key west, motherhood, parenting, travel

Three beautiful things Thursday: Preparenting proclamations, vacations, and finding Fiji in the Florida keys

I love taking vacations. Correction. I loved taking vacation. Once upon a time before diaper changes and rubber ducky territorial battles, you know, when we were truly and surely DINKs [that’s Dual Income No Kids] we traveled frequently preferring to do without a dining table so we could hike the Napali coast instead. When I found out I was having my firstborn, we vowed having kids won’t slow down or stop our trips. We will not be those parents.

This is what I refer to as the last few months of the  “OMG if I don’t get 8 hours of sleep I will fall apart” era: Circa 2009, Portland, after just waking up. At 11am.

Funny thing about those grand preparenting proclamations. I’ve eaten humble-pie with nearly all of them. Including this one. While we do still travel, its different. We see a lot of sunrises instead of sunsets. Instead of hiking up to the top of San Francisco’s Coit tower, you’ll see us hiking up a ladder to retrieve a terrified toddler from the Buena Yerba slide. And because we happen to be the type of parents who care what time their kids sleep [because our kids, if their melt downs are any indications, care about what time they sleep too] we exclusively seek hotels with balconies where we can hang out while babies snooze. And we haven’t touched international travel with a ten foot pole because, as one traveler on our Friday flight observed, you’ve got a 20 pound wet noodle there don’t you? Why yes. Wriggling, squirming, jumping, occasionally crying, noodle.

Watching the sunset. From Waleed’s seat. Which he appropriated as his own.

Waleed shares our enthusiasm for vacations. Specifically, hotels. He loves hotels. So much so that we can’t drive past a motel-6 without a vigorous plea for a one-night-stay. So when we realized we had two soon-to-expire skymile tickets via American Airlines which flies to Miami which is where my brothers live we decided, why not? Let’s visit family and spend a few nights in Key West. We got a bonus treat when my parents agreed to come too, and so book the tickets we did.

“mama? this train take us to hotel? We going to hotel? mama? really? hotel?” [and repeat]

I grew up in Miami but my kid-version of Miami was completely different. For one we didn’t live in a townhome a hop, skip, and a jump from all that is glorious about the city, so I appreciate it differently now. We hung out and enjoyed amazing home cooking my brother did for us, walked around Brickell Key where the iguanas randomly roamed and then felt our hearts sink when we saw the forecast for our trip to Key West: rain, rain, and a dash of thundershowers.

Still, the reservations were made, so we drove down, through serious thunderstorms, and felt thankful for the game of Scattergories packed in the trunk. Thankfully the rain subsided by the time we hit the keys. We headed to our villa overlooking the ocean a glimpse of an inlet.

And after checking out our digs, listening to the music floating from the pool, and touring said heated and salted pools, we set out to explore the island.

I was a little disappointed by Key West. This is not Key West’s fault. It’s like being sad that the sun is yellow because you desired it to be a magnificent rose-pink. When it came to Key West, I imagined, it being so close to Cuba and the Bahamas, that this would be a lush little tropical paradise. Florida’s little Fiji. [And as I haven’t visited Fiji, if Fiji is a bunch of shops selling catch-phrase t-shirts and a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum, then my bad, this was Fiji] The beaches I envisioned were sparse. We drove by a few promising ones but one turned out to be a burial ground for African slaves whose bodies had washed ashore and were buried therein. Another lovely beachfront turned out to be a memorial site for island-dwellers who lost their lives to AIDS. Both important to commemorate but not exactly places I want to set the kid loose with a plastic shovel and a bucket.

Still, when you have unexpectedly fantastic weather, family to spend time with [and to get help from], and nothing to do but be idle together, cheesy or not, trolley-tours withstanding, a good time tends to be had.

Conch-Tour-Train. This is before he conked his head on said conch train. Literally. Sigh.

Bonus? I learned a new hairstyle borne of the uselessness of hair straighteners in the face of humidity and found a beautiful side benefit. Because my baby boy? He loves to grip my hair any chance he gets with both hands, twisting his baby hands around until its thick and coiled in his wrist and then, he bears down with all his eighteen pound might giving me lovely migraines. This, helps.

I might wear it this way until he’s off to college. 

The spousal unit and I also got to eat out alone. Something we haven’t done in months, and on a vacation? Fuggedaboutit. It was awesome to just sit across from each other and talk. Not, check diapers, and wash little hands, and break down food for said tiny hands and mouths. We could eat peacefully. Walk down Duval street past 7:30pm. People watch. Relax. Did we talk about the kids the whole time? Well mostly. But it was still special.

And all of this was wonderful. It was relaxing. It was memorable. But nothing came close to the pit-stop on the drive back. Our brief sojourn at Bahia Honda Key as we headed back to Miami.

Pictures can only show you a rendering of what it looked like. But how can anyone render how it felt to stand on sandy white beaches, dip ones feet into teal blue water with flecks of aqua green? It can only be experienced firsthand.

We took a bridge up an abandoned railroad and glimpsed its skeletal remains, a memory of a time long ago. 

And I walked on the sandy white beach. I dipped my toes into the clear blue water. And I stood and looked around me. Thirty miles from surf-n-turf and trolley rides, in this quiet little key, I found Fiji.

There are moments you feel alive. To be sure, I feel alive every day. Feeling alive is a default sensation of you know being alive. Eyes blinking, fingers typing. Check. Alive. I guess alive isn’t the right word.

For moments like these, finding a hidden tiny little glimpse of Fiji so unexpectedly, there is no right word. It’s a moment when your heart beats a little faster. When you are overwhelmed by the cool tingle of the water on your feet, the breeze in your hair, and the sun beating down on your hair and the sights before you. It’s a moment when you can feel not alive so much as feel your soul, the essential core of you who are underneath the exhaustion, and hopes, and despair. Where you have no doubt you are standing before glory, and where you believe in something greater than you without question because how can there be beauty this painfully gorgeous without a Beautiful Planner. I’ve had these moments before, cleaning a dirty pot, standing on a volcanic Hawaiian cliff, and each time it feels like the first time. It is the feeling of undiluted peace.

After two hours, reluctantly, we left. Took the long drive back to Miami and talked about camping at Bahia Honda as soon as we could. I’m not sure we actually will do this. It is very far away. But the thought of it makes me smile. And later that evening, the kids asleep, as we sat around my brother’s kitchen table, eating mango ice cream, chatting about life, and plans, and teasing as we did as children, I felt that stirring again being with the family unit I once belonged to fully before I created a family unit of my own.

We’re back home now. Happy and tired. And thankful. For family, for surviving air travel with two children, and for the memory of Bahia Honda Beach, a two hour glimpse into paradise which for a brief moment sprouted wings on my soul and which I learned that evening around dinner with my family, is always there if I just open my eyes and look around. Because at a kitchen table, a subway train, a beautiful beach, miraculous beauty abounds.

6 thoughts on “Three beautiful things Thursday: Preparenting proclamations, vacations, and finding Fiji in the Florida keys”

  1. Beautiful trip! Love the photos and sentiment of this post. And…I agree with you about Bahia Honda. First went to Key West and felt like you did. Then saw the unexpected beauty of that little key and became completely enamored.

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  2. Reem, thanks! Pic compliments are a big deal coming from my photographer friend 🙂

    Leslie, not just me then re: Key West? I mean it was fine, but I thought a little tiny island off the coast, the last island off Florida, would be a little less kitschy. But like I said, that's fine- just not what I was expecting– and then Bahai Honda had to come along and now I wan tot go back tomorrow! LOL Thanks for the comment, nice to hear from you 🙂

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