Vacation Like it’s 2005.

We just returned from our fifth traditional summer beach trip with our friends, David, Ashley, AJ, and Tessa. We arrived Wednesday evening in Isle of Palms, South Carolina (just a few minutes outside of Charleston), got unpacked, and hurried out to the beach to enjoy the last colors of sunset.

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The skies, the water, and the full moon were a blissful start to the trip.

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The next morning, we set out for a long day at the beach (after spending the required amount of hours sunscreening the little people and then distracting said little people with silly selfies so they didn’t lose patience with how long it took to sunscreen all the big people.)

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We lugged our five tons (per child) of beach equipment with us, and staked our claim on the lovely and largely uninhabited beach.

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I decided that before I got wet, I wanted to get some pictures of the kids. So I pulled out my camera, which immediately became covered in a fine mist from the thick humidity. And it proceeded to tell me in no uncertain terms that it would not be cameraing. At all.

I took it back to the house to put it in a dry time out, then headed back out to the beach – old-fashioned style, no camera.

I mean, I did have my phone, but something about not having my “real” camera made me just…let it go.

Not immediately, of course. I was pretty mad at the camera/worried about it/determined to fix it that evening, but that was not to be. It was cooked. But I somehow accepted the fact that this was not meant to be a properly photographed trip and settled into the most bizarre decade-old lifestyle where I simply enjoyed the vacation for myself – and shared the moments almost exclusively with the people I was with.

…I let my Twitter and Facebook feed go.

…I took very few pictures on my phone.

…I tweeted or Facebooked once a day or less.

…I didn’t take any notes for future blog posts.

And in five days of constant fun and beautiful scenery, I only put up six Instagram photos.

I just enjoyed the trip for what it was….a really, really great trip.

Bizarre, right?

And I really liked it that way.

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But I captured a few moments…

The children, as always, had the most blissful five days of their year, paired with their best friends in their favorite spot.

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And this year, we added a huge upgrade for everyone – we brought our babysitter, Sarah, with us.

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(Yes, Noah WAS excited as well, especially since he’s insistent that he’s going to marry Sarah one day.)

The kids got an extra playmate, Sarah got to do what she wanted all day (which ended up sometimes including the kids – lucky them), and then she kept the kids at night so the parents could go out for a lovely dinner with no over-tired beach-burned children to whine throughout our entrees.

Right??

Right.

It was perfection.

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On all of our previous trips with our friends, we have gone to our sandy white Alabama beaches, but Isle of Palms was a fun variety, as we had the super hard Atlantic sand to make the best sand castles,

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(Even though it totally looks like mud when photographed),

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And the added benefit of the fun sights and activities in Charleston.

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Charleston is absolutely one of my favorite southern cities – the history and colors and beaches and atmosphere are all eloquently unique and fantastic.

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….And all of it is surrounded by the most beautiful marsh waters, adding a sense of calm and elevated beauty to the entire area.

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But other than the above ridiculously choppy narrative, I have no further tales or quotes or silliness to share with you – because I just completely vacated,

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Almost as thoroughly as the children.

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And it was fantastic.

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Just as it should be.

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Summers are For Kids.

Our summer thus far has been the most fascinating family paradox. While Chris and I have been wrestling with it in a most epic fashion, the kids have literally had The Best Summer Of Their Lives.

  • I had surgery = The kids got ten days of fabulous playdates with different friends every. single. day. Then got to eat the remains of my tonsillectomy spread of ice creams.
  • Our house flooded and we had to move out = the kids got to live in a fancy hotel for five days with their own pool and breakfast buffet and dreams come true.
  • We’ve had workmen in our house for days at a time = The kids got to spend every day being chauffeured by me to fun activities and interesting surprise ways to spend our days.
  • Noah got bit by a spider = Okay that one wasn’t fun for anyone.

