The night before we left on our trip, I put aside the things we’d need. Along with the clothes and the swimsuits and the jackets and the shoes (and the board games, the fold-up beach chairs, the electronic accoutrements, the coolers and the pillows and the blankets) I packed books. I packed the book I was reading at the time and I packed two other books in the off-chance I’d have time to read more.
I was going to the beach for almost-six days and I was going to read and write daily vacation blogposts, in addition to taking amazing photographs, and getting up to watch the sunrise and the sunset. That is, when I wasn’t busy playing boardgames and exploring the Oregon coast, or cooking delicious meals and having meaningful conversations.
This would have all been doable, of course, had I gone on vacation by myself. (Admittedly, the board games and meaningful conversations part would have been more challenging to navigate toute seule.) But the thing about vacation with kids is, though the scenery may change, little else does.
Your spending a week in a different time zone doesn’t magically reveal pockets of free time unavailable to you in your home setting. There are still dishes and laundry and people need to eat – as the Onion describes it: ‘Mom Spends Beach Vacation Assuming all Household Duties in Closer Proximity to Ocean’.
On the third or fourth day of vacation, having read exactly 2 pages of my book, I realized (again) that at this stage of my life a vacation is not a restorative endeavor. All one can realistically hope for when traveling avec enfants is a handful of moments – usually when least expected – when (nearly) everyone is in sync and able to fully enjoy their surroundings.
Like Agate Beach. When we set foot on its fine, virtually people-free sand, I sensed we were in the midst of such a moment. Shrouded in eerie fog, the boys were delighted to be out of the car after a tough day of eating taffy and fish and chips; free to dig and bury and run and be with no one telling them to be quiet! or stop running! or stop making a mess!
Much like Delicate Arch, Cannon Beach ended up on my must-see list via Facebook or a blog. ‘Great tidal pools,’ more than one person told me and I imagined all sorts of vacation-magic: happy children finding starfish and hermit crabs, family pictures in the golden light of the setting sun. But, and this is the thing with vacations, you get what you get. Meaning, you might be standing in the desert heat, a tantalizing 1.5 miles away from the rock arch you’ve been dying to see for years, but unable to get there. Or you might get to Cannon Beach, in full view of Haystack Rock, but there is no sun because the day is chilly and foggy and that coveted low tide isn’t scheduled to arrive for six more hours.
But all wasn’t lost. While the other kids played in the sand and water, the Gort and I walked along the beach staring at the gelatinous blobs deposited on the sand. We talked about the cannibalistic seagull we saw, gnawing on the carcass of its former friend. And we talked about school and vacation and nothingmuch. And it wasn’t at all like I thought it would be, but it was still pretty good.
After leaving Cannon Beach and walking around the (very cute) touristy part of town, and eating more taffy than anyone should ever consume, we got in the car to make our way back to Lincoln City (or stop at the next random attraction that caught [my] eye).
‘What next,’ the professor asked as we vacated our parking spot, in the manner of one accustomed to there always being a ‘next’. ‘Well, I read something about Ecola State Park,’ I offered. And by ‘something’, I meant I saw a one-line reply on a discussion thread about things to do in Oregon. ‘It said the drive to Indian Beach was nice.’
We fumbled with the map he’d just picked up at the tourist information office and on instinct he followed the main road to another main road and there was a sign for Ecola State Park. (If only we would have this same kind of luck navigating Seattle two days later.)
Maybe I’d misremembered the sentence I’d read on that discussion thread, because ‘nice’ turned out to be spectacular.
Ecola State Park
Nearly immediately I texted my sister, who was already ensconced in her car with a sleeping child or two and headed back down the coast.
‘It’s crazy-beautiful,’ I gushed, which was apparently enough to convince them to turn the car around and join us a short while later at Indian Beach.
Which, in addition to offering the standard Oregon beach of amazing sand and big rocks in water, turned out to be a magical kid oasis of shallow ‘streams’ with rocks to throw and a pile of dead trees to climb.
The next morning, our last day in Lincoln City, the professor and I left for a short walk along the beach. As we were descending the (83) steps to the sand, I noticed something was different. Rocks I’d never noticed before were exposed, ready to be climbed and explored.
I hustled back to the house to summon the rest of our crew, who arrived with buckets and shovels and a desire to be marine biologists.
There in the tidal pools, clinging to the exposed rock, we found starfish and sea anemones and hermit crabs crawling around. A kind stranger even took a family picture for us – not one in which we’re wearing color-coordinated clothes, or even combed hair, but one that captures all 11 of us being in the same place at the same time and happy (if slightly squinty from the bright sun.)