Coming from a small town in North Dakota, it isn't surprising that the world can sharply contrast the surroundings I'm used to; the wheat fields outside of town don't quite measure up to Seven Mile Beach in Grand Cayman. I've been very lucky in getting to travel and see new parts of the world. In 2017, I went to Florida, California, Alabama, and the Caribbean. While it is hard to pick a favorite because each trip offered a completely different experience, getting to board a cruise ship and see new countries was pretty incredible. The bluest water imaginable and the whitest sand I'd ever walked on.
We counted down to our family vacation last November for what felt like forever, and then when the time finally came, I was nervous. We were going to places that were completely foreign, and we were going to be living on a cruise ship for nearly a week.
And I can't swim.
Not to mention, Olivia watched the Titanic like three times the week before we left.
Admittedly, my mom and I are fairly (very) delayed writing this post, but I don’t quite know how to describe the feeling you have when you're lying in a swimsuit, reading your favorite book series, and watching the sunset over the ocean in the middle of the Caribbean. Or how to put into words the color of the ocean from the coast of Jamaica, or the pounding of adrenaline as you climb a waterfall, or swimming with stingrays, or seeing history right in front of you at the Ancient City of Tulum, or sitting in the pouring rain with Olivia so we could watch Pirates of the Caribbean.... in the Caribbean.
There were aspects of the vacation that were hard and that triggered startling realizations. Primarily, the people we met and their stories. Our incredible wait staff who we had every night at dinner, for example. All men who were working to support their families in Indonesia and the Philippines. On the last night, I was talking to Putu, our head waiter, and he asked what grade in school I was. I told him I was a senior, and he smiled and said his oldest son was a senior, too. He's going to go to college and Putu wasn't quite sure what he thought about his major, but he would "support him until he found what was right." I thought about if my dad was working for months at a time away from me to support our family while I was a senior, and my heart broke.
Oftentimes, we forget that the people around us are just that – people. That they have families, children that they aren't seeing grow, wives they can't kiss every night before bed. The vacation was a continuous reminder to look to God and say, "Thank you."
Usually, during family vacations, I'm anxious to get away from my family. There's six of us, and one of them is an incessant five-year-old who never seems to run out of questions – but this time, I didn't mind spending so much time with all of us. It was nice. Maybe we should spend every day on a giant ship in the middle of the ocean so that we appreciate each other and get along. 😉
I love getting to experience things like this vacation with Olivia – it makes everything more special knowing that she's there to see it, too. And everything feels more and more precious the closer it gets to the time for me to go to college. I cherish the laughs a little more. I collect stories that I'll tell my new friends, so that they feel like maybe they sat next to me and Livi in the rain or they danced next to us at the deck party. Of course, they didn't, because these moments are special. They're for mine and Livi's eyes only.
I probably didn't say it enough while we were on vacation, so just in case, thank you Mom and Chad for giving us this experience. There aren't enough languages to say thank you in, but if you want to hear it in Indonesian in honor of our wait staff: terima kasih. I love you.
Last winter, I started really thinking about Abby’s impending exodus from my grip…err…ahh, I mean her graduation. We didn’t have any vacations planned at the time, and I was feeling sorry for myself. I knew that when Abby went to college, our opportunities for family time would be pretty few and far between. Who knew if she would even be home in the summers? Maybe she would do summer school, work on campus, or travel abroad. It was important to me that we have one more family vacation with the whole family before that became nearly impossible to pull off.
So I built my case.
Ready to wear my husband down with my unrelenting pursuit. Luckily, he also likes vacations with sun and beaches, so it didn’t take much.
By February, we had booked a cruise on the Carnival Vista for our family of six. I know, you’re already thinking, “Suckas!” But it turned out.
Our cruise was set for November, so I tried to convince myself to not even think about it, get excited, or count it down. It was so far away. But as these things go, I blinked, and it was here.
To be clear, this trip wasn’t meant as Abby’s trip, or a trip to celebrate Abby’s graduation. It was a trip to celebrate all of us before all-of-us was all-of-us-minus-one. It was very special to me, and I unwittingly attached a whole heaping load of pressure to the outcome. Get it right. Better be awesome. We better bond. Last chance! All family vacations are tricky. But blended family vacations are “tricky squared.”