But you get the point. Things have been solidly going their way – summer camps and pool days and being on billboards and visiting TV stations and waterslides. They’ve been very aware of their fortunes and fairly thankful for them, as kids go. At least once a day, Ali has reminded me that “This is THE BEST SUMMER EVER!!!!”, which has helped me find solace in her exuberance…and prove that summers truly are for kids.

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As such, Noah had yet another fantastic summer surprise last week.

It never hurts to have dreams. To be a person with vision. And to communicate that vision clearly to the people around you.

Especially if you’re four and endearing.

A few weeks ago, I discovered The Ideal Bribe to get Noah to be the perfect four-year-old that has been in my personal dreams – and that bribe was a favorite shirt from his favorite store, Alabama Outdoors.

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But in that process, Noah expressed his vision for how things should be.

He needed the Big Tree on the front of the shirt.

I mean – if that tree is a beacon of everything you love, then you want to be able to see that tree, blown up, as big as your chest, without having to screw your head around backwards. A completely reasonable observation.

IMG_8265I told you the shirt was bright. I’m pretty sure the whole city can see him.

Alabama Outdoors took note of Noah’s vision, and Tyler and Evan specially designed and printed just such a T-Shirt for him, even in his favorite colors.

His Big Tree on Front bliss was palpable.

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This made for a very smug four-year-old. One that will probably begin to have many more visions for the way things should be.

But the question that Noah hadn’t considered was: what do you put on the back of a shirt when you move the big tree to the front?

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Apparently Alabama Outdoor’s design theory is to fully solidify my son’s Diva Status and Summer of Dreams.

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I’m pretty sure this makes Noah The Official Alabama Outdoors Mascot. Or an Indentured Future Employee. One or the other.

As a bonus, Noah got a lesson in exactly how rock climbing works, including adding new rocks to the wall,

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and learning how to belay, using The Lovely Silver Lady.

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When Tyler brought Silver Lady over for the demonstration, Noah immediately asked, “Did you stuff her after she died?”

I’m not sure what the alternative answers to this question were in Noah’s mind…

“No – we stuffed her before she died.”

“No – she died but we didn’t bother stuffing her.”

“No – her skin tone is naturally that lovely matte silver.”

“She’s not dead yet – just mostly dead.”

But if she wasn’t dead before, she was certainly dead after Noah finished with her.

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After which he laughed mightily at her ungraceful descent. As one does when one is having The Best Summer Ever.

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(Free Tip: Don’t have Noah belay your rock climbing adventures.)

That evening, Noah was sitting on our front porch admiring his shirt, then trying to screw his head around to see the back.

“You know what? NOW what I want is a shirt that says ‘Noah’ on the front.”

And this is why, along with teaching our kids to dream big, we must also teach them other important philosophical concepts, such as this one.

Even in The Best Summer Ever, you can’t always get what you want. But if you’re a kid, you get pretty dang close.

On Hopes and Dreams.

A few months ago, I asked the kids a question.

“Would y’all like to be on a billboard?”

Ali’s eyes lit up. “YES! That would be AWESOME!!”

Noah’s brow creased. “NO. They’re way too high. I might fall.”

Fair enough.

I had been working here and there with a local company, Alabama Outdoors, with regards to my sunset photography and whatnot, and we had discussed a photo shoot with the kids, hence my question – because one should never agree for their kids to do something without first making sure said kids weren’t violently opposed to the concept. But the details didn’t work out, and so I didn’t bring it up again.

But Ali didn’t forget. She doesn’t forget much. And she continued questioning me about why I had asked that question and when she might get to be on a billboard. A yearning had been opened up within her – a seed turning into a blossom that, before that random question, she wasn’t even aware existed.

She NEEDED to be on a billboard. It became a driving force in her life – a dream that had to come true for her to be able to continue living a fulfilled existence.

(Because being on a blog is not nearly as exciting as seeing yourself fourteen feet tall and hovering over a freeway.)

I finally explained to her about Alabama Outdoors, and that perhaps one day I could make her dream come true. And also, she might have more of a chance of attaining said dream if she were wearing an Alabama Outdoors shirt.

