When we were planning our recent camping trip to North Padre, I was imagining Love on the Beach. Somehow, some way, I thought we would sneak out of the tent for a moment of romance under the stars, with the crashing surf just 100 feet away. Of course, the reality was far less romantic. The tent flaps were deafening in the 30-mph gusts, and everything was covered in sand. The ground was hard and lumpy, and the moon was so bright that it was like sleeping with the light on. Still, I will rank this camping trip among my favorite memories.
We arrived around 4:30 on Monday 8/11/08, and Bill struggled to erect the tent in the high wind. In fact, he said, "There's no way in hell it's going up." I just said a silent prayer and waited for him to figure it out. Of course, he did manage to get the tent up, but the wind was half flattening it, and we were afraid it would blow right over. Bill thought for a moment and then braced two of the flexible supports to the wooden picnic covering and the picnic table that he'd turned on its side as a windbreak. He used a combination of bungee cords and frayed yellow rope, and I smiled as I pondered once again the strange joy he gets from tying ropes.
The bracing made the tent stand right up, and it was quite secure. Now the problem was the sand that covered everything and everyone. There was a thin coat of sand over our entire bodies. Thanks to the cool wind off the water, I thought it was almost comfortable on our sandy, lumpy pallet of sleeping bags, comforters, and blankets. By morning, all of us had pulled on our blankets.
At first, we let Ethan watch Shrek 3 on his portable DVD player, but it made Allyson agitated because she couldn't see it well from her Pack N Play crib. So we made Ethan turn it off. He complained that he was going to die of boredom; it was only 9:00 and he claimed he wasn't at all tired. I scratched his back, and he was asleep in under five minutes.
Allyson took a little longer and kept calling out to Daddy, but finally she fell asleep, too. Bill got up to carefully rearrange her blankets--two were hung over the side of her crib to shield her from the bright moonlight, and another was tucked tenderly over her. I smiled at his devotion. Allyson slept beautifully, and Ethan seemed to be sleeping well also.
Bill and I slept fitfully. I could fall asleep, but then I'd hear the ocean and the wind and be startled awake. Or I would painfully change positions in hopes of finding a comfortable spot on the hard ground. Each time I woke up, though, I just looked up through the mesh roof at the brilliant stars and thanked God for the beauty of this place and for the even breathing of my family around me.
In the morning, we were awakened by the early morning sun and the strident chatter of seagulls. We lay there in companionable silence until Allyson fussed to get out of bed. We had a crappy breakfast of convenience store donuts and mini cereal boxes with lukewarm milk. There was sand in our teeth, and I had hair in my mouth constantly because I hadn't thought to bring a rubber band; I could barely see through my flapping curtain of hair.
We had fun in the shallow waves and at the edge of the water. We built a sand castle and collected tiny mussels, then we marveled as they burrowed their way back down into the sand. Allyson was terrified of the sand crabs that scuttled everywhere. She refused to walk on the sand and had to be carried all around. The water was warm, and Allyson was delighted with the way the waves could push us over. She was shocked at the salty taste of the water and kept spitting it out theatrically. Ethan rode the waves on his boogie board and kept shouting, "Watch this!" Bill towed Allyson around on the boogie board, too, and she shrieked with joy and a little terror.
We showered in the public bathroom and tried to keep from collecting a new covering of sand, and then we drove to San Antonio for the rest of our mini vacation. As I leaned my head against the seat on the drive out, I decided there was a sense of romance to this family time after all, and maybe it was BETTER than what I had imagined.