That Time I Took My Mom on Vacation

My mom gave me life, so the least I can do is take her on an all-inclusive vacation, right?

I’d been pushing her to do a mother/daughter trip with me for quite some time, and finally, the opportunity presented itself at the beginning of this month. Last Thursday through Sunday (Mother’s Day), we headed to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic for the blue beach, to bask in the sun and bronze burn our booties.

 

Right away, it was an adventure. We were greeted at the airport and escorted to the shuttle that would take us to our resort, where we met a couple visiting Punta Cana for their third time. Turns out they knew my aunt and uncle. You may think, how does that even happen?! But growing up in a small town, and attending a small college, showed me years ago how strong connections can be and how fast they spread. I can’t say I was even fazed.

And then my mom (making conversation, of course) asked them the question: “Are the native people here really poor?” Embarrassed, I tried to shush her, but she went on, loudly. “They seem really poor.” All in earshot of our driver, who was clearly a native of the country. *face palm*

It was like that scene from Mean Girls.

 

 

A small part of me worried what I was getting into, but I just laughed. This was going to be a trip! We got dropped off at our hotel and were greeted with a flute of cold sparking juice and damp, cool washcloths to put on our necks to relieve us from the heat. My mom, as you can see, was in heaven. “I’m never leaving!” she exclaimed. Below, you can see the photos of our hotel and beach areas. (That flamingo was kind of a bitch.)

 

 

Although mom doesn’t drink, she was loving the non-alcoholic cocktails and smoothies. Every day, she’d say, Let’s get a drink. Oh gosh, I sound like such a lush! We spent the majority of our time relaxing at the beach laying out or under the shade of the bed, or hanging out in our VIP pool.

 

 

Steps to vacation: Eat, drink, relax, swim, sleep, repeat.

 

Then my childhood dream came true on Friday- I swam with a dolphin in the ocean. Absolutely everything I thought it’d be! They are such powerful, playful, and beautiful mammals.  Posters and knickknacks of them used to cover my bedroom from wall to wall growing up, and here I was, actually kissing them, swimming with them, having them jump over me. Surreal. Like a true mother, my mom’s enjoyment came out of just watching my excitement.

 

As amazing as the views were, the best part of the trip was the talks we’d have before bed. Mom told me some stories from her childhood, how her parents didn’t have money, and things she had done for fun. I told her my fears, my summer plans, vented about my “problems.” She listened intently, giving advice like only she can do. We talked about my future: traveling, kids (no), marriage. Her regrets, and aging.

We never think about our parents getting older until we notice small things- forgetting something we told them, not being able to walk as far, needing glasses to read, getting frustrated with trying to teach them technology, my mom reading lips because she was struggling to hear me, etc. I have this irrational fear that because my mom handles literally EVERYTHING for our family and constantly has a mind that never stops running, that she’ll develop Alzheimer’s, though I know that’s not how it works.

She mentioned, with tears in her eyes, that her mother would have never done something like this with her. She had died when I was six, and to be honest, I don’t remember much of her. It hit me then that my mother was also a daughter. Crazy as it sounds, I forget that beyond being a mother and a wife, she is a daughter.  She is a woman who does not need to be defined by her roles. A woman who probably, even at 61, still has those empty spaces in her heart from the ones she has lost. A woman who still has dreams and needs and sadness and really tough days where she doesn’t know what the hell to do. A woman who ignores those feelings because so many depend on her strength. That thought made me feel so guilty. I had been blind for so long. So insincere and thoughtless as a teenager, so selfish. So blissfully unaware of how lucky I am to have her.

People talk about how their mother is the glue that holds their family together…mine is the nails used to build us, the glue that keeps us, and the duct tape when all else fails. She has been my backbone in a lot of ways, and I can’t picture a world with her not in it. My parents have worked their entire lives to provide a better life for my brother and I, and even in their sixties, they are moving firewood, taking care of my grandparents, managing three properties, and still picking up the phone when I call. As they near retirement (jealous) my hope for them is that they are able to relax and enjoy themselves.

Now that we’re back in rainy PA, I’m reflecting on this trip and I know that was one of the reasons for going- for everything my mother has given me, it’s always been my dream to give back. Since I can’t buy her a house, or a brand new car, I figured my time and this experience would suffice. Another lifetime couldn’t be long enough to learn from and be loved by you.

I love you mom, hope you had a wonderful Mother’s Day. I’m always missing you.

 

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Leave nothing but footprints,

take nothing but pictures,

kill nothing but time.

