Vacation-eve. We're miraculously packed before dinner. At 6:30pm, Blake and I head to downtown Detroit to take in Rock of Ages, a much anticipated event that was booked well before our vacation. While the timing is less than ideal, the show is spectacular and just what I need to kick off our break. Music makes me happy, especially live music, even when it's a bunch of guys and girls dressed in 80's metal band garb, singing Warrant and Meatloaf. The show finishes with Journey's "Don't Stop Believing," and I can barely stay in my seat or stop myself from belting it out. This is worth staying up late for.
We've finally made it to the Whole Foods in Naples at 3:00pm after waking at 5:30am for our morning flight. I feel like a loaded spring, muscles tight, ready to burst from the exhaustion. Anna, on the other hand, is finally feeling the effects of the sour gummy worms, gummy bears, and the lollipop she had on the airplane. For an hour, she dances up and down each aisle, entertaining the often impatient shoppers in the overcrowded store. With Mumble from Happy Feet as her inspiration, she taps with her flip flops, making music with her toes and singing (screeching) in his honor.
It should be bath time on our first night, but Anna and Blake are kicking the ocean waves under a cloudy sky, setting sun peeking through the gray. I'm pulling chicken off the bone and chopping celery for our dinner, and I take a break to watch them from the balcony. This is what she's been talking about all week. Although I can't see her face, I know she is glowing, warm and happy despite the cool temperature. I snap some photos so I remember this quiet, beautiful moment, six more days of moments like these stretching out in front of us. When I kiss her goodnight, salt from her