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Lessons Learned on Summer Vacation

Photograph by Getty Images/iStockphoto

I guess I thought I’d be using the damn beach chair, you know?

I mean, that’s why I bought the thing.

But, when you finally stumble down onto the sand that first day of vacation, your arms leaking brightly-colored towels and bulging mesh bags of plastic shovels and castle molds, and the kids are plunging toward the ocean as if it was their real home, as if all along they were just a couple of kidnapped flounder being held against their will by "mom" and "dad," then it dawns on you quickly that the whole idea, the entire notion of you being able to sit down in the midday sun with a Diet Coke in one hand and the latest issue of Vanity Fair in your lap is just bullshit.

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Because what you are about to embark on is a solid week of following a couple young punks around, trying to prevent them from drowning in the sea, while the young and the beautiful and the childless relax behind their mirrored shades, rub sun tan lotion all over the tight bodies of their truly free friends and lovers, and they watch you watching them out of the corner of your big fat parental eye.

The whole thing just friggin’ sucks.

I’m sorry, but it does.

Back before I had Violet, 4, and Henry, 2, I thought I had carved out a pretty cool life for myself and I was right. I played in a rock 'n' roll band for 14 years, from the time I was 25, and we spent a lot of our time either sweating our young cares away up under the lights of a trillion different nightclubs from Seattle to Serbia, or traveling in a van or on an airplane to get there.

I smoked cigarettes and drank coffee and walked around strange city streets and toasted the strange beautiful night with complete strangers in far-flung corners of the globe just because I could, really.

In a way, I feel like I took sweet youth by her fluttering wings and bit off her head all in the name of living; miles upon miles fell behind me and my friends, and at night I would fall asleep in some cheap hotel room where I knew I would never sleep again, lulled to rest by the kind of weariness that can only get born and survive deep down inside the bones of the truly alive.

When I met a girl in a tour stop town, I fell in love and we got married.

Then, we had kids.

And then I had to decide some stuff.

I know in the pit of my guts that I have traded eclecticism and wanderlust and any indie cred I may have ever had a decade ago in for something leaner and more common.

Lately, I stand there in the playroom some mornings after my kids have passed through there and I look around me at the couch cushions laying on the carpet and the sippy cups tossed carelessly upon the floor, and it will hit me that I am probably not going to ever go back to the life I knew.

Standing on a seriously muffed-up copy of Green Eggs and Ham that appears to have been attacked by a purple crayon and then a shark somewhere along the line, I let the sound of the small flatscreen wash over me, The Backyardigans theme song whisper murmuring to me like some sad old whore I still visit just to talk to, and I know in the pit of my guts that I have traded eclecticism and wanderlust and any indie cred I may have ever had a decade ago in for something leaner and more common.

On the eve of parenthood, I let go of the kite, man.

And I did it gladly.

But still.

Even though I am not new to any of this fatherhood shit anymore, I still tend to imagine things moving along entirely ridiculous routes when I get to writing down my near future in my dumb head.

Like, I spent probably three hours or so one night not long ago looking at websites for restaurants down the shore where we would be renting a small apartment for a week.

Isn’t that weird?

I kept convincing myself that Monica and I would find ourselves sitting on a dock overlooking the evening bay after a long day of sand and surf with the kids. In my visions, we toasted thin ringing glasses of Pinot Grigio underneath a couple of floating gulls as we waited for our big spread of raw bar delights to arrive.

I don’t honestly know where Violet and Henry were in the scenario, either. We didn’t have anyone to babysit them or anything. They’d be by our side 24/7 once we got there. Anyway, it was just a stupid dream, you know.

We ended up ordering pizzas and stuff, just eating back at the apartment.

There is this place where the Atlantic Ocean in all of her majestic unforgiving glory rolls up onto the eastern seaboard and covers maybe a 30-yard stretch in South Jersey. The water in June is still cold enough from a long rough winter to scare away the meek but, if you let your ankles just get numb, after a few minutes you can beat the system and do your thing.

I stood there a lot last week. My wife did, too, the two of just watching our kids run back and forth, shrieking as each little-ass wimpy whitecap came chasing them away from the vast sea laid out before us. And each time the water just gave up and returned to where it came from, Violet and Henry would turn around on their stubby beautiful legs and scamper back, looking for the next one.

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By the third day of our first family vacation ever, I had made peace with most of my new reality.

I am 41 years old.

I am never going to be a lifeguard in this lifetime.

No one is waiting for me by any stage tonight. No one. Anywhere. In the whole world.

Whatever. The wine is still there to drink if I want it, but for now I have to suck it down in the beat-up living room of a preseason rental condo, with the kids falling asleep on the couch beside me.

And to tell you the truth, as the sun sets over the deep green sea, and somewhere the bones of some tired old whale are slow-motion sinking down to the dark bottom, this is still the happiest I have ever been, or probably ever will be.

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