If you’ve ever driven the 600 miles from Atlanta to the Outer Banks of North Carolina then you know the term “Outer” is nothing to be taken lightly. But rather than feeling remote or exotic, the first word that comes to mind is FAR. Still, year after year the Riehman-McLaughlin family vacation takes place out there in Duck, NC. I suppose we could fly to either Norfolk or Newport News but then what would we do with all our stuff? A proper vacation requires coolers and the kids’ bikes and Tommy Bahama beach chairs that have the word “relax” stitched on them. How else would I remember to?

We always have fun though. My favorite day of the week is “Girls Day” although “Boys Day” is pretty good, too. This is when Aunts Maggie and Kara take the kids out and spoil them for a few hours while me, Kristen and the other parents celebrate the free time by offering up blank stares to the ocean. Maggie couldn’t make it this year so Kristen’s cousin, Kevin, and his partner, Tracy, took over Girls Day. As a result, Margo and her cousins, Celia and Emma, came home with an enormous flotation device sporting the visage of the “cool guy” emoji, naturally.

The Super Wings beach mega-store was willing to inflate, but it wouldn’t fit in their car, so they figured I could go back with the minivan. But when I saw the display model I realized not even a maxivan would have done the trick. So I invested in a foot pump and with Margo’s coaching I was able to inflate the cool guy and various other Intex products in about 80 sweaty minutes. The float just about spanned the width of the pool, which meant all the kid cousins from the other house needed to experience emoji island, too. Pizza was ordered and nobody had a better party in the OBX that day than us. To an 8-year old, what could be better than adding cousins, pizza and floatation devices?

The musings about where else we all collectively could go were entertained though, as they are every year. Amongst the adults, there are varying degrees of the grass-might-be-greener-elsewhere. Or at least closer? I mean, we all love Duck Donuts but what if there are tasty donuts at some other beach? It’s complicated though. There are logistics that just don’t work in other areas and the key is all being together. Plugging all the requirements and variables into the Family Vacationator just lands us exactly where we are. But NOT having the conversation is out of the question. We mustn’t sit idly by while sitting idly by!

When I was a kid my family would spend a couple weeks each summer in Quonochontaug, a tiny beach hamlet in southern Rhode Island. It was only a three-hour drive, but a world away. The joy I felt upon arriving and the corresponding sadness on the day we left were among the strongest emotions I had ever known up to that age. If only we had emojis back then to express ourselves. There was comfort though, in knowing that my parents were settled. As long as we could, we would continue coming back to the spot I loved.

On the evening before we left, I bear hugged the enormous float to deflate it to a size that would fit in the stowaway compartment under Margo’s seat for the trek home, but that wasn’t enough. So I doubled over and kneeled on it like I was executing a sleeper hold and waiting for submission. It must have looked comical to any passersby. But to Elliott, Margo and their cousins (had they ventured anywhere close to the car packing area) it would have been a poignant visual that the week had come to an end. A deposit was put down to reserve the house for next year.


Tim Sullivan grew up in a large family in the Northeast and now lives with his small family in Oakhurst. He can be reached at tim@sullivanfinerugs.com.