All of a sudden, she wanted to wear her shirt on all of our hikes and sunset walks,

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And was quite amenable to sitting still and letting me take as many pictures of her as I desired.

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She even started suggesting poses – sometimes rather wild ones.

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She became a walking billboard for Alabama Outdoors in her attempt to get on an Alabama Outdoors billboard. The girl doesn’t shy away from her goals.

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After a month or two of Ali wearing her shirt everywhere, my friend Tyler, the Alabama Outdoors creative genius who I’d been working with, asked me to see if I could get him a Father’s Day shot on one of our family hikes. He gave me a basic idea of what he was looking for, and I decided the ideal place for our shoot was Ruffner Mountain.

He wanted one of the kids wearing their Alabama Outdoors shirt, and in an ironic twist of fate, I chose Noah. (His wasn’t quite as well-worn, after all.)

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I let Chris and the kids hike ahead of me, and I shot them continuously throughout the walk.

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At one point I was sure Noah was giving himself Poison Ivy to spite me.

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We took the ENO hammock (that we had rightfully bought at Alabama Outdoors) to the top and set it up, in the attempt to capture a loving Daddy/kid moment.

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Ali was especially agreeable and Noah was…meh.

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Some of the photos did show my lack of proper staging – Noah’s socks were wonky and crooked, Ali’s socks were inside out, and she was wearing a red shirt with pink socks – but a mom can only fix so much when she’s also the photographer and hike director.

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Fortunately, their cuteness made up for all the sock mishaps (if I may say so myself.)

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As the sun set, the scenery got a bit eerie for a minute,

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and I got more manic in my photography demands, trying to get the One Perfect Shot.

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As my family faced away from me, pretending to admire the sunset but actually closing their eyes to protect them from the glare while chatting amongst themselves, Noah finally got fed up and said, “WHY are we having to stand here for SO long?”

Chris answered, “Because your mother likes to take a thousand pictures, son.”

I defended myself. “Hey! I am doing this photo shoot for Ali. I want to make her dream come true.”

Chris said, “Yeah…right. Blame the kid.”

Ali piped up calmly, “Actually, Dad, she’s right. Being on a billboard would make all of my hopes and dreams come true.”

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After the hike, she told me, “Be sure and let me know when I’ll be on a billboard and where the billboard will be. I need to let my friends know so they can go see me.”

I didn’t mention the photoshoot to the kids again, but quietly edited the photos and provided creative input into the design process when requested.

Three weeks later, after my surgery, the flooding, and on the last day of our hotel stay, I drove downtown and parked on an overpass, facing a rotating digital billboard.

The kids, who had grown used to our frenetic schedule over the past two weeks, asked lazily once or twice what we were doing there, but let it drop when I replied that they’d figure it out soon.

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Finally, after the third loop around, Ali yelled.

“Hey! That’s US!!”

“It sure is. On a BILLBOARD.”

“Cool!”

“Did all your hopes and dreams just come true?”

“What?”

“You said they would if you were on a billboard.”

“Oh. Yeah…but I didn’t actually mean all of them. I mean, I have other dreams, you know.”

<sigh>

….But I knew on the inside she was screaming with joy to see her ambition finally pay off. And that her trifecta of the perfect month – ten days of playdates, five days in a hotel, and seeing herself on a billboard – had just occurred.

Noah, on the other hand, told me the next day, “I HATE being on a billboard.”

I asked, “Why?”

“’Cause.”

“That’s a terrible reason. Actually, it’s not a reason at all.”

Ali said calmly, “Actually Mom, he’s just copying you. You give us that reason when we ask you why all the time.”

As usual, she is correct.

So. If you happen to live in town,

And you happen to be driving on the Red Mountain Expressway toward Homewood in the next couple of weeks,

And you happen to pass the digital billboard at just the right time in the loop to see this,

Alabama Outdoors Billboard

Please let Ali know that you saw her. And then you, too, can be a part of making all her hopes and dreams come true.

(Figuratively, of course. She has other dreams, you know.)