by Agnes Krup | bio

It is 9:30 on Wednesday morning, the middle of our first vacation week. To me it seems that we have barely arrived on Cape Cod. We haven’t explored and seen much; we haven’t even rented bicycles yet. We certainly have not “made the most” of the precious last four days, the way my father always insisted we’d do during my childhood family vacations.

When I was a child, summer vacations were mostly spent on an island in the Baltic Sea, somewhere in the middle of the waters between Sweden, Denmark and northern Germany. Often, we would take an overnight ferry and arrive early on a Saturday morning. Since our cottage would not be ready before afternoon, my mother would have packed a “bag for the day” containing bathing suits, towels, sneakers, rain jackets, a soccer ball and everything else we would possibly need for a day of outdoor activities.

Our heavily packed car would roll off the ferry at 8 a.m. There would be a quick stop for poppy seed-covered rolls at a bakery near the harbor, and off we’d be for a morning at the beach or a hike in the forest or along the island’s ragged shoreline, the delicious prospect of four whole weeks of island time still ahead and not wasting a moment.

When my 8-year-old daughter and I go on vacation, we invariably collapse upon arrival. We sleep an extraordinary amount of hours during the nights and at least one of us gets sick for a couple of days. The release of tension is just too great.

The realization that these will be our only two full weeks together for the whole year, though never discussed, almost paralyzes us. Instead of “making the most of it,” we immediately start to waste our precious time, lounging around our lovely small rental cottage, feeling heavy and fatigued.

This summer is no different. I blamed my daughter’s car sickness during the drive on, well, car sickness. And I admonished her for her sluggishness on the excursion to the Super Stop & Shop the next day, foraging for things like a paring knife, 25-watt bulbs and ground cinnamon. I ignored her complaints of a headache and her refusal to eat dessert that night, until I found myself rinsing sheets and PJs in the narrow shower stall in the middle of the night.

Mami, I am so sorry,” my child said meekly. “I know we don’t have a washing machine here.” I tugged her into a blanket on the small living room’s couch before I took a bucket of soap water to the bedroom.

The next day was shot, of course. The weather was so-so, rain showers and grey skies. Bello the Dog, my daughter’s favorite stuffed animal, was swaying in the wind, pinned with his long ears to the clothes line and recuperating from the Woolite bath I had subjected him to. My daughter still had a headache and a bit of a fever and asked to stay on the couch all day long.

“I love being sick,” she declared after I had read to her for hours. I did not point out to her that I’d be reading to her for hours on vacation anyway, even without her being sick.

Tuesday found us in a laundromat on Route 28 in Dennisport, with me still reading aloud and our sheets churning in the hot cycle. That night, I walked into our cottage’s sole bedroom to find her sprawled out on the bedcovers, her eyes closed. “What’s wrong?” I cried, anxious that another attack of her stomach virus might be imminent. She opened her eyes slowly and grinned. “I am relaxing,” she said happily. And at that moment I relaxed a little bit, too.

There is sadness in this, though. Why does this have to be so hard, such a conscious effort? Even though she may be relaxing now, my daughter asks every morning what day it is and then calculates how many days we have been here already and how many are still left.

In the children’s novel by Astrid Lindgren that we are reading, about a family summering on a Swedish island, the youngest son finds an old comb and discovers it has as many teeth as there are days left in the summer. Every morning, he breaks off a tooth and watches nervously as the row gets shorter — until his father throws out the comb. But with a bare fortnight at our disposal I, of course, can’t toss out my child’s worried mental calculations.

“Enjoy every moment of your short vacation,” a friend had emailed from Germany before we went to Cape Cod. I had puzzled over this. Two weeks did not seem short, not by my long internalized American schedule. But from watching my daughter now I realize that two weeks are very short. Too short. And I realize, with a pang of guilt, that my daughter has never been on a vacation that lasted more than two weeks and my childhood summers were better than this.

While I never had a camp experience, I had those endless weeks stretching ahead, with no schedule to adhere to. Yes, it was easier with a mother who stayed home or only worked part time. It was easier with parents who had more vacation time at their disposal, and it was easier in a culture that values restorative time away from work. And one may argue that as my daughter never knew the difference, she won’t know what she is missing. But I do.

So it is now Wednesday morning, the middle of our precious first vacation week where every day counts. A soft rain is falling, my daughter is sleeping in, the way she likes to on days off, and I don’t think we’ll accomplish much today; we certainly won’t manage to rent bicycles. We can, however, be very still, we can be close and breathe in the fresh salty air and try to recover from the drain of the year. In our current life this will just have to do.

But I know it won’t do for me much longer, and I certainly don’t want it to have to do for my daughter. There is still time; she will still be a child for another few years. And on this morning I vow to myself that I will still show her the beauty of an endless summer, being outdoors and barefoot and left to her own imagination, weeks and weeks stretching ahead without the need to count days. I want to make sure that she’ll have a chance to make the most of them all.

Agnes Krup
is a literary agent and lives in Brooklyn Heights with her 8-year-old
daughter. She grew up in Hamburg, Germany and has called New York City
her home since 1994.

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