Real Gone

Slow down, you’re gonna crash,
Baby you’re a-screaming it’s a blast, blast, blast
Look out babe, you’ve got your blinders on
Everybody’s looking for a way to get real gone
Real gone.
Real gone.

From “Real Gone” by Sheryl Crow and John M. Shanks

..such a gone sweet little soul…Oh we talked, we talked…

From On the Road, by Jack Kerouac

Day 1: Saturday

At 11:35 a.m., two Saturdays ago, we pulled out of the driveway with the opening song from the soundtrack of Cars playing; we were aiming to get real gone.

It was an uneventful drive, compared to our last beachward journey, if slow around the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. We listened to the middle and end of How to Train Your Dragon, which we began on the way home from the Outer Banks, and the beginning of The Reptile Room (the second book in the Series of Unfortunate Events). We had lunch at Taco Bell and dessert at Dairy Queen and by 4:45 we were pulling into the driveway of our rental house.

My mom and sister arrived about a half hour later and my mom presented the kids with gifts—a book about oceans for Noah and a pair of white sandals with daisies on them for June. These were just the first in a cascade of gifts for the kids from the older generation that eventually included lobster socks for both from Aunt Carole, a shark t-shirt and shark’s tooth necklace for Noah and a pink, flowered dress for June from YaYa.

Mom, Sara and I took June down to the beach while Noah stayed behind to practice riding his bike up and down the block. Beth was hoping to take the training wheels off this week and after some initial reluctance on his part, he’d gotten enthusiastic about the project. But since he rides his scooter everywhere, it’s been months or more likely years since he’s ridden the bike so he wanted to practice a little first with the training wheels raised but still attached.

At the beach, June wanted me to pick her up and carry her “deep into the sea.” We didn’t go as far as she would have liked—she kept urging me further on—but we got deep enough so that the waves came up to my chest and her waist. We stayed in until my arms ached from holding her.

Day 2: Sunday

The thing about vacationing with kids is that you never get quite as gone as you would like. Your everyday life keeps intruding. For instance, the kids woke up at 5:20 and 5:35 respectively on our first morning of vacation. It was a dark, rainy morning, too, perfect for sleeping in, but apparently they didn’t think so. This made the several-hour stretch of time when we’re awake but the rest of the house isn’t even longer and more challenging. At one point Beth issued an ultimatum that if they couldn’t be quiet, there would be no Candy Kitchen that day. Despite repeated warnings, they failed the test. As the kids and I walked away from the house at 8:20, June was trailing me, her arms crossed over her chest and a pout on her face. When I inquired if she was upset about the candy, she just grunted. About a block later, when I glanced back at her, she deigned to speak: “No fair!”

Bur soon June and I were at the beach, absorbed in building a sand head with facial features made of shells and Noah was riding his bike on he boardwalk, with strict instructions to stay on the right, look out for pedestrians and to come back either to the shelter near the footbath or to come find us on the beach. I let a half an hour elapse and we arrived at the shelter just as Noah did. Beth met up with us there at 9:00 a.m. as I was applying sunscreen to the kids. The sun was just coming out from behind heavy cloud cover. June was trying to talk me into letting her make her Candy Kitchen purchase now, even though she wouldn’t be able to eat it until tomorrow. At first I said no, more or less automatically, but after hearing, “It would be a good compromise, Mommy” several times, I started to think maybe it would be. And I thought if the candy was in the house, staring them in the face, it might become a more effective motivator. So we set off down the boardwalk, June and I walking, Beth and Noah riding bikes. We met at the candy store and June selected cherry taffy. Noah decided just to browse until he was eligible to eat his treat.

