Mondays can be tough. This Monday, though, is made tougher by the fact that it’s my first full day back home after a week at the beach. My brain is still in a vacation fog fueled by funnel cake, lack of sleep, and a harrowing drive home that spanned over 5 hours and included a GPS-guided detour off the highway and through New York City for reasons still unknown to me. But I digress.
While away, I did what we all do on vacation. I enjoyed my time with family and tried my best to capture a few images each day that represented the memories we’d made. I’m often bad at that. Remembering to take pictures, that is. I’m even worse at remembering to be IN some of the pictures, too, but that’s a story for another day. This time, I did okay at both. The end result was a nightly post to social media sharing the handful of images from that day. If we’re connected there, you probably saw my posts. Maybe even ‘liked’ or commented on a picture or two. The pictures show happiness. Family. Laughter. Relaxation. Fun. All the highlights of a memorable vacation.
But let’s drop the pretense for a minute here and level with each other. Vacation isn’t all just highlights, is it? There are the moments when no one can pick what they want for dinner or the kids are crying for no good reason. Maybe you’re sunburned. Chafed. Overtired. Perhaps the shoes you packed weren’t the best for walking, after all. Maybe the excursion you wanted was booked or you just ran out of time to do it all. Certainly, there are lowlights of vacation, too, but we never really talk about them. Until right now.
My favorite picture from vacation wasn’t taken by me. It was taken by my husband. Here it is:
My daughter and I were watching a fireworks display on the beach. It was the end of a long day of fun that included a morning bike ride for her and sleeping in for me. We’d gone on a speedboat dolphin tour with a group of family and friends, spent some time poolside, done some souvenir shopping on the boardwalk, and were about to head back to our hotel with a variety of fried sweets to share before bed. When I look at this picture, I take the overly critical stance that I always do. I see that my hair is messy and windblown. I see the flab at the back of my arm and my hunched posture. I wish I looked more motherly, maybe angled toward my daughter rather than away from her. Maybe with an arm around her. But you know what else I see here? Strength.
Since this isn’t social media and I don’t have to stick to just the highlights of my vacation, I’ll admit that had this picture been taken from the front, you’d see that I had a tear-stained face. Because when you’re like me and struggle with bouts of anxiety, you try hard to leave it at home but it finds its way into your suitcase every time. And mine followed me onto the boardwalk that night.
About 90 minutes before this picture was taken, I was browsing shops for trinkets to bring home to loved ones. The three of us—my husband, my daughter, and me—were happily walking together, chatting about what we hoped to buy. We were excited about the fireworks display that would be happening soon and were plotting what we’d grab for a sweet treat before heading back to our hotel for the night. As we shopped, the crowds thickened in proportion to my patience thinning. I grew uncomfortable. Cranky. Anxious. I told my husband that I was going to walk along the shore to have some quiet time and that I’d meet up with them for fireworks a little later. I encouraged him to continue on shopping with our girl and skipped down the wooden steps to the sand.
About 60 minutes before this picture was taken, I slipped off my flip flops and marched, barefoot, across the beach to the water. The sun was already down. It was a full moon, hovering large and pink on the horizon. I walked toward it until I felt the water at my toes. And then, I began walking along the shore, feet sinking slightly into the packed sand, waves lapping up the footprints in my wake. I breathed, deeply. I listened to the water. I watched in semi-darkness as birds alighted at the very edge of the water to drink before flying off. I cried.
About 45 minutes before this picture was taken, I paused my walk to face the ocean and the moon. I sat in silence for a few minutes and let the tears flow. I thought about life and love, childhood and aging, hopes and insecurities. I thought about my relationships. I thought about the work I’ve put into myself, my mental health, over the past year and a half. I talked to my mom, needing so badly to feel her spirit just then.
About 30 minutes before this picture was taken, I had made my way from the shore back to the boardwalk and found a bench overlooking the beach. I texted my husband to let him know where he could find me. I struggled with negative thoughts; I had let my anxiety win by pulling me away and ruining family time. I cried some more. I texted a couple of friends who I turn to in moments like these. I breathed and trained my eyes on that moon, trying to rein in my emotions. Trying to fight the urge to escape to the safety of my hotel room waiting just one block away.
About 15 minutes before this picture was taken, my husband and daughter hopped off the tram car beside me. He kissed the top of my head and whispered, “We’ll always have your back.” I didn’t try to hide my tears from my daughter, who stood between my knees and asked me why I was crying. Instead, I answered as honestly as I could. I told her I wasn’t sure. I asked her for a hug so she wrapped her arms around my neck and let me rock her. “You know that nervous feeling you sometimes get in your belly?” I asked, knowing that she understands anxiety. She nodded. “I’m feeling that. And it’s making me feel really sad for some reason. I’m just really glad you’re here.” She rubbed my back and held me and eventually sat down behind me.
Moments before this picture was taken, the fireworks display began. The fireworks display that I almost missed out on. She and I sat there, with Chris beside us, and oohed and ahhed as colors exploded in the air. I felt her back against mine. I heard the care and concern in her voice. I felt the safety in having my husband there.
I’m so thankful that my husband thought to snap a picture just then. Had he asked, I’d have declined. I’d have waved him off because I was crying and looked a hot mess. But he didn’t ask. He saw a moment he wanted to remember and he acted. I’d like to pause here to urge you: Take the picture. Even if you’re not looking or feeling your best. Take the picture, too, of your partner. Especially if your kids are with them. Even if it’s not social media worthy and no one ever sees the picture but you and them. Honest moments like these should be celebrated just as much as the posed, happy ones.
The greatest souvenir I could’ve ever taken home from my vacation? A reminder that it’s okay to not be okay.