This weekend we did that thing parents aren’t supposed to do and kept the kids out of school for two days to go on vacation. We went to our home away from home, Isle of Palms.

Every morning, I got up and drove to Starbucks because I am who I am, and I had to cross the Ben Sawyer Bridge. Honestly, this is probably my favorite part of Isle of Palms. The bridge gives the most incredible view of the marsh with grasses blowing in the breeze a maze of waters stretching out as far as I could see. Every time I cross that bridge I have this urge to trace the pathways with my fingertips, to climb into a little boat and see where the water takes me, as if the journey couldn’t possibly be any more complicated or treacherous than the path the rest of my life has taken. It makes me feel peaceful, somehow, knowing that these twisting, winding paths aren’t pointless because they all lead to open water. 

When the coffee run was over, I retraced the route back over the bridge and was flanked again on either side by the marsh, staring straight ahead to the ocean, hearing my mom say that the ocean is proof of the majesty of God. I always miss her more at the beach, which she called her happy place. Choking back the lump in my throat, I would go up to the condo and grab Mary Ann so we could take our beach walk. 

She calls this our sacred time. The morning hours when Benjamin Button is still asleep and we can leave him and Other Half while we take our walk, just the two of us. She talks about school and friends and family and the future. About memories and fears. I snap pictures of little things that catch my eye. Things like tiny white feathers laying flat on the packed sand instead of being carried off by the breeze, then seeing a similar one floating in the shallow waters close to shore. Or starfish nearly the color of the sand. Or of how the sunlight reflects off the water like facets have been carved into its smooth surface. We usually go as far down as our two favorite beach houses and then turn back towards the pier to go to breakfast. 

The beautiful thing about breakfast in Isle of Palms is that I can have crab cakes. I will never be sorry I’ve had Eggs Benedict made with crab cakes. Especially when it’s served at little local restaurants that feel like you’re being served in someone’s home. 

In the evenings we went to my least favorite place— the arcade. It was a fair trade for how I dragged the kids through the Market in Charleston to buy more art prints for the house from our favorite local artist (JD Clark, check him out on Instagram). We discovered at the Charleston Fun House that our kids are terrible at Go Karts. Other Half was yelling from the fence, “Come on! Go faster! This is embarrassing!” Benjamin Button set his lips in a tight line and sped up, while Mary Ann just yelled, “Hash tag driving safe!” While throwing us a peace sign. 

I’m now the proud owner of  7 rubber ducks thanks to the claw machines in the arcade. Other Half is always so good at those, and he was trying to snag a sparkly duck for me, but missed. Benjamin Button came behind him and got the first one for me, giving a wink and saying, “Here mom. Guess you just needed a real man!” Prompting Other Half to give me six more. 

I read four novels while we were gone. Absolute brain rot. The cardiology books I took with me stayed in my bag unopened, the laptop right behind them. The only books I read were The Sun is Also a Star, the first few installments of the Virgin River Series, and a new Bible study from Scarlet Hitibidal on anxiety. 

We went shopping and I bought ridiculous shoes that won’t go with anything but made me happy, and I discovered I had dropped another size in my jeans which is every woman’s favorite discovery. We took Mary Ann to some of the locations where Outer Banks has been filming and it made her life complete. 

But in the midst of all of this, there was this undercurrent of anxiety buzzing in my blood. This unease. This fear. And the only time it seemed to ease up was when I looked at the marsh. We came home today and I went to run some errands for the week and took the long way home through the backroads like I always do, but all I could think about was how I wished I was still looking at that maze of waters. 

I know vacation is supposed to be relaxing, and sometimes it’s normal to not want to come home, but what I’m not as sure of is this: Is it even possible to have a life that you don’t need a vacation from? Shouldn’t that be the real goal? Finding a life that doesn’t make your chest feel tight, or have you wide awake in the middle of the night? Is it normal to wish that instead of your current career that you instead chose to become a volunteer at the sea turtle hospital or work in an art gallery? When we pulled in our driveway, Benjamin Button said, “It’s good to be home,” and I didn’t say a word because in my mind, I was wishing I was still driving down highway 17, turning onto the Ben Sawyer Bridge. I know my mom would get it. She always did. But she’s not here, and all I know is that I’m back to the life that makes my chest feel tight, and I don’t know how to make it better. But the shoes didn’t make it worse. 

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