Music to my ears.
Since last August, my mom, brother, sister and I have been planning a family trip for my dad’s 60th birthday. He knew he and my mom were going to Jamaica, but had no idea that all of us — plus Luis and Maya! — would be coming, too! It was SO hard to keep things a secret but fortunately my dad isn’t on email and we just had to keep things quiet during visits home and on phone calls and Skype.
Wednesday, April 11, was the big day! My parents flew to Montego Bay from N.J. and Luis, Maya and I flew in from Detroit, my sister from NYC, and my brother from LA. It was a covert op of the most awesome kind. 🙂 We had planned to meet at the hotel but you know what they say about the best laid plans … in spite of our meticulous plotting and planning, we totally ran into my parents at immigration and my dad was completely shocked to see us!! It was awesome 🙂
We decided not to tell him about my siblings — who were on later flights — and let him be surprised again 🙂 They met us at the hotel, coming up from behind him while we had a late lunch by the pool. Totally amazing and major props to my mom, who managed to pull this off for all of us!
We stayed at the Hilton Rose Hall Resort & Spa in Montego Bay and it was absolutely perfect. We’d go back in a heart beat. The staff were amazing, the food delicious and the alcohol strong and abundant (I’ve heard food can be lame and drinks weak at many all-inclusive resorts; this was not the case at the Hilton Rose Hall). They have a water park on site, a lazy river, a swim-up bar, two pools, a hot tub, and nearly all of the water activities are included. It was awesome family time, awesome couple time, awesome everything time.
I thought I’d call out some of the most memorable themes/parts of the trip.
Being brave: I jumped off the catamaran into the Caribbean and went sea kayaking for the first time. On the boat, it took me like four minutes of standing there, hesitating, before I jumped in. I watched my crazy husband and brother somersault in and then watched my dad dive in, so I felt like I had to do it or I’d regret it forever. So I did and swallowed half the sea after I hit the water, but it was such an adrenaline rush and I’m so glad I did it. I put my mask on, snorkeled — swimming over coral reefs and trenches — and had a blast. The next day, Luis and I took a sea kayak out and raced my dad and brother. We were really far out and I surprised myself by not really thinking about what could happen out there. I lived in the moment and just savored the sensation of paddling and the salt spray on my face; the sun on my back.
Body Image: This is me. In a bathing suit. Laying out in the sun. This is a BFD (Big Freaking Deal!). I haven’t been on a vacation where I had to wear a bathing suit since 2005–when I was my thinnest. I’ve managed to avoid bathing suits ever since. And even in El Salvador last summer, we only went to the beach once — and I only took a dip in the beach-front pool there (the sun is way harsh; no one lays out the way they do here in the U.S. unless it’s at like 4 PM). Even when we go to Maya’s swimming classes, I jump in before anyone can see me.
So I surprised myself by walking all over the resort, often without a towel draped over my lower half. I pushed the stroller around, not really giving a crap about who was looking — because, as I came to realize, everyone on vacation seems to be lost in their own bliss — not checking out my (or anyone’s!) cellulite or the size of my thighs. I went down the resort’s water slide on a tube and didn’t worry about the splash I did/didn’t leave behind. I even let my mom take some pics of Maya and I in our swimsuits. For the first time in years — even though my body is far from perfect — I felt good.
Going curly: Since college, I’ve been straightening my God-given auburn curls. I feel sleeker and more professional with straight hair and it is time-consuming and expensive to maintain but I do it because it’s important to me. I know many people would kill for natural curls — but it’s also true that the grass is always greener. Curly hair is tricky–and mine, especially. It either has to be so long that the curls get weighed down, or short enough to spiral beautifully while not making me look like Annie. Trust me when I say there’s a fine line between chic and disaster. Anyway, I went curly the whole vacation (except for the night of my dad’s birthday when we all dressed up and went to a fancy restaurant) … there was just no time to spend straightening my hair and Caribbean humidity always does a number on my hair, so there really was no reason to even bother. I won’t say I felt chic and confident in my curls — they weren’t styled or anything — but it did feel nice to just be me, authentically me, down to my roots. Literally.
