I'm not sure why, but on the way to Regionals this year, somehow the fateful unsurfing trip JT and I took to Peru just before Aquaman was conceived came up.
It's been almost 7 years, but even the laughter of it still has a bitter tinge.
Everything seemed to go wrong on that trip. There were no waves, there was no water. The value of the dollar had recently plummeted. The locals weren't terribly friendly.
We've never been happier to get home.
"Everyone needs to have a trip like that sometime in their lives", I laughed merrily as we drove along. "At least we got it out of the way."
JT was eerily silent
He had spent the morning driving from one end of the county to the other to collect donated bottles of water and watermelons. He was exhausted before the trip even started. But at last we were on our way. All those months of training and preparing were coming to their culmination. The drive was smooth, hearts were high.
The hotel wasn't exactly luxury, but it wasn't gross either. They "upgraded" us to a suite since we blocked off such a large chunk of rooms.
It was evening by the time we got there. The boys were tired and excited and full of themselves. The battle was immediately waged as to who would "help" with the dollie.
JT, already feeling a bit mangled, was summoned to drop off equipment in preparation for the morning. Though he had tried desparately to avoid a late night meeting, a late night meeting was called.
With Grandma holding baby Greystoke, the boys and I made an attempt at the pool. It was freezing, but fun. We were tired, but this was our vacation. Tomorrow the real adventure would begin.
I found myself hoping for a nagging rain.
The older two spent the night in Grandma's room, but were ready to go quite early.
JT trying to round up everything he needed following a late night meeting in order to have an early morning meeting by 7 am.
For a few moments, we enjoyed the construction outside of our balcony. The kind of construction that would make most people groan, but had the boys elated.
We loaded up for the half mile walk to the beach. Yes, half a mile one way to the beach where the competition would take place.
With 3 small children.
Oh, and no stroller. Just a front pack for the 2 month old.
There wasn't a cloud in the big beautiful steaming hot sky.
The venue was the most commercialized yet, a stark contrast to last year's gorgeous Pompano Beach.
Every inch was being squeezed for a dollar. Every resource dirtied from use. It did not feel like nature. It felt like prostitution.
The playground was nice, and delightfully shady. We spent many an hour there, because for some odd reason there was less breeze by the ocean than up there. And besides, you can only ask two little boys to stay under a couple shade tents for so long with their monster trucks.
Greystoke was just along for the ride. He smiled, he slept, he ate, and he didn't care that he was doing it in a different place.
The 2nd day he was so creepily sleepy, and it was so hot, that he was stripped and sponged down. He continued to play opposum until I dragged our motley crew across the street to Walgreens. Walgreens with an escalator, no less, where the air conditioning brought an immediate smile.
There was only one small incident in which I had to drag the boys out screaming because they were not being responsible with their shopping carts. And then, whether in protest or desperation, I will never know, The Dude attempted to urinate in public.
JT was busy working. Or playing. Or whatever you would call getting 1st in his age group in the international ironman, 2nd on the paddleboard and beach flags, and 3rd on the surf ski.
Plus coaching his team.
And trying to make sure everyone had enough water and food.
After beach flags, he mysteriously lay down, and didn't get up much again.
Gone was last year's exuberance and adrenaline.
Before the open event was even over, we were heading back to our room.
But of course his night wasn't over. By some crazy compulsion, he felt the need to make sure everyone else had enough water and ice for the next day.
By the time he got back to our room, all he could do was get sick and go to sleep.
It was an awesome "vacation".
And then there was day 2.
Day 2, the boys and I wisened up and stayed in our cool, comfortable room watching cable tv for the first several hours.
Greystoke and I watched the busy world go by from the balcony.
We pulled up to the competition just in time to hear a bunch of screaming and see JT come racing toward the finish line, where he collapsed.
He didn't get up for a while. Water was rushed to him. The ex Heisman trophy winner and NFL quarterback who has befriended JT and came along as an associate member of the team regaled me with the details of what had just transpired:
"It was one of the most INSPIRATIONAL things I have ever seen!! The other guy was AHEAD. He was stronger, he was better, but JT made it happen!"
It was sweet and touching, but it was mostly hard to listen or even care as I watched my husband writhe in agony at the finish line.
Was it really worth it?
I thought he might have to go to the hospital then, but somehow he dragged himself up and made it through several more hours.
They ended up getting 4th this year. The other teams were bigger and stronger and extremely competitive. 4th out of 18 isn't bad at all.
And the team was as excited as ever. Most everyone had a really great time.
But it was another stark constrast to the year before. There was no waiting with baited breath for the results. Somehow JT made it back to the hotel before he started getting sick again. And kept getting sick.
By the time competition was over, his mom and I were at the front desk trying to determine the best and closest healthcare facility.
Thank goodness for my sister, C, who showed up with her two girls and lent a bright spot to our tired trip.
With 3 small children, the most helpful thing I can do for anyone is just...take care of my children. And so JT went with his mother to the hospital, and the 4 of us strolled down to meet C at the only inside restaurant within walking distance: McDonalds, to eat our first meal in 2 days.
No offense, dried fruit, but even McDonalds tasted good at that point.
By the next morning, we were tired, but relieved that it was over. JT felt almost back to normal. As I sat on the bed staring into space, JT asked me if anything was wrong, and all I could say was: "This is pretty much our only vacation all year, and this was a pretty awful vacation."
Tired, and defeated, we decided to go ahead and stop at the children's museum in Tampa, as we had previously planned, in an attempt to salvage some of the wreckage.
And this morning, in the car, I heard one of my favorite songs on the radio, likening back to my days of hourly waking to screaming Aquaman reflux cries:
"God loves a lullaby, and a mother's tears in the dead of night better than a Hallelujah sometimes....We pour out our miseries, God just hears a melody. Beautiful the mess we are, the honest cries of breaking hearts are better than a Hallelujah"
I'm passionate about honesty. Passionate about being real.
I love the mess of it. The brutality.
Ultimately the deep vulnerability.
I think that's why I feel more comfortable with the poor. Why I prefer Aldi to the beachside Publix.
Not just for the cheaper prices but because the people there, their hair is a little askew, and their eyes are tired, and their smiles are genuine.
They don't have the time or the pride for a facade. So I don't have to play along either.
It's why I adore children. Because they haven't learned how to fake it yet.
Why I love the sick, because they don't have the energy to pretend.
We try so hard to please and help others that we end up needing IV fluids.
We line our hyperactive boys up against the wall outside the store, and wonder if we are watching an episode of Nanny 911.
We are not superhuman. We are just frailty.
Made up of water and mistakes.
What a beautiful mess we are.