinner, drinks and socializing. As I watched my cousins tend to their children's needs, I felt both homesick for my unruly boys and an utter relief to be free of them for one blissful trip. FaceTiming each day kept the homesickness at bay, and I truly allowed myself to enjoy the unfamiliar independence, however temporary it was.
The remainder of the trip went by in a breeze. Mornings spent alternately on the deck and beach, long walks with my nieces as we soaked up every last drip of that ocean, and some more family visits at my cousin's Ritz beach house. Then it was over before we knew it, saying our good-byes, and heading back to the airport. Since we had time to kill, we drove our cars right onto a ferry, crawled out onto the deck, pulled up our hoods around the chilly ocean air and traveled in style. We made a quick pit stop to tour the U.S.S. North Carolina Battleship. Then, finally, we were in the air headed home, the waves lapping against the beach a distant sound in the horizon.
When I got home that night, I sneaked into my sons' darkened bedrooms and watched them sleep for a bit. It was good to get away, but it was good to come home, too.