Yesterday L. told me out of the blue that one of the things he likes most about vacations is that he gets to wake up early with me and have special time with just me. We both tend to be early birds, and we both find it hard to sleep in when we're away from home, in a new and exciting place, with the day ahead of us filled with promise and places to explore. Being here at the beach with my little family makes me think about all the different "postcard" memories from the growing list of vacation dawns I've shared with L.:
Postcard #1: Topsail Island, NC, a week in July 2005. Both L. and I were up almost every morning at the crack of dawn. We'd hurriedly throw on some clothes and flip-flops and, whispering together so as not to wake up Scott and T., we would slide open the glass door to the back deck, breathe in the salt air, and tip-toe out into a beautiful pre-dawn world. There on the deck we would sit and watch that gray and almost half-formed world take shape: the sky fill with color slowly, the sea take on definition. In the distance we'd see the lights of the shrimp boats as they began their procession across the horizon, their "arms" extended like some wobbly tightrope walker. We had maybe half an hour to ourselves like this, before the rest of the house/world woke up and the magic of the quiet morning melted away.
Postcard #2: Kitty Hawk in May, when T. was about 16 months old and L. was almost 5; a turquoise-blue beach house named "Sea Breeze." I had a raging sinus infection and felt pretty miserable, but L. and I kept our "dawn date" each morning (I couldn't sleep anyway--my nose felt like it had been packed with bricks). Although the house was "oceanside" and not "oceanfront," the deck had a rickety old wooden porch swing that L. and I loved, and from it we could glimpse a square of ocean between two houses. We watched that square as it changed from silver, to gray, to blue while the sun rose, and we rocked in the swing in time to the sound of the waves on the beach.
Postcard #3: Family reunion in Wimberley, Texas, a few Labor Days ago. There we saw the dawn break from the whitewashed concrete of the yard outside our bungalow--feeling the chill in the air turn to warmth almost as the sun broke from the clouds and lit up the sky. We chased frogs into the "watering hole" at the entrance to the bungalow compound, and fed bits of straw to the fat goats in the yard.
Postcard #4: Athens, Greece, two years ago. L. and I would wake up in the hot, dark bedroom, and we'd crawl over a sleeping Scott and T. (are you sensing a theme here? That Scott and T. like their morning sleep, and L. and I are up with the sun?) and sit on the outside veranda, sipping coffee (me) and warm Ovaltine (L.) until 8:00. Then we'd walk down the cool marble steps to my grandmother's apartment below and find her there, brewing her morning coffee and toasting bread in the cool morning light.
Postcard #5: Carolina Beach, 2008. Today. L. wakes me up at 6:30, just when the first gray light is filtering through the blinds. T. is fast asleep next to me, her arm circling my neck. Even as I get up with L. I think about how fast the days are going by, like check marks on blank calendar pages, marking the time. We sit out on the deck together and talk about what the day has in store, and who I think might be renting the house opposite, and what would happen if the transformers on the power lines were to suddenly go out, and whether the waves we see capped white on the horizon will get smaller in the afternoon.
As I get older it's getting more and more difficult to bounce out of bed willingly at 6:30 a.m. when I'm on vacation. But even as I stifle any grumpy feelings about getting up with L., I think about how it makes every sense in the world to get up with the sun these days, while we're here at the beach. There is something impossibly special about watching a new day begin, and something even more compelling, I think, about watching it with your child. Although there were (and still are) some mornings when I left my bed reluctantly, any grogginess I felt was soon washed away by the moment: L.'s whispered voice by my bed ("Mama wake up!"), his hand in mine, the joyful glow in his face as the first shrimp boats glided into view and the scavenger dolphins broke the surface in their wake.