Before moving to Columbia, Missouri, spring break meant a week off school to hang around the house and catch up on projects. I soon learned this is not the case in the Midwest. In CoMo, it’s ‘hasta la vista, baby,’ and everybody gets outta dodge. Headed to prime vacation destinations like Florida and Mexico (the country, not the city in Missourah, population 11,543), people lay out the big bucks. And they take their kids with them.
For eight years I didn’t get it. An Arizona girl transplanted to Texas, I never felt the need to migrate to warmer climates; I already lived there. But, by adopting the Show-Me state as my new home, I’ve been reacquainted with the seasons, and after this particular year – the year of the interminable winter in which the world descended into an icy kind of hell, a frozen apocalypse with subzero temperatures, biting winds, ice storms and snow day upon snow day upon snow day – I got it.
“I’m so cold! I haven’t been warm in months,” I said to my friend Jane in Phoenix, who at that moment was sitting on her patio shaded by palm trees, enjoying a perfect 75 degrees. “I can’t wait to feel the sun on my face again.”
I pictured myself lying on soft sand, nearly lifeless, basking in the golden rays like a reptile sunning on a rock.
“You’re going to be gone how long?” she asked.
“Nine days. Granted, it’s four long days of driving, but five full days of camping right across from the beach. South Padre, baby. Kicking back at the KOA!”
In my mind’s eye I can see us in our little home away from home: a green sturdy mat to cover the ground outside the trailer, an awning to create a cozy space lined with Little Japanese lanterns that cast a soft glow, music resonating from outdoor speakers. The girls riding their bikes. Steven at the grill, searing steaks, enjoying a beer. Me, reclined in a comfy camping chair, feet up, wine glass in hand.
“All I’m going to do is relax.” I said, “And, Steven’s taking his kayak so he can fish. It’ll be so good for him.”
A nature lover, my husband is most at peace on a lake, river or ocean, casting his reel. It’s his meditation, his sacred communion.
“And it’ll be good for you.” Jane said. “You guys both need this after everything you’ve been through.”
Stress is a buzzword that’s become cliché in our fast-paced culture, but ‘this’ year has been even more intense for us than normal. A lot of travel, the girls’ medical and educational issues, my job, Steven’s job, our new grandbaby’s heart surgery . . . well, nothing has been routine for awhile.
And then there’s Mom’s death.
“It’s been six months already,” I said, disbelief in my voice.
Our grief cycles as we learn to live without her; it’s been hard, but more and more the sadness is imbued with vitality and getting away to enjoy each other is a significant part of that healing process.
“So, we’re going,” I exclaimed. “All the way to the coast!”
Jane celebrated with me over the phone, “I’m happy for you guys. You really deserve this.”
Steven brought the RV out of hibernation, cleaning and repairing and stocking, and making sure his 4WD truck was tow-worthy. Ever the über-boyscout, my mate impresses me with his thoroughness, making lists and spending hours following through with his plans which this time included detailed preparations for salt water fishing. He loaded his kayak atop the roof of the Super Duty. Protruding over the hood, the end rested on a carrier attached at the grill, forming a visor that framed our view as we headed south on a 1,200 mile trek in search of fun in the sun.
Everyone in their places, we drove; over 22 hours, but we made it, full of anticipation and ready for anything. Anything, except what we got.
After all that, the weather did not hold up its end of the bargain. In fact, the elements conspired to create the antithesis of perfect weather. Warm temperatures were nowhere to be found; we wore jeans instead of shorts and jackets rather than short sleeves. At night every blanket was put to use until we broke down and turned on the heat. All day, the sun hid, obliterated by cloud-cover, casting a gloomy pall. Thunderstorms shook the trailer and gales of wind blew day and night, snatching the door out of our hands and slamming it against the side of the RV, whipping up everything in its path, even extinguishing the flame on the BBQ grill. We retracted the awning and stayed inside.
We were not happy campers.
