Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Tropical Christmas Gift

For the past two years, my husband and I have given each other (and our kids) a very special early Christmas present: a few weeks before Christmas, we get the heck out of town.

Don't get me wrong, I love Christmas almost as much as our toddlers, but now that the Holiday Season seems to begin around Arbor Day even I start to feel the Holiday Spirit begin to turn into Holiday Overload bordering on Holiday AHHHHH! by about the second week of December. Leaving for a week removes us temporarily from the decked halls and we come back just in time to enjoy the final buildup to big day. And did I mention we escape to a beautiful tropical island?

We book the trip early in the spring and look forward to it as the seasons change from summer to fall and to the unspeakable horror that (in my book) is Michigan winter. This year in the weeks leading up to our trip, our 3-year-old was almost as excited as we were, as he's become quite a water lover and couldn't wait to suit up and get his little self soaking wet.

My husband, who happens to be a 3-year-old at heart, couldn't wait to get in there with him. The two of them spent the better part of the week running in and out of the surf, jumping in the waves and splashing through the resort's many pools. Even our baby girl got in on the action, dipping her tiny toes in the water with squeals of delight.

I, however, mostly stayed dry, either watching the action from a not too distant lounge chair or supervising the sandcastle building action on terra somewhat firma. It's not that I don't love to swim- in fact, quite the opposite. I grew up with a pool right in the backyard and spent entire summers in the water, practically growing fins by the time Labor Day rolled around. The ideal summer wardrobe alternated between only two articles of clothing: pajamas and a bathing suit, and sleeping in the latter was not out of the question.

But something's changed since the kids came along. For me, swimming with a 3-year-old and an 18-month-old bares very little resemblance to the carefree, easy going activity I've always loved. Between the gallons of sunscreen, the flotation devices, the swim diapers, the toys, the snacks, and the sippy cups, just getting to the pool practically requires a sherpa. Then there's the stress of it all. Maybe it's the news reporter in me, having covered a few tragedies too many, or maybe it's just the overprotective Mother Hen instinct, but I simply can not let my guard down enough to enjoy the experience. The weight of keeping those two precious bundles afloat is enough to sink my spirits completely. So right now I choose to sit it out, attempting to drown my guilty conscience with a fruity tropical drink.

When you love something dearly the way I've always loved to swim, you tend to assume you will love sharing it and doing it with your children as well, but I'm learning reality is not always on board with that plan. In time, I know the kids will learn to swim and that the family water experience won't always leave me feeling all washed up. But until that happens I'm also learning to be OK with keeping the enjoyment of some experiences all to myself without slapping the scarlet G for guilt on the front of my bathing suit.

The other night at dinner, my husband I were reminiscing about the trip. "What was your favorite moment?" he asked.

I hesitated and had to bite my tongue. I really wanted to tell him it involved family bonding on the beach, or holding hands and watching the sunset over the water, or sharing laughs with our dear friends over cocktails and dinner.

Sure, those were magical moments, memories I'll always cherish, but if I'm going to be completely honest, totally candid, they don't quite float to to the top of the list.

No, my favorite part of our family vacation was the gift I gave myself. One sunny, warm afternoon when everyone had slipped into a post-lunch buffet nap/coma, I suited up, grabbed my towel, snuck out of the room and headed over to the pool. As I slipped into the water I feared the feelings might be gone forever, but after a few awkward splashes it was as effortless as I remembered. Back and forth I swam, letting the cool water take over and do its thing. I don't know how long it lasted, but it was long enough. Because for a moment suspended in crystal clear water and now cemented in my mind, I remembered how it felt to be utterly weightless and wonderfully free.

Merry Christmas to me.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Packing for Vacation

My dad always used to say that he knew he was on vacation when he could finally take off his watch and leave it off. A busy doctor accustomed to working long shifts and being paged back to the hospital at all hours of the day and night, it usually took him several days to shake the work world and really and truly unwind. But sure enough, after a few walks on the beach and a few meals by the pool (a few beers never hurt, either) we'd see it: the watch parked next to the hotel bathroom sink. He didn't need to look at his watch to know what time it was: relax o'clock.

For me, vacation is all about the things that never even make it into the suitcase. If you could see into my bedroom right now (which I'm hoping you can't, that's just creepy) you'd probably be wondering what exactly didn't make it in, given the giant, bulging bag we'll be hauling to the airport. Not surprisingly, since we are traveling with our two young kids, my own possessions possess very little of the space inside that bag. I've spent the better part of a week packing diapers, wipes, swim diapers, clothes, toys, books, sippy cups, toys, bibs, toys, snacks and toys for two tots to take to the beach. Did I mention the toys? I think they are actually multiplying in the bag at this moment... I'm pretty sure I saw Thomas the Tank Engine making eyes at a Beanie Baby Bear as I attempted to force the zipper shut.

Still, despite the voluminous nature of the bag there are a few deliberate omissions. My trusty blowdryer and flatiron will not be making the trip south. I'll be subjecting an entire island nation to my giant, frizzy, unruly curls, with a mind of their own, which may explain any strange weather patterns that move through over the next 7 days.

Also not joining us: the laptop. And given that my phone could not be less "smart" that means no internet access for a week (Facebook friends, please pray for me). The gadgets and gizmos will stay home, and hopefully after a week we'll all be recharged with enough juice to get through the hustle and bustle that's still to come.

Given the exorbitant luggage fees the airlines are now charging, I thought it would be wise to leave some of my emotional baggage at home as well. That means I'm not bringing my nearly ever-present Mommy Guilt (the large, slightly haggard bag nagging "Why haven't I done enough to feed their minds, bodies, and spirits today? Have I scarred them emotionally forever with whatever decision I did or didn't make?), the Wife Guilt ("Did I even talk to my husband today about anything that didn't come out of a child's mouth or other orifice?"), the Daughter Guilt ("Maybe if I had just skipped that nap, you know the only one I've had in the past month, I could have made time to go visit my parents before we left?") and the Holiday Guilt ("I'm sure I could make things MORE festive if I just tried a little harder...").

There's no space in our luggage for my ongoing frustration over the lack of Me Time ("All I wanted was 1 freaking hour to get a pedicure before we left, is that seriously too much too ask?"), my neurotic fears ("But we can't go because something bad might happen while we're gone!") and my never ending quest for the "perfect" job that will provide personal and professional satisfaction and a pleasing work-life balance ("HA HA HA HA HA!!!"- that's the sound of the universe laughing its head off at me, in case you were wondering). Nope, no room.

So pat me down and scan me up. It's time to vacate, time for a change of mental and physical scenery. Yes, it's just a week and at the end of it we'll have to return to reality, but I'm praying I'll come home with a bag full of energy and optimism, or at the very least a nice tan.

And maybe, just maybe while we're there I'll find the strength to let go of everything, including my watch.