Monday, August 10, 2009

breathing it in

I'm sitting on a screened porch in Folly Beach, SC, listening to cicadas chirping in the trees, looking out at a gorgeous old Live Oak rustling in the breeze. It's South Carolina hot here - 90s and humid - but the porch is lovely. Inside our little beach cottage, my husband and baby are napping, along with the dogs. The solitude is blissful. I can't see the ocean - I'm not even sure I can hear it - but I can smell it. This, along with the mortgage, bills, and student loan repayments, is what I work for - vacation.

I grew up going to the beach for vacation. My family was solidly middle class, and I suspect that there were years when it was difficult financially for us to make the trip, but every year we did. It was a commitment my parents made to each other, and to us, I guess, and it became a family tradition that I loved. There is just something about being by the water that feels like home to me, like rediscovering a piece of myself that has been missing. Perhaps its because I'm a Scorpio, a water sign, or maybe everyone feels this way. But that first breath of ocean breeze as I step over the dunes feels like a reunion, like breathing air that I've always been meant to breathe.

It's not just the air at the beach that I love. I love the way my skin feels - cleaner, smoother, younger. I love the way I smell after being at the beach - the way my clothes smell, even. I love days devoted almost entirely to elemental, basic needs - physical activity, breathing and walking and swimming, eating, drinking, and sleeping. I love getting a tan. I know it is unhealthy, but I absolutely love it, and being in the sun is the only way to do it (in my opinion). I love sneaking out of the house when everyone else is asleep to watch the sunrise over the water. I love walking on the beach in the evenings, when the sand is cool and the sun is going down.

As a child, another part of why I loved those beach vacations is that it was an opportunity for me to spend time with my dad, who worked full-time and with whom I never felt I had enough time. Each year, I knew I had that one week when I had my whole family to myself to just focus on each other - play, eat, sleep, read. We were not allowed to watch TV at all - just on the last day while we packed. What a great tradition. As an adult, I still loved those beach trips, and probably my favorite one ever was the first year my husband came along, when we were still dating. We stayed in one of the nicest houses we'd ever been in, our dog came with us, the weather was great, and Brian had a blast. I could see he was going to fit perfectly into our family, and everything was right with the world.

Now that my mother is gone, that beach tradition for my family, at least in the way it was when she was living, is gone, too. We've been back to the same place a few times, but it's not the same. I was there in April for work, and although I love that place like a childhood home, I also felt horrible being there. So, we are working on our own family traditions now. We've been to the Charleston area a few times, and this is our second family vacation here. We do some of the things we did with my family - hitting the beach, biking, fresh seafood made at home - and we're doing some new things, too - boat rides, visiting the historic areas downtown, seeking out parks and playgrounds for Dora. Most of all, we are spending some much-needed time together, just being a family, reminding ourselves why we love each other, giving our daughter the feeling of complete and total love she gets when her parents are together.

It's kind of like being at the beach allows us to reconnect with everything we need - all the pieces of ourselves that get lost in the everyday world. It's the water and the air, the sun and the sand, but it's more - the time to be together, the time to reflect on the past, the time to think ahead to the future - it's like that big expanse of sky, water, and sand gives us the space we really need to rediscover all those things, and each other. It's like being made whole, being healed, and being reunited all at once. I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to experience that, and to give that experience to Dora. We almost didn't make it this year - we both felt like perhaps we couldn't afford it. And, maybe we couldn't, but I also think we couldn't afford NOT to come, not to give ourselves the time to reconnect in this way.

So, this week, I will breathe it all in - the Live Oak rustling in the breeze, the dogs slashing in the surf, the cool evening sand in my toes, Dora smiling at us, the screened porch with the turquoise floor, the fresh seafood, the salt air. Mmm - it smells so, so good.

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