It was around January when my mom booked this summers' family vacation - a week in the Outer Banks, NC. Growing up, my extended family went every summer and it was the highlight of the year. I have about 15 cousins on my mom's side who mostly lived locally, so our parents would rent a huge house and fill it to the brim. Sometimes when just one or two of my aunts or uncles would go out with a big group of us kids, they'd get stares and gasps as people asked, "Are all these children YOURS???"
My best childhood memories were at that beach, when we would chase crabs, microwave plates of tortilla chips in cheese, go on long bike rides to get banana-banana smoothies, and challenge each other with all kinds of ridiculous dares: snorting cinnamon, racing from the top deck hot tub, down to the pool, and back, sneaking into empty vacation houses at night.
This year my mom decided to book a house for whoever could make it. Jake and I decided it was worth the hike - so we booked our red-eye flight to Raleigh, followed by a 3.5 hour drive. It was actually our first time flying together and renting a car together, so despite the discomfort of flying Frontier and waiting in long car rental lines without any sleep, we enjoyed the experience and feeling like adults :)
We stayed in South Nags Head and spent our days walking across the street to the beach and reading. Jake and I each read 2.5 books. I got a really bad sunburn on my stomach where I forgot to apply sunscreen. We didn't watch any TV except for one Redbox movie. I only got in one fight with my parents.
The week was lovely and relaxing, but to me it felt like there was this elephant in the room the entire time, which was that things have changed.
The beach was still the same, but it's different now. The kids aren't little, we don't run off and play like we used to. My cousins and sister couldn't come, due to jobs and living out of state and limited vacation days.
I drove around with Jake and pointed out all the things I could remember - we stayed in that house once, this was our favorite beach book store, etc. But it felt weird to share these memories out loud, my words couldn't communicate how big a part this beach played in my growing up. I worried he wouldn't like it. I started noticing the parts of town that looked old, the humidity felt heavy, the sea weed clumped in the ocean.
I felt a lot of pressure to have as much fun as we'd had as kids, but those expectations were impossible to live up to, especially when what made it so special was sharing it with my siblings and cousins. So I consciously tried to let that pressure go, and just enjoy this season for what it is - which is mostly a lot quieter and calmer.
Things have changed.
At the end of the week, my best friend Kayla and her husband Tanner joined us for two nights. The house had 2 bedrooms that went unused all week, so my parents were happy to have them join us. And gosh, so was I.
Being with Kayla and Tanner helped me feel more like myself, since I've spent the 6 years around them. Their presence brought the past, present and future together.
I was in my family's past place, I was with my present friends, and now all of a sudden I was able to get a glimpse into the future - new vacations to take, new memories to be made. Having my friends around helped me see the gifts of this current season, instead of longing to be back in the past or rush to the future. There aren't little kids around now, but one day there will be. Having a beach house isn't our current tradition, but we have a chance to make new ones. And what we have right now is good - even when it feels a little transitional.
Maybe it always will.