Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Long before we began packing clothes and food and other sensible provisions for our trip to the beach, I set a large plastic tub next to my side of the bed and started tossing in items of entertainment. By the time we set off, I had the tub pretty well-stocked: three different paperback novels, all of which had some kind of sci-fi or fantasy bent and thus were suitable for beach reading; two Netflix discs (a foreign shoot-em-up and half a season of an Adult Swim series); several other DVD’s I own but haven’t actually managed to watch (like the director’s cut of Watchmen and the first CGI Clone Wars season); a couple of comics TPBs; my Kindle; my iPod (with some new-to-me but yet-unlistened-to music loaded); and doubtless a couple other things I am forgetting. And those were just the things intended for my own selfish, solitary consumption. I also threw in Season 3 of Buffy (since my wife and I are theoretically in the midst of that re-watch, still) and the first 30 For 30 box set (another large anthology my wife and I are consuming together) and a copy of Hot Fuzz someone loaned my wife a while back (which I’ve already seen but would happily watch again).

Thus was I prepared not just for a rainy day or two at the beach, but for the admittedly unlikely event of being snowed in for the better part of a month. Of course, to me, that’s the beauty of a week’s vacation, the ability to consume massive amounts of pop culture at my leisure, rather than in discrete 50-minute chunks on the train. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t exactly feel deprived, and I remain as ever grateful for the ease with which I can commute on the VRE from home to office every day. Reading for the better part of an hour twice a day is a fantastic way to get through a new book every week or so, and although it’s still a bit awkward to watch half a movie, spend a shift in the cube farm, and then watch the other half (or in the case of longer epics, spread across two workdays) I am hardly complaining about the fact that I’m watching a lot more movies these days than in the recent past. But vacation, by way of differentiating itself from the everyday routine, should provide ample time for long uninterrupted stretches of immersion in page or screen.

I seem to dimly recall this being the case the last time we went on family vacation to the beach, at any rate. I think I read an entire book and at least started another, and I watched a Netflix movie by myself one afternoon. What a difference a couple years makes. Now I have two children rather than one, so whereas two years ago my only-child son would take a nap for a couple of hours and my wife would follow suit (and I would divert myself into a trashy novel or indie sci-fi flick) this time around there was more often than not a bit of juggling between the beginning of the little girl’s naptime and the little guy’s designated quiet playtime, and the latter always ended up shorter than the former. Plus the little guy would be relegated to one room while his sister was napping in another, and that other room for her was the room with the couch and DVD player where I’d screened siesta-time movies for myself a couple years ago. Without that venue (which was similarly unavailable at night, when I might have left the upstairs to my in-laws and said early goodnight to my wife and stayed up watching junkfood cinema otherwise) the Netflix envelopes remained unopened.

I also tend to think there were times outside of naptimes when I would idly read a chapter or two in the past, because with only one child it was entirely possible for my wife to play with our son while I amused myself (and vice versa). But two kids tend to keep us both busy with no breaks in the action, and as I may have said before (but certainly bears repeating) the energy requirements for additional children who feed off each other’s hyperactivity do not increase additively, but geometrically and sometimes exponentially. So in all honesty, by the end of each day I would not have had the energy to stay up past midnight for a recorded cable series marathon even if the equipment had been in a standalone home theater devoid of toddlers sleeping in playpens. The few times I legitimately tried lying in bed and reading on this trip, I was dozing off within a page or two.

So, to cut to the punchline, I ended up over the course of the week reading about half a novel. On the second-to-last day or so I set the novel aside and read Demon Knights, one of the two TPBs, cover-to-cover just to get the feeling of completing one whole item from my absurdly deep stash. (It was quite good, for what it’s worth, and now I’m greedily looking forward to the next volume.) I listened to about four new songs on my iPod, too, simultaneously to reading Demon Knights, before giving up with the realization that I could keep an eye on the little guy and engage in a half-distracted conversation with him while reading comics, but not with earbuds in. And that’s about it.

In all fairness, there was still quite a lot of midday movie-watching going on throughout the course of the week. They were Disney movies screened primarily for the benefit of my son, but I sat right there on the couch with him and watched them, too, and was sufficiently entertained. We had bought Lady and the Tramp on DVD expressly to watch at the beach, because we recalled that the beach house’s (surprisingly extensive) children’s library included a little Golden Book entitled Lady which had been a favorite of the little guy’s when he was two. The little guy loved the animated feature (despite some glaring discrepancies between the movie and the Golden Book’s condensed storyline); I probably hadn’t seen it since I was eight or younger, and it held up. I was also pleased to discover that the beach house’s (also surprisingly extensive) movie library boasted both A Bug’s Life and Robin Hood on VHS (not to mention multiple working VCRs). I had never seen A Bug’s Life, and enjoyed it immensely, whereas Robin Hood is one of my all-time favorite Disney adaptations, so sharing that with the little guy was a treat.

Best. Ratzenberger.  Ever.

I’m torn between trying to determine how many years it will be before not just the little guy but also his baby sister are old enough to essentially come and go, amusing themselves unsupervised without risking death or maiming, such that vacation time for me can be primarily unstructured, unencumbered lounging once again … and, on the other hand, mercilessly berating myself for coming off a solid week of no commute, no dress code, no office busywork, no homestead upkeep, just heaps and heaps of quality time with my loving and much loved family, and grousing about how I didn’t get quite the optimal number of escapism hours logged. This is, as they say, the kind of problem which is not in fact any kind of problem. I know. Consider it just one more notch in the lengthening Everything Is Different Post-Kids column, and consider this post nothing but my acknowledgment and awareness of same. I still notice how things are different, is all. I’m not complaining, I’m not wishing things were otherwise (not really, much). Just noticing.

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