On the morning of the fourth day, I lay in bed listening to the sound of a downpour – rain dancing with tap shoes on the roof of the trailer – and had a conversation with the petulant teenager who lives inside me.
‘Let it go, Lisa. You’re ruining your own vacation.’
‘But, this isn’t the vacation I ordered. This is not the vacation I NEEDED!’
‘The girls are handling it better than you.’
They were such troopers. Sydney’s ability to go with the flow has always amazed me. And even Haley wasn’t complaining, finding other things to do. But hanging out inside our RV wasn’t what we planned.
‘This weather sucks. This totally sucks.’
‘You’re still spending time together as a family.’
‘Three miles shy of Mexico, for the love of Mike! We came all this way to get out of the cold.’
‘Lisa, shhhhhh. Let it go.’
Cue music: the infamous melody from Frozen rang through my brain, “Let it go! Let it go!” a counter to my stubborn argument. Tenacity and perseverance have gotten me a long way, but this time, a white-knuckled grip on my expectations was not serving me well.
Later that day we passed the time browsing a few touristy gift shops with their shelves of souvenir shot glasses and cheap jewelry, bins of shells and painted starfish and rows of campy T-shirts and hats.
Haley hollered at me a few aisles over, “Mom, look!”
Rounding the corner, she held up a shirt, excited to show me the writing on the front.
“Read it!” she insisted, grinning ear to ear like a little Cheshire cat.
So I read.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Yep. That’s what it said.
Haley beamed at me as if she’d discovered the meaning of life (and maybe she had). “I’ve never seen this on a shirt before. Isn’t that cool?” she asked.
Pretty cool,” I said.
Um, hello? A personal message from the universe, you think? Let. It. Go.
I looked at the past few days through this lens. I didn’t lounge lazily in the hammock like I wanted, but I did cuddle up with my girls to watch movies. I didn’t play catch with Sydney using those little Velcro mitts, but we did play Candy Land and Go Fish, much to her delight. Steven and Haley didn’t take their father-daughter fishing excursion (in fact, Dad’s kayak never even touched the water), but, on a nature walk they did find a fantastic creature called a sea hare. And as a family, we ate delicious seafood at a very cute restaurant on the pier, (while wearing pirate hats), and visited Allison at the Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, an old sea turtle with only one fin, who wears a prosthesis and stars in a documentary.
Then, on the last day, the clouds evaporated and the glorious sun shone bright, warming the air as the winds calmed. The spring break paradise we’d been longing for suddenly materialized. Gathering our gear post haste, we headed to the beach and I lay supine in the sun, eyes closed, drinking in the radiant heat, reptilian instincts satisfied. Haley surfed on her boogie board, Sydney dug in the sand and Steven combed the beach. Bittersweet. We finally got a taste of what we came for.
“Mom, I don’t want to leave,” Haley said. “The sun just came out.”
Sydney said, “But, I miss my friends.”
I understood the sentiments of both my girls. Incredibly grateful for one gorgeous day, I was, nonetheless, disappointed that we didn’t have more. But, I had finally let it go and was ready to go home.
I’m recovering now, adjusting to the discrepancy between what was hoped for and what was. As I contemplate my resistance to (okay, my utter rejection of) accepting the things I could not change, I had to wonder why was I so terribly disheartened? Life happens; C’est la vie and all that, right? But, there was too much riding on the trip; it absolutely had be renewing and rejuvenating. Desperate for rest, we knew it would be a long time before we could commit this kind of time, money and effort to another lengthy sabbatical.
The life lesson comes in not only leaning into the acceptance piece, but embracing the courage piece; the courage to change the things I can. Moving forward, I can create time and space in my busy life for recreation before the need becomes critical. I can infuse my daily routine with all the good things life has to offer, seizing opportunities for joy whenever they present themselves – who said I have to wait? Using my hard-won wisdom, I can sort out the difference. I can have . . . Serenity Now!