Once upon a time, I understood a certain concept in theory. Today, I understand it fully in the experiential sense: A vacation with two toddlers is, indeed, not a vacation. In fact, parents need a minimum of a week of recovery time in order to heal from the traumas incurred during said “vacation” with tiny tyrants who have been so rudely jerked out of their routine and thrown into a foreign (and often very wet) environment.
I had this crazy dream that we would all just be relaxing on a nice white-sanded beach with clear blue ocean waters lapping at our little toes, and we would giggle and splash and build colossal mideival sand castles, and go skipping down the beach hand-in-hand until we all tumbled down in rapturous laughter and delight. I think that I stepped out of the realm of idealistic into the realm of psychotic-sleep-deprived-desperate-for-a-break-mommy-brain.
Hold your breath. I have some shocking news for you all: It did not go as I had planned. Child one did not like the ocean for a while. Child two loved the ocean and promptly got a nasty eye infection on the first day. Mommy (sometimes known by daddy as child number three) forgot that she needs to carry around oxygen tanks, which are not conducive to any sort of happy family frolicking and certainly not ocean and sand-proof.
In addition, our 17-hour-overnight drive did not involve much sleep for anyone involved. Our eight-passenger rental van did NOT comfortably seat 8 passengers when three of those passengers are well over 250 pounds and two of those passengers are in car seats that take up one and a half seats. And who willingly squeezes into the middle seats in the back except for the moms of the bunch who are so adapted to sacrificing themselves that they don’t even register the horrific sacrifice of sanity and overall proprietary ownership of our bodies that is involved in the death-sentence that is the middle seat of a minivan wedged between a teenager and a toddler’s car-seat for 17 hours? Over the course of our over-night drive across Oklahoma and Texas, I bargained with God quite frequently. Blood, tears, and sweat were shed (maybe not blood–I can’t remember). Body odors were rampant (remember, two teenagers). I had brought a book to read, not considering the fact that there would not be nearly enough space to even open the book in my squished little lap. I don’t know what I was thinking anyway: I had tiny children to entertain.
We made it to the ocean at 10 AM, after an agonizing 17 hours . Our rental house did not allow check-in until 3 PM. We had with us an almost 2-year-old, a 3-year-old, a 12-year-old, and a 19-year-old. And they were DELIRIOUS. I was just a little nutty myself (understatement). It has been a long time since I have seen my beloved ocean, but that day at that time, really, all I wanted was a bed. We dug our swimsuits out of our shredded car-top-carrier (that will teach us to buy cheap travel equipment), and loaded our arms with buckets, umbrellas, swim diapers, chairs, oxygen tanks, power aides, juice boxes, books (haha), and like 85 towels. (Overkill much??). An hour later, we were settled on a beach full of 500 other families, none who spoke our language. The baby-children were begging for their pacifiers, and the adult-children were begging for a bed. And thus began our beach adventure.
It really truly got better from there. We survived the drive, the first interminable day in the sun resulting in at least second degree burns for all the adults (if only we put sunscreen on ourselves the way that we lather up our babies!!!), and unloading our ridiculously overpacked van-load into the ant-infested rental house. We slept well that night, and the next day we found a much more calm, sparsely populated beach access on the other part of the island. We packed more appropriately (No one stumbled and fell under the load of the beach toys, floats, and chairs on the way to the ocean). We feasted and Whataburger while watching the beautiful undulation of the very blue waves. The children and daddy did walk up and down the shore collecting shells for Grandma and Grandpa, and mommy got a chance to sit with her babies in the shallow surf. There were moments of pure bliss interspersed between the realities of going to the beach with two toddlers and a disabling chronic illness. 85 percent of the time I was keenly aware of the fever that kept me shivering even while sitting in the humid 90-degree beach air. I had to chose between breathing well and going out into the ocean with the kids, and sometimes I chose the ocean. The walk from the boardwalk to the beach was agonizing, and there were moments where I wasn’t entirely sure that I could stay upright long enough to get from one place to the other. I tried to communicate these discomforts as infrequently as possible so that no one would feel unnecessarily burdened or inconvenienced by my disability. They had enough to worry about.
Along with my idealistic idea of what the beach with toddlers would look like, I also clung to an idealistic idea of what the beach with POTS would look like. I was convinced that the ocean breeze, the warm sunlight, and the salt water would be like a salve to my weary and broken body. I thought that somehow, magically, my illness would dissolve into the sand under my feet as I walked down to the ocean. I learned that the beach isn’t really that magical. It was wonderful, still as beautiful as ever. The ever-present rhythm of the ocean waves soothed my anxious heart. The warmth of the sun did indeed soften my spirit. The joy that my children communicated as they chased the waves and let the waves chase them back was unprecedented by any joy that I’ve seen them experience before. I was so glad to be there. And I was still sick. I was shivering, gasping at times, dizzy constantly, and utterly exhausted. My bones and joints screamed while I watched my family play happily. I had to decline certain activities because I couldn’t move. The beach did not fixed me, but it offered moments that breathed life into my heart and soul. It gave my children fresh experiences and family memories that were worth the hours of travel and blistering sunburns.
When describing our trip, I told people that I hadn’t decided if it was worth it yet. I think that I’ve decided. It was worth it. It was worth all of it. It was worth it to see the delight in those little eyes. It was worth it to sit on the ocean’s edge holding my babies. It was worth it to watch my sweet husband tenderly hold my daughter’s hand as he helped her pick out the perfect sea shells and carry my rambunctious son into the deeper ocean because he just couldn’t get enough of the pounding waves. We may re-evaluate the eight-passenger van deal for next time and who driving over night thinking that the babies gonna sleep, but our souls needed a fresh glimpse of majesty, glory, and connectedness. And what’s a good story without some dramatic elements anyway?