The Hess Report

Sunday, June 27, 2004

The Happiness

As soon as the girls had finished their parts in the dance recital (cf.The Bitterness), we piled into the van and headed for the beach, or, more specifically, Duck, North Carolina. Our original plan had us hitting the road at 4 a.m. In order to minimize waking travel time for the kids, the day before we left, psychic!Joy and I simultaneously came to each other with the idea that we should leave immediately following the recital, drive until midnight, stay in the cheapest hotel we could find, and split the trip into two parts. So that's what we did.

Our split-trip plan took us to the Motel 6 in Frederick, Maryland. Rolled in about 12:40 a.m. The girls woke up and were all excited, because we were staying in a hotel! Oh boy! As I shuttled a few necessities from the van to the room, I noticed that this was not the nicest neighborhood or clientèles I'd ever seen, even for a cheapo place like this. There seemed to be a biker convoy making their layover there, and several groups of swarthy individuals speaking in tongues strange to my ears sat at tables around the closed pool, smoking, drinking, and laughing. At least, they were laughing. That must mean they're friendly! Maybe I'll go tell them a joke, er, or not. On my second trip, I noticed that the parking lot security guard was wandering around talking to himself about how he "doesn't have no gun on this job. No way. No gun here." Oooooookaaaaaay, sir, I'll just be staying up tonight to make sure that you don't try to break down our door. On my third trip, I noticed that had an ear bud in and was talking on his cellphone. Oh. Sorry, dude.

Morning came, we all did the standard morning stuff, then shuttled our stuff to the van, and we were off! Five hours later, we arrived in Duck. In preparation for this moment, Joy had spent an insane amount of time on the Internet over a period of several weeks, searching for the perfect vacation spot for us. Her work paid off, because she found it.

So what is happiness? With apologies to You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown,, Happiness is:

- Your wife finding a kick-ass house in the nicest development in town
- Being fifty yards from the private beach
- Being across the street from the clubhouse, with indoor and outdoor pools
- Flying kites with your family in the never-ending breeze of an Atlantic sunset
- Water gun battles with brand new Super Soakers
- A hot tub on the lower deck that looks up on the stars
- One full week of sunny, 78 degrees, and light breeze
- Maddie learning to swim, mostly on her own, four years sooner than I did
- No bad sun burns
- Both my and Joy's parents being able to make it down for a couple days
- No schedule. None.
- Finding that only about one in ten houses were occupied that week. Sweet, sweet privacy
- Rolling down the giant sand dunes at Jockey's Ridge State Park
- Teaching Maddie to tie her shoes and watching her do it right for the first time ever
- Watching Lucy dance and dance and dance to the Shrek soundtrack
- Police who come within three minutes when you make a late-night neighborhood noise complaint
- Neighbors who actually shut up gracefuly for the whole rest of the week when the police tell them to shut their pie holes
- Buying good, inexpensive wine in the grocery store
- One full week of no one but family, and instead of people getting sick of each other under that condition, people enjoying and liking each other even better than they did before

I'm not a beach person. I don't give two screws about the ocean, from a personal standpoint. But in this case, being at the beach added the breeze that kept it cool enough to be absolutely beautiful, so I'm not going to actually say that it was a negative.

My ideal place to spend a day would be a long, sweeping grassy valley, big mountains in the background. We would be perched halfway up one of the grassy hills, not quite to the tree line, but close enough that a few big, stray oaks provide good shade. One of the oaks has both a clean 110V outlet and an Ethernet port in it, near ground level. Removing that as an option, though, this was indeed the perfect vacation for us.

Well, almost perfect. There were a couple of dings, and they were both packing related. I have this packing system in which everything that goes first finds it way to a staging area inside the house (or hotel room, etc.). That way the person who will be packing the vehicle can get a good idea of how much stuff is going, and what he/she wants to pack where. The best feature, though, is that nothing gets left behind. Okay, things do get left behind, but it's because they were not in the staging area. The rule is “If it's in the staging area, it goes. If it's not, I'm not responsible for it.” The staging area method gets rid of the “I put all of that stuff on the bed to go!” “Well I didn't see it!” “Doh!”

We forgot a bag full of unopened food items at the beach house. It had been placed at the top of the stairs, where it was assumed that I would find it. I didn't. We also forgot Lexan, one of Lucy's millions of stuffed animals, at the Motel 6 on the way down. There was no packing/loading system in effect on our Motel 6 departure. It was strictly grab and growl. I'm surprised we didn't forget a kid.

The bag of food was no big deal, but Lexan was another matter. Lucy's preschool, which she attended two days a week, held a big festival for the kids at the end of the year. The ladies of the church (it's a church preschool) had made something like four hundred bears, so that each kid could choose one to have. Lucy came home with this crummy bear, sort of the runt of the lot, eyes drawn on with magic marker and “God Loves You” written on its left foot. She carted it around for days and showed it to everyone. There were some really nice, creative bears at the school, many with great embroidery, and she picked the measliest one. Just like I probably would have. So, add to the above list that happiness is seeing your kid do something odd, and a little touching, that reminds you of yourself.

When she learned that Lexan was gone, it was a problem. We had stopped at the Motel 6 on the way home, and people!Joy used her stunning interpersonal skills to locate the custodian who had found it and, against policy, had taken it home. “When I saw that 'God Loves Me' on that bear, I knew that God loved me. I wasn't stealing him.” Okay, whatever. We just want it back. The school provided another bear, but Lucy gave it to Maddie, because “it makes me sad to see it.”

After a couple of weeks, and several phone calls by Joy, Lexan showed up in our mail. Lucy was ecstatic. We were happy, too. We wrote them a thank you note. Happiness is having one lost bear returned to you when the people who had it had to go out of their way to do something nice for a stranger, and even though you have a hundred other stuffed animals that were never lost in the first place. And in the end, I think that made the whole thing even better.

Happiness is morning and evening, daytime and nighttime too.
For happiness is anyone and anything at all
That's loved by you.

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