I was sitting under the shade of a beautiful palm tree, scooping and sifting handfuls of sand looking for tiny, perfect seashells. At the same time, my right arm snuggled my 10-month-old baby boy tightly against my body as he napped peacefully. It sounds so idyllic, so perfect.

The reality is that it was 4:30 p.m. then, two hours after my sweet Zachary was supposed to nap, and I was frazzled after spending much of the intervening time trying to force him to nap so that we could go out for dinner. As a stay-at-home mom, I find that sticking to a schedule keeps me sane. Any time that schedule changes significantly, I assume disaster will strike. In fact, this was day three of our “vacation,” and neither my husband nor I had had even a five-minute break.

We went to Aruba thinking we would take turns getting massages and strolling the beach in restorative moments of solitude; the reality with two young sons was entirely different. In particular, I kept getting stressed over the things that made life more regimented at home, namely nap and meal schedules.

While we filled our days with swimming and playing, I continued to wonder what was wrong with me – why I was slightly disappointed thus far by our trip. The boys were wildly enjoying splashing in the pool, digging in the sand, and busily looking for crabs and iguanas. I, on the other hand, couldn’t seem to relax at all. I secretly longed for a romantic barefoot dinner on the beach, with only my husband, recalling our honeymoon on these same sands.

Zachary continued napping and I continued digging. There was something therapeutic about feeling the sand filter through my fingers. Soon, I noticed the small pile of beautiful shells I had accumulated beside me. One piece of coral in particular stood out, as it contained a tiny fossilized sea creature. I couldn’t help pondering how old it might be – maybe thousands of years? By comparison, my concern over a delayed nap seemed miniscule. I continued to sift, and then, as if sensing a nearby sea change, I began to feel … a shift.

A wave of deep appreciation washed over me, and, in an instant, I wasn’t disappointed anymore. What was I thinking? This is our family vacation. Sure, it isn’t relaxing and I can hardly find a moment to shower, but this is still OK! We’re here, together. I looked down at Zachary sleeping soundly in my arm, grains of

sand stuck to his chin, his strawberry-blond hair frizzy from sweat, and I thought “Wow, you are beautiful.” It was as if I was seeing him for the first time.

I vowed in that moment to relax. If nap schedules went out the window for the week, it was OK. If we spent a pirate’s treasure on rubber iguanas in the hotel gift shop, it was OK. We were making new memories. Family memories.

It quickly became clear that letting go made all the difference. Even the boys seemed to enjoy less structure. We ate later dinners and moved naps around to accommodate our activities. Much to my surprise, the world didn’t unravel. James and I learned to compress parental vacation time into the few evening hours after the boys were asleep.

I am forever grateful for Zachary’s late nap on the beach. It provided me the moment of clarity I needed to stop, breathe, and get my head out of the sand.

Katherine Wood is a freelance writer and mother in Stow.

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