Besides blending DNA in our family, we also have some pretty different personalities and interests. Some are more adventurous than others. Some can just sit and stare at beautiful turquoise water and some...well…can’t.
The girls had their own room, and Corbin shared with Mom and Dad. I wondered how we would handle the down time, and our different sleeping schedules. We kept talking about talking about it.
But we never talked about it.
Would we just let the girls have the run of the ship 24 hours a day? It didn’t really make sense to give them a curfew, since we’d be sleeping and wouldn’t know if they stuck to it. I mean, I could just use my mother guilt-dar the next morning: shine a flashlight in their beady little eyes and see if they look left. But let’s face it, we didn’t expect teenage girls to go to bed at 10:00 on a cruise when all the fun was going on.
On the other hand, the little crazy voice in my head whispered, “There are so many people on this ship. One of them could open their door, reach out and grab one of your kids in two seconds. And no one would know.”
So yeah, I overthink things.
I was pretty amped up the day we got on the ship. I kind of had this weird energy as if around every turn I was throwing out my arms to present the pool/skyride/mini golf/water slides/ice cream machine and say, “Look at the wonderful thing we have provided you!” And then waited for the glee and amazement on their faces. And not that they weren’t excited, but they are teenagers. They have “the guarded look of disinterest” down pat.
And let’s face it—as adults, we expect it. So they are just doing their best to live up to our demeaning expectations. I think what they really needed was some time to explore on their own. Not get dragged around.
So they did just that.
If you’ve never been on a cruise, I hope you’ll try it at least once. We've done three now, and we love it. We have been very lucky to have good weather, smooth water, and beautiful locations.
There is a cruise activities director, who is the most fun, most energetic, most in-character person you have ever met. Say hello every time you see him/her! That person will make you feel like the most important person on the ship. Ours was Matt, from London. Yes, he was good looking. Yes, his accent was gorgeous. Yes, he was hilarious. Yes, we loved him.
The girls were great about learning about all the different activities and shows going on and keeping busy. I was so glad they tried different things: Harry Potter trivia, Clue, mini-golf, the 4-D Thrill theater and almost every show the performers put on, to name a few. I loved that they did things together, but also found space and time for their own interests as well. And by their own interests, I mean ordering cheesecake for room service every day.
Abby and I did the Skyride and the high ropes course together. It didn't look so high from the deck. But once we got up there--Mama Mia!
We had two full days at sea, and three days where we stopped in a port: Ocho Rios, Jamaica; Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands; Cozumel, Mexico.
On the ship, we let the girls do their thing, with the exception of supper. We ate together in the dining room every night. We had the same wait staff every night, too. They were fantastic.
I had a couple small-town-freaked-out-mom moments. Partially because I think that everyone with a cell phone and a sideways glance is a human trafficker.
(You guys. They might be. You don’t know.)
And partially because I didn’t want the shark in shallow water we saw on the news the day before we were there to come back and eat them. And partially because I didn’t know how far out they should swim because I didn’t know where currents or undertows or whatever would be. In Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair, Anne Lamott says, “I’m not tense. I’m just very, very alert.”
I was very, very alert.
After we got off the ship, we stayed in Miami for a few days. After having two balcony staterooms and a million square feet of cruise ship to spread out in, a 200 square foot hotel room was…how should I say…cozy.
But I have to give credit to the girls, they aren’t the type who complain or fight with each other. They might not like something, but everyone mostly keeps their complaints to themselves.
Well, everyone except Corbin. He is not afraid to let you know how he’s feeling.
So I guess the question is: Did the trip meet the whole heaping load of pressure I put on it? Of course not. But it was fabulous. It was real time and space our family took to know each other a little better, spend time doing things together and alongside each other. We’ll be able to talk about holding hands climbing Dunn’s River Falls in Ocho Rios, and how Mom made them take a stupid picture in their Hi-Liner t-shirts every day, and Putu, the waiter who remembered what everyone liked and gently encouraged us to try things more exotic than chicken breasts.
And we learned to use Uber together!
And we didn’t get kidnapped. But if we had, at least we would have been together. 😊