Embracing an all-inclusive resort: During my recovery, I blogged about how I feared/hated on buffets. Well, times have changed and I reverted back to my childhood self who enjoyed buffets in moderation. I filled my plate with salads and fresh fruits, but also ate pancakes every morning, french fries with lunch most days, pizza and ice cream and dessert every night. I kept my portions moderate but enjoyed whatever I wanted. I did not count Points and didn’t try to even guesstimate. I ate, savored the flavors, and moved on.
Letting go: At one point, I asked a hotel staff person what time it was. The kind Jamaican man laughed at me and said, “I’m not telling you. You’re on vacation, mon. There is no time.” He didn’t know I was just curious how long Maya had been napping — she napped twice a day on vacation even though she’s down to one 1-3 hour nap a day now. Either way, the point is on vacation, I had to let go. Things were not in my control — and vacationing at a resort where everything is right there means there is little to no planning. You can eat whenever, swim whenever, play whenever. There are endless options in front of you and no one telling you what you can/can’t do or when to do it. This lifestyle is completely contradictory to my Type-A, anal-retentive personality … but was exactly what I needed: to just let go, and go with the flow.
Accepting defeat: I wiped out my entire memory card of photos on my new camera on Sunday morning after taking some of the most beautiful pics I’d ever taken (scenery and people). I cried and cursed myself out for the mishap — turns out my camera, which asks if you are SURE you want to delete a single photo, does not ask the same question when you accidentally hit the button to wipe out the memory card. I learned this the hard way. I know the memories are what count the most when on vacation and I have plenty of pics on my iPhone, plus my family took a ton — but it was especially upsetting because I got some really special pics and they are gone, forever. [I should note — photos are important to my family; when my house burned down the only thing (besides my blue stuffed octopus, Octy) my parents were able to salvage was a few photo album]. I am not going to lie and say I didn’t wallow in my own self pity for a while, but we only had three hours left as a family on the island so I sucked it up and, at my dad’s suggestion, went back down to the beach to take some new pics. I never was able to capture those same pics — and didn’t try — but it did help to know how many good ones I had.
Traveling with a toddler: This one truly warrants its own post. 😉 With this trip, Maya has had 26 take-off and landings since she was six weeks old. That’s a lot of flying and a lot of travel anxiety for me. But I have to say, the kid is an amazing trooper. She has slept through nearly all her flights except for the most recent few–and even then, she naps at least half of it and is chatty and smiley with everyone around her. It was much easier to travel with her when she wasn’t mobile and it’s certainly easier to travel with L than without him! Having plenty of toys, books, snacks helps — as does milk or water + juice in a sippy cup for her. She handled all the transitions — from plane to immigration to shuttle to hotel — amazingly well and really wasn’t fussy except for when she wanted to move a couple times and couldn’t (hello, there’s nowhere to go on a plane!). And when we were at the resort and were eating or chatting and she wanted to play, there were five other people to help out. We give her an A for her effort; even with a few back-arching “tantrums,” she really was an angel and the staff ADORED her. They all knew her by name — which cracked us up.
Maya developments: My family got to hear her say “bubbles” and “bye-bye” for the first time. She also did a real wave (trust me, her other wave was cute but not the same as this) and pointed to each of my family members on command. I couldn’t believe she actually did that — I knew she knew her friends at school, but she doesn’t see my family often. I guess between knowing their voices from the phone and Skype and seeing photos, she’s been able to decipher who is who. They were all blown away and so touched.
It was an amazing trip and I need another vacation 🙂
This week got off to a rough start. I had to drop Maya off at the Toddler Room yesterday at school – she’s officially transitioned now. <<Tear>> It didn’t help that she clung to my leg and cried when we got there, but I think it had more to do with the fact that it was her first day at school in nearly a week and we had spent 24/7 together for 6 days than anything else. Still, it was hard to see. A few minutes later my friend saved the day when she arrived with her son — Maya’s BFF, also in her class — and the tears turned to big smiles. Those two definitely missed each other 😉
Aside from leaving your routine, the beauty of vacation is uninterrupted time with family. Even in a non-vacation setting, it’s good to keep that in mind.
Til then … I’ll keep these memories of our wonderful surprise trip close at heart. I miss my family enormously, but it was truly an epic trip and we will be repeating it next year 🙂