Something to Sacrifice

My brother, Ryan, never made it to my high school or college graduation. He’s missed several birthdays, countless holidays, and important moments in my life where I needed him most, or just wanted him to be there.

Now in their sixties, my parents have had an empty room upstairs in their home for nearly the past ten years. There are not really any Mother’s Day or Father’s Day celebrations, let alone birthdays, or Christmas mornings with the four of us gathered together by the tree. In fact, I have felt like a family of three for quite some time now.

Now that my parents are grandparents, they can count the number of times they have seen their granddaughter on one hand since she has been born. And, as a first time aunt, I am realizing how much distance robs me of the simple things: discovering what gross things she may try to put in her mouth, learning to crawl, what color her ever-curious eyes are, and the way her laughter sounds. I only know by the videos that are sent to me.

Sure, a lot of this can be chalked up to “growing up.” Things change- I get it. People get older, move away, get married, and start their own families. There is no denying that it is simply a part of life, and sometimes it sucks.

However, our lives are different for another reason: the military. My brother joined the Air Force right out of high school. He became engaged to the love of his life, Alesha, at age 19, and they were married at just 21. Since then, they have lived in England and Italy, and traveled all over the world. My brother has slept in countries I probably couldn’t even find on a map. Despite the deployments and distance, Alesha has remained a pillar of strength for my brother and supported all of his endeavors, even if it means a rough road ahead for her. She has endured the difficult adjustments of living in foreign countries and being separated from her family back in the States. I can only imagine the many nights she has slept alone, struggling to keep the house in order, while working full time, just keeping her mind busy until my brother’s safe return. Ryan and Alesha have shown me what it means not only to sacrifice, but to love, honor, trust, and support your spouse unconditionally. They have fully put their faith in one another, and I admire that more than I have ever told them.  In June, after 5 years of marriage, they welcomed their first child, Cora Rae. Now, they are thankfully back in the States, but still a 10 hour drive away.

It is hard for me to admit that Ryan and I did not have the best relationship growing up. I was (as he would say) the annoying little sister, grappling at every chance to spend with him. In the end, all it did was smother him and push him further away. Yet, during my years in college, and his overseas, our relationship stabilized significantly. Though the calls were few and far between, we grew closer. I finally visited him in England in the winter of 2010. It was there that my desire to travel ignited, and could not be ignored. In a sense, he is the reason behind what I have been able to accomplish, whether he knows it or not.

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Every year during this time, similar to Memorial Day, 4th of July, etc., I see countless posts on social media about thanking our armed forces for the sacrifices they make. But I also see those people at barbecues with their families, and significant others. I see them photographed with their siblings on family vacations. I see them partying with friends, at fancy Valentines Day dinners with their spouse, or together around the table for Easter dinner.

I am not denying anyone’s right to celebrate, or comparing sacrifices, or condemning those people. I cannot (and do not intend or wish to) sit here, innocent, because I too have taken far too much for granted, and we all have lost or sacrificed something- there is no need to measure the size of those scars.

But I would be lying to you all if I didn’t sometimes get upset over how I do not have the luxury of having annual family vacations, or weekly dinners, or even Thanksgiving with my brother. I know that the time together we have missed is something I can never get back, and will always be looking forward to- especially now that my brother and sister-in-law have a family of their own.

I would also be lying to you if I didn’t admit how frustrated I can get sometimes with the unreliable schedules with ever-changing shifts, or the months he is gone for training. Having him not be there for certain things, or be unable to plan trips together (you all know I LOVE to travel) can still be upsetting, even though I understand fully and respect why they can’t happen, and feel selfish in confessing these feelings.

Because I certainly cannot complain.

For all of these things, I am lucky.

I may not have a brother (and consequently, a sister-in-law & niece) who are close by to visit. But I have a brother.

Some people don’t get their loved ones back. Some women lose husbands DAYS before they are supposed to return from deployment. Daughters and sons lose fathers, just like they do mothers, while they are serving our country- sometimes before they even get to meet them. Parents have had to bury their children without ever even saying goodbye.

I cannot imagine surviving the unthinkable. I do not even know the half of it, nor will I pretend to. I do not know what private wars still rage on in their minds when they return home, or the horror of the sights they have seen. I don’t know what they eat, or where they sleep, or the extent of everything they sacrifice, and from my brother’s silence, sometimes I don’t think I want to.

So yes, I am very lucky. And I am thankful. And all I know is that they deserve to hear this more than just on today.

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