During June’s nap, Beth and Sara went grocery shopping while Mom took Noah to a coffee shop where he ate coconut cake and beat her at Roundabouts. Later in the afternoon, I took the kids to Funland ( Noah wanted to know if he could have his tickets and go off on his own. I thought about it and said yes, provided he come back to a designated bench after every other ride. Then I took June from ride to ride—the airplanes, the merry-go-round, the mermaid boats, the fire engines, the mini-Ferris wheel and back to the airplanes. I offered to go up in the Ferris wheel with her but she was insistent on going alone. So I stood there and watched her rise into the air, beaming and waving. I could make out Noah on the nearby helicopter ride and I imagined a time when they’ll hit the boardwalk and Funland on their own. It suddenly seemed a lot closer than I had imagined and that made me happy and sad all at once. I am sometimes conflicted about how much of my old freedom I want back. Not that it matters what I want. Either way, my sweet gone little cat and chick will grow up.

After the kids had used up all their tickets we joined Mom and Sara at the beach. Noah jumped around in the waves, proclaiming them “totally awesome fun.” June built a wall of sand and at Noah’s request, I buried him in the sand and gave him a merman’s tail. He kept sitting up to see it and cracking the sand on his chest. It was cool and cloudy and soon the kids were cold so Sara swaddled them in towels. Only June’s head and feet protruded. “We’re the handless people, “ Noah proclaimed. Then he pulled his towel over his head and became a headless person. June was a duck, no, a penguin, no, a duck. She waddled up the beach, chanting, “I’m a duck. I’m a duck. I’m a very big duck!”

We had dinner on the big picnic table out behind the house, a black bean and avocado salad Sara made and a tortellini salad Mom made. After dinner, Noah went off to read Prince Caspian, and June busied herself building a nest from pine needles for a ground-dwelling bird while the grownups chatted. After Beth and I finished the dinner dishes, we showed the kids their new, special morning toys—a Little Mermaid coloring book with a special color-revealing marker and two Little Mermaid magnetic dress-up dolls for June and two invisible ink mystery game books for Noah.

Day 3: Monday

The kids were quieter the next morning, not what I’d call really quiet, but good enough to release their candy. (Beth took Noah to Candy Kitchen later in the day and he got gummy sharks and gummy teeth. “A classic,” he said.) I took the kids to the beach after breakfast. Noah had planned to ride his bike, but he changed his mind at the last minute. He’d had trouble balancing the afternoon before after doing really well in the morning and he didn’t want to try again. In fact, we never got him back on the bike for the rest of the trip.

Once we got down to the beach, the kids started fighting almost immediately. There was a big pile of sand the lifeguards had used to buttress their chair the day before, but because it was 9:00 a.m., an hour before they come on duty, the chair itself wasn’t there. Both kids clambered up on top of the sand pile but almost at once, Noah started to worry they would wreck it and he jumped off and ordered June off, too. She paid him no mind. I told him it was okay, I didn’t think she’d hurt it and even if she did sand structures are by their very nature temporary and he didn’t build it so he didn’t really have any say over it. All these arguments were lost on him. He sat in the sand and cried and screamed at June for five very long minutes while June danced on the mound, taking a little too much pleasure in his distress for my liking. I sat next to him and rubbed his back, trying to soothe him and wondering if I should stop her. Did she need a lesson in compassion more than he needed one in flexibility? In the end, she got bored, hopped off and he recovered his equilibrium. They splashed in the waves, watched dolphins and made dribble castles peaceably until 10:30 when Beth arrived. She had been delayed by a work crisis (her own impediment to getting real gone—it ended up talking up a lot of her time both Monday and Tuesday. After that she stopped checking her work email). She took the kids away and I had almost an hour alone at the beach and enjoyed my first swim of the trip. I had my second one that afternoon because neither of the kids wanted to come down to the beach.

YaYa and Beth’s aunt Carole arrived that afternoon while I was at the beach and our party was complete. Beth and I collaborated on dinner. I made a cold avocado soup and she made tempeh and roasted vegetable sandwiches. Then we celebrated Carole’s seventy-third birthday with cake. June had selected it at the bakery, so it had pink roses on the frosting. Noah and June’s evening argument concerned whether or not she should sing songs from Cars. Noah wanted Sara, YaYa and Carole to watch the movie and he wanted all of it, even the songs, to be a new experience for them. My mom, who watched it in the Outer Banks, offered to take June into another room when she felt like singing. Happily, this solution pleased everyone.

Day 4: Tuesday

By Tuesday morning the kids knew the drill, and even with the added challenge of not waking Sara, who had joined us up in the attic once YaYa and Carole arrived, they stayed pretty quiet.

Sara and I took the kids down to the beach in the mid-morning. She watched them while I went for a swim. When I came out of the water, June wanted to show me a little sand person she’d made. She’d very carefully etched a face into the sand with her finger, shaped sand into hair on top of its head and stuck shells into its sides for arms. Noah splashed a long time in the waves and seemed to be conversing with some other kids, though later he denied it. As we did many times that week, Sara and I discussed her adoption plans. After years of considering it, she’s taking the plunge and starting the process of adopting as a single mom. It’s a strange and happy thought that in a year or two there might be another kid or even two, my kids’ cousins, on our family vacations.

Back at the house, Noah played Crazy Eights with YaYa, warning her ahead of time, “I’m totally strategic. I’m practically a machine.” The 3:1 adult to kid ratio meant he was able to play a lot of games over the course of the week, with both of his grandmothers, his aunt and his great aunt. He was pretty much in heaven. The abundance of adults in the house was a boon for Beth and me, too.

Mom and Sara took the kids back to Funland while I went to the beach. At least once in every beach trip I catch a wave that sweeps me up and drops me down so perfectly I laugh out loud. Also, on each trip, I lose at least one ponytail holder in the ocean. Often these events coincide, and they did this afternoon. The waves were big and fast and close together. I was a fun swim, well worth being thrown down into the sand a few times and losing my second purple ponytail holder of the summer. (I lost the first one in North Carolina.)

It was a windy afternoon and there were two men parasailing farther out in the water. I watched in amazement as the wind in their sails lifted the boards straight off the water, as high as twelve feet up into the air. A crowd had formed along the shore to watch. Back on shore, I also saw a lot of impressive sand castles. I think people were practicing for the Sandcastle Contest on Saturday ( Over the course of the week, we saw ones that looked like a Greek temple, plus an elephant, a fish, a cat and many others on our little stretch of beach.

Coming home I ran into Mom, Sara and the kids on the boardwalk and heard all about their trip to Funland. June had made a friend on the trampoline and played in the ball pit with her and she rode the merry-go-round with no adult standing next to her, at her own insistence. Noah rode the helicopters three times. This is his favorite ride this year because you can control some of the up and down motion yourself. June rode them, too, but was unable to work the navigation bar.

We walked back to the house and ate a delicious dinner of YaYa’s signature baked macaroni and cheese, corn on the cob and green beans and then Noah finally got most of the group to watch the first half of Cars. Afterwards, we ate leftover birthday cake on the screened porch.

Day 5: Wednesday

In the morning we took the kids to breakfast because Noah had a hankering for crepes and it would cut down and the amount of time we needed to keep them quiet. He got banana, I got triple berry, and Beth and June got bagels. By the time we returned, everyone was awake and Sara and I took June to the beach. Noah opted to stay home. When I left he was playing Quirkle ( with Grandmom.

At the beach, June made another friend, who turned out to be about her age, although June didn’t even reach this girl’s shoulders. They played on the sand, making more sand people and down by the water, splashing in the waves and drawing in the wet sand with their fingers—unicorns were a popular theme. June was more interested in the water, though, and Olivia in the sand, but despite this they bonded enough to hug when they parted and back at the house as June waited for her grilled cheese to cook, she composed a letter to Olivia in case she ever saw her again. (We didn’t.) When she’d finished, she told Beth a dramatic story about how she was nearly swept out to sea. (My version: She fell on her bottom in shallow water and didn’t even get her face wet.)

In the afternoon, Beth took Noah into town for orangeade and Sara and Mom took June to a bead store so she could pick out beads for a bracelet Auntie Sara would make for her.

Meanwhile, I went to the beach. (You were thinking I would do something else?) I did swim eventually, but for a long time I just sat on my towel and watched the waves. It was a cloudy afternoon, like most of the afternoons on the trip so far, cool but not so cool that I wanted more clothes than the bathing suit and t-shirt I wore. The sea was mostly gray, but green in places when the sun broke through the clouds and touched it. The waves were moderate-sized and had a steady, hypnotic rhythm. I studied the water, aware the week was more than half over, and I tried to soak up enough ocean to last me until winter.

We went out for Japanese that night at The Cultured Pearl ( because it’s the nicest restaurant in Rehoboth with food the kids will eat. June wore her new bracelet and her new sandals along with a yellow dress with daisies my Mom bought her in North Carolina. “I’m a kid princess,” she said, twirling around after Mom dressed her. The kids loved the caged birds, the koi ponds with the bridge we walked over to get to our seats, and the stand of fake, but realistic-looking bamboo near our table. We feasted on edaname, seaweed salad, vegetable tempura and sushi, among other dishes.

Toward the middle of dinner, the kid princess started drooping. She wanted to lie down on the bench and she felt a little warm. She’d had a vaccination five days before, the kind that can create a delayed reaction. We discussed whether that might be the cause of her lethargy. She perked up before dinner was even over, though, and we decided to continue with our dessert plans of ice cream on the boardwalk. We got home late, around 8:30. The last couple blocks June was tired and complaining about being outside walking “alone in the dark when we should be in our warm, cozy beds.” For the record, I will state she was not wandering the street alone but with seven members of her extended family and also, that there was still some light in the sky, not to mention the streetlights. By 9:15, both kids were in their warm cozy beds, drifting off to sleep.

Day 6: Thursday

June slept until 7:20 (except for a diaper change at 5:15), which was a rare treat for me. Beth and YaYa took the kids to Jungle Jim’s water park ( in the mid-morning and Mom and Sara set off to explore the nearby town of Lewes, where they took a trolley tour, shopped and went out to lunch. I tried to catch up on blogs and then went into town to get myself an iced café con leche to enjoy on the boardwalk. Afterwards, I went for a swim, but there were almost no waves so I got back out after ten minutes. Finding myself alone in the vicinity of fried clams near lunchtime, I decided to have lunch on the boardwalk. The kids don’t know about my very occasional departures from vegetarianism. (I will eat clams because they don’t have eyes and therefore could never have looked me in the eyes.) After my semi-illicit lunch, I headed back to the house, folded some laundry and once the Jungle Jim’s party returned, I washed the chlorine off the kids in the bathtub and listened to tales of Noah’s exploits on the long slide called the Anaconda.

While Noah read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and played cards with YaYa and Carole, June and I took a long nap and afterwards I read her a chapter from The House at Pooh Corner so it was 4:30 by the time the kids and I left the house again. I had promised them another trip to Candy Kitchen (as their stores were running low) and a little beach time. It was a moderately long walk to the candy store so I knew we wouldn’t be at the beach long, but a promise is a promise and I had a hankering for something sweet, too, so off we went. After an extremely long deliberation, Noah chose more gummy sharks and some gummy frogs. While he was deciding, he dropped a lollipop on the floor, causing a network of very fine cracks to appear on its surface. I was going to make him either choose it for his candy or buy it with his own money but the salesclerk said it was not too badly damaged and we didn’t have to buy it. Meanwhile, June had picked a bag of assorted taffy and then she occupied herself by playing with the Sesame St. dolls they keep at floor level. I got cinnamon bears for myself, and chocolate-peanut butter fudge for the house. We left only to return a few minutes later because June’s taffy was missing from the bag.

It was 5:35 when we finally got to the beach. This was around the time we should have left but we stayed until 6:00. Noah was jumping around in the waves the whole time and June went back and forth between the water and the sand. Noah told me he wished he could live on an island so he could go to the beach every day. I thought it was a funny comment from a boy who often stays at the house while we’re at the beach, but I think he was sincere. He’s a homebody so it can be hard to pry him out of the house but once he’s at the beach, he always enjoys it.

The thunder started as we washed our feet at the footbath on the boardwalk and the rain started pattering on the roof just after we got inside the house. It didn’t last long but it was too damp outside to eat on the picnic table as we’d been doing, plus it was later than we’d intended to eat and we’d planned to watch Cars that night so Mom and I set up a buffet of leftovers and devilled eggs she had made and everyone camped out in the living room to eat and watch the movie. We actually managed to finish it, which made Noah happy.

Day 7: Friday

Friday morning, our party shrank down to six, as YaYa and Carole left, hoping to beat the weekend traffic.

By that morning on our last full day at the beach, the muscles around my collarbones were sore from sweeping June up into my arms whenever a too-big wave approached and I got the bright, if belated, idea of suggesting to her that she run away when a wave looked too scary instead. She took to the idea right away as it left her in control of the decision. No reprimands because I did not rescue her and no more indignant cries of “Mommy, put me down!” when I misjudged the other way. The first time she tried it she slipped and fell in the shallow water and I thought the wave would catch her but she was up on her feet and scrambling up to the dry sand lickety split. Soon she was squealing and dashing in and out of the water with abandon.

Noah got knocked over by a wave and completely submerged soon after. I was up on the beach playing in the sand with June when I saw it happen. (For the first time this year, Noah played in the ocean without me at his side.) He got to his feet and came up to us. I asked if he was okay and he said yes. I asked if it was scary and he said yes. He was subdued for about fifteen minutes and then he was back in the water. This time he cut his foot on something sharp, a tiny little cut, hard to see once the blood was washed away, but that was it for him. He didn’t go back in the water the rest of the morning, but instead sat at the water line with the little waves rushing over his legs until it was time to go up to the house for lunch. He wanted the seawater to heal his foot, he said.

That afternoon, Beth took the kids on their third visit to Funland, while I hit the beach with Mom and Sara. We stood at the water’s edge, got wet and looked for the rainbows that were forming in the sea spray. Later we met Beth at the kids at Grotto ( for pizza and gelato and then Mom and Sara packed up Mom’s car and drove back to Philadelphia so Sara could catch a flight out to Oregon the next day. And then we were four.

Day 8: Saturday

Saturday morning we packed up the house and checked out. The kids and I headed for the Sandcastle Contest while Beth looked for somewhere air-conditioned to read. It was a long walk to the sandcastles, almost from one end of the boardwalk to the other and it took a while. Along the way, we bought going-home treats (including pink cotton candy, which the kids had been wanting). Once we finally got to the north end of the boardwalk, we cooled off in the ocean for fifteen minutes or so before wandering from one sand creation to the next. Many people were just getting started so it was hard to guess what they would make, but we saw a replica of a twenty-dollar bill, a bust of President Obama, a monkey and other animals and lots and lots of castles in different styles. I liked the Gothic ones best, with their spindly towers and intricate decorations in pebbles and shells.

We met up with Beth for lunch at the crepe stand and then the kids and I went down to the water one last time to say goodbye to the ocean. As we walked toward the beach, Noah suggested we call up the cat-sitter and ask her to stay “a little longer” so we could stay in Rehoboth. How long, I asked. How about another week, Noah suggested. It sounded like a good idea to me.

We’ve been home two days now and we’re trying to get back in the swing of things. Beth goes back to work tomorrow. Today she took Noah to his appointment with an educational psychologist who we hope can tell us what kinds of help he needs to have a better year than he did in third grade. (I was going to take him but had to stay home with a sick June.) Noah resumed work on the summer math packet he’s been neglecting since the middle of June and he got back on his bike today. School starts in three weeks for him and in four for June. I’m trying to plan out the rest of our week and to remember what it is we do all day when we don’t go to the beach twice a day. It’s hard to recall. I guess that means I got real gone.