Tomorrow morning, at the early hour of 4:00 am, my family (my husband, son, daughter, stepdaughter and me) will get up, climb into our rented mini-van and drive the 11 hours or so to get to CaswellBeach in North Carolina. Our new version of an old tradition.

Family vacation at the beach runs in my blood. I’m the third generation on my mom’s side of the family to go to the North Carolina beach during the summer. When I was a kid, my parents would take my brother and me to the beach where my grandparents had rented a house. Originally we went to Myrtle Beach but that was before it got too built up. There were a few summers in my late 20’s and early 30’s when I didn’t go at all but those were my birthing years. A few years ago, someone in the family made the push for us to start doing it again. And we did.

This is our fourth year and we’ve figured out the best way to get there from South Florida. We rent the mini-van (so the kids won’t/can’t touch each other). We load them in to the van early in the morning in their pajamas and with their pillows and blankets so they’ll go back to sleep. The first 3 hours or so are just quiet conversation between my husband and me. The kids will start stirring between 7 and 8 am, we feed them breakfast (bagels, cream cheese, oj) and don’t stop until we’re 6 hours in. It works.

My brother will be flying in from Northern California with his wife, son and 2 daughters after a pit stop in WashingtonD.C. My parents are coming in from Miami. This year, we’ll get a few days visit from my mom’s first cousin (closer to my brother’s age than hers) and his partner. So we’ll be 14 people in an 8 bedroom, 8 bathroom house right on the beach. Well as close to the beach as you can get with a private walkway over the dunes. My cousins rent the house next door. They’re a handful as well. Two sisters (my mom’s “little” first cousins), their husbands, kids and an assortment of others. Ten or so people also there for the week.

Our days follow the same beachy routine. We wake up and go for a long walk down the beach to where the Cape Fear River meets the ocean. Then we have a leisurely breakfast after which we all sunscreen and suit up. And we sit on the beach. Watch the five youngest kids (their ages are 13, 12, 11, 10, 9 and 4). And sit on the beach. And go in the water, boogie board, build sandcastles and talk, catch up and gossip just a little. Then we go in for lunch. Have an hour or so of quiet time. Sunscreen and suit up again. And go sit on the beach. Before you know it, it’s cocktail hour. Then my husband cooks dinner for everybody. And they, in turn, lavish praise on him without giving me credit for bringing him to the family.

One night is always reserved for the No-Talent Show. The kids are the emcees and most everybody has an entry. One year, I burped the alphabet with my son. My brother tied a knot in a cherry stem with his tongue. You get the idea. It really is the best our motley crew can do.

If the week sounds idyllic, that’s because it is. The rhythm of the day is so unique and so specific to this vacation. And I find that it doesn’t take very long to slip into it. By 4:00 tomorrow afternoon, I’ll be well on my way. In my new bathing suit, diving into the waves with my kids, my nieces, my nephew and the rest of our wonderfully beachy family.

I’ve been looking forward to this week for a long time. The van is packed. The kids are in bed. But the excitement is going to make it hard for me to fall asleep. The sleeping pill I just took is going to help so I’m going to head up to bed. And dream about digging my toes in to the warm surf of Caswell Beach!