Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Travel blog continues: Outer Banks, NC

Once again, we find ourselves not quite where we were "supposed" to be.

We originally planned Outer Banks as our first "real stop" on our 5-week, semi-spontaneous RV road trip. We had 10 days scheduled there and then we were moving on to Charlottesville, Va., Myrtle Beach, SC, Tybee Island, NC, and finally, Cocoa Beach, Fl. Well, after three and a half days of driving, 2 ferries, and 1000 miles overall, we arrived in our blessed OBX campground only to have four consecutive days of rain and record low temperatures. In spite of (once again) making the best of our situation, this was definitely not the OBX blissful experience we remembered from past years. We decided to extend our stay by a couple of days, but once the sun (and all the other campground kids) came out and the waves kicked up, the boys asked to stay even longer. In total, we spent the last 17 days at the Cape Hatteras KOA in Outer Banks, where there was an excessive amount of daily surfing, sunning, Dairy Queen-ing, and boozing (the boys did the DQ part and Hubby and I drank our calories). We decided to cut out the middle portions of the trip, head back home to South Florida for a few days, and then go back out as scheduled to Cocoa Beach, Fl. We were "supposed" to be in South Carolina right now, but instead, we are only a couple of hours away from home for our unexpected (and actually, very welcomed) mid-trip break at home.

This trip, admittedly, was very different from our other RV trips. The boys, now nearly 15 and 12 years old, are changing: they bicker more over stupid things, crave more time with other campground kids, and are not quite as eager to sit around playing Jenga and eating s'mores with Mommy. Because of COVID, some of the places and activities were closed or limited. After having quarantined at home together for so long prior to the trip, the four of us were not quite as good at being in a tiny space together for so long. And those first few days of crazy rain and cold definitely put a damper on things. But there's still a magic, for us, to this place. Even with an experience that was short of perfection, Hubby and I noticed it...it's the vibe, the energy, the feeling there, in that space. The first time we visited Hatteras, I said that if Hawaii and Key West had a baby, this would be it. That feeling is still there, and if this is our "consolation prize" for losing our pre-Covid planned Hawaii trip, then I am certainly not complaining. 

At Cedar Island, the campground where we catch the ferry early in the morning for OBX...
burning off some energy after sitting in the RV for a couple of days on the drive north.

No matter how many times we've done it, I'm still always amazed when we load up the RV and truck onto the ferry for the two water crossings over to the cape

Making the best of the rainy days with sightseeing

They surfed pretty much every day while I drank and read...
probably why I'm the only one who gained weight on this trip!

One of our traditions: nighttime crab hunting. They graduated from catching tiny ones with nets while squealing to catching huge ones with their bare hands.
Part of the magic of this place: the sunsets on the sound side of the campground

One of my favorite moments of the trip...
 the boys and I watching Daddy finally kicking ass on a kite board

Homebase for 17 days

Campfire plus the traditional OBX stilt houses lit up in the background equals magic

On the last night, right before bed, the boys thanked us for "an amazing family trip," so I guess in spite of the spontaneity, bumps, weather, and bickering, we did all right...

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

The travel blog returns: where we were supposed to be today

We were supposed to be on a plane right now, heading to Kauai. We had planned it and saved up for it for almost 2 years, but then the bizarre situation that is our world these days stepped in. It sucks. A lot of things suck right now, but I am not so delusional or spoiled that I don't understand that my Hawaiian getaway is not nearly even close to high up on the list of Sucky Things Happening In The World Right Now.

But even though we are incredibly grateful that we have not lost loved ones, jobs, or our minds (although that last one really depended on the day), we are still, admittedly, incredibly sick and tired of being cooped up and having our lives put on hold. (Have you seen those pandemic memes about the introvert friends needing to check on their extrovert friends because they are most certainly, absolutely not okay? Yeah, that's us.) We, as a family, are rarely home. We rarely sit still. We are always out and doing, and when we are not, we are planning the out and the doing. So when our big trip to paradise had to be postponed another year (no, I am not even contemplating the possibility of 2021 being as fucked up as 2020), we sat down and said "Okay, so what can we do instead?" 

We are lucky that when COVID pretty much shut down every kind of travel option, we were able to resort back to our usual mode of summer adventure: our RV. We usually spend at least a year planning and organizing our summer road trips...from the stops to the activities to the daily mileage. This time, we turned to the kids immediately after canceling our flight to Kauai and asked "If we can't go to Hawaii this summer, what would make a good runner up?" Luckily, this was one of those rare times when all four of us had the same response: Outer Banks, NC...where our oldest learned what the word "bliss" meant many moons ago. So in an unprecedented and very non-type-A-personality move, we threw together a 5-week road trip with the only non-negotiable being a very long stay at our favorite beach campground in Outer Banks.

We loaded up and headed out yesterday, driving about 8 hours from South Florida to a little campground in Georgia where we just spent the night. Today, we were supposed to stop to sleep at South of the Border, the infamously tacky and frighteningly similar-to-a-cheap-horror-movie-set campground where we stayed a couple of years ago.  But after making really good time and only driving about 5 hours, we all agreed we'd stay on the road a few more hours.

But first, the boys humored me by recreating some cheesy pics from our last stop there: 


...and THEN


...& THEN


...& THEN

We'll be staying somewhere in North Carolina tonight and head out tomorrow to Cedar Island, where we will kill time in a very isolated and oppressively hot beach area while we wait to get on the ferry to the Outer Banks early the next day.

Since I woke up this morning, I have been thinking about where we were "supposed" to be today. After all, the date June 10, 2020 had been figuratively circled on my calendar for more than a year. I even had one of those silly vacation countdown apps on my phone. It had a little Hawaiian-themed suitcase graphic on it. I am incredibly aware of how lucky we are...driving to spend all these days in our second favorite place in the world, and then moving on to spend more weeks discovering new places and revisiting old faves. So even though I was "supposed to be" on a plane right now, I am pretty damn happy and grateful that I am where I am, with my three favorite people around me, healthy and well.  And maybe...just maybe...on the road all together in our beloved RV is where we were "supposed to be" today all along. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Graduating during the pandemic: this is not the way it was supposed to end

On the first day of kindergarten, Ben walked up to his teacher, unprompted, stuck out his hand, looked up, and announced, "Hi, I'm Ben. It's nice to meet you."

When he was about 3 or 4, he asked me, "Mommy, if I'm holding your hand when you die and go to heaven, will I be able to go with you?"

He's always been this intense, special, old soul: wise beyond his years, sensitive, headstrong, outspoken. So bright, it's scary. The kind of kid who would question everyone around him all the time---his teachers, his friends, his parents--not out of disrespect, but simply because he was probably seeing some loophole in their rules or suggestions that did not make sense to him, and he, quite frankly, just wanted to know why... We have spent years trying to teach him how to keep that self-confidence and sharpness, but not step on the toes of those in authority (too much). There have probably been an equal number of days in our parenting lives in which we have had to say "Damn it, you're right," and "Damn it, 'cause I say so." So often, he is the one calling us out, making us look at a situation in a different way, bringing us together as a family in the midst of an argument or a disagreement or a moment of discipline. Sometimes when he is driving me craziest, I have to laugh and shake my head and remind myself: "Mannnnn, this kid could rule the world..." 

He and I are so alike, it's startling. There are countless times when we notice the same exact detail about something, make the same comment, understand each other's thinking in a way no one else can. How often does Hubby say "You two are exactly the same person." And so, we have a bond that's unique and comforting. But when we clash...you can almost see the energy surging around us. I imagine we must look like two fighters literally dropping the gloves and coming at each other, or those bighorn rams you see butting each other on the heads on the nature channels...but we come at each other with our words, usually powerful, often sarcastic, and always indignant. It scares me, sometimes, how alike we are, how connected I feel to him, but the true beauty of it is when we come out of it on the other side: the battles usually end up bringing us closer. 

And now he's about to finish up his elementary and middle school years. He is "graduating" from 8th grade and crossing over to being a High Schooler. (How in the hell did I become the mom of a high schooler?!?) He has spent the last 9 years at the same school (the same school where Hubby and I teach). From that kindergarten first day when he pretended to be all grown up meeting his teacher to this final year, he has excelled. (Did I mention that when he earned his first B on a report card in 3rd grade, he literally threw himself on the floor of our kitchen crying? When we tried consoling him, he sobbed: "Well, maybe it's good enough for you, but it's not for me!" Luckily, he's loosened up a bit through the years...) He's made every honor roll and been inducted into every honor society. He's won competitions in his STEM classes. He's missed (maybe) one or two homework assignments the entire time. This year, he took the award for Top Algebra Student (I can't even add tip to a restaurant check, so this is the one area in which we are absolutely nothing alike). But the ending of these years is not only special because of his academic achievements. He's made friends. Good, tight, special friends. He's played football. He was on the jump rope team. He built robots and made award-winning paper-mache masks. It's been a really, really good 9 years. 

And now he's closing this chapter of his life and is the only one leaving the area's school to go to his neighborhood high school. He's excited. ("I want to do ALL the activities!" he whispered to me at the high school's open house.) He's ready. We all are. This school will open a whole new world for him---one that includes not only academics, but sports and socializing and learning who he is in isolation of all those kids he's literally grown up around. 

But--it wasn't supposed to end like this.

Like so many other parents, students, and teachers, we are heartbroken by how this pandemic has affected our school lives.

He spent the first three semesters of this school year busting his butt to complete not one, but two, online high school classes so he could "play" in phys ed the last semester with his best friends. The day the last semester was supposed to start, we were already in quarantine. So here's this kid---my kid---who made the responsible choice for himself: "I won't take phys ed on my last year with my buddies, even though I really want to, because I should get high school stuff out of the way, but I'll make sure I get it all done early so I can have those last 9 weeks to hang out and enjoy myself..." and...nope. He was supposed to go on a graduation cruise with his best friend. There was a 3-day field trip he was especially excited about to the state colleges. Two trips to Orlando parks for the honor society kids and the graduating class. A graduating ceremony. He had already picked out his tuxedo (John Wick style, thank you very much) for his 8th grade prom.  

That's how it was supposed to happen. 

But as we know, nothing is as it's supposed to be these days. Nothing.

And so we have done like so many other families: we have made the best of a terrible situation with small socially distant gatherings with only his best friend and his grandparents...with car parades with posters and balloons and honking horns...with promises---oh, how we've made promises--of future trips and sleep-overs and beach days with his friends...all his friends...any of his friends....as many things as he wants to plan when this is "all over" (whatever that means). 

Of course, he has handled it all beautifully. Remember, he was born an old soul. Wise and sensitive and sharp. He understands he can't complain about a canceled field trip when there are people dying around the world. But somehow, that makes me hurt even more. Because--and I know I'm super biased here-- I feel like: Man, if there ever was a kid who deserved to go out with a bang, it's this one. My boy. 

Congratulations, Ben.  Words cannot express how proud we are...not just of your school achievements, but even more so of the young man and amazing soul you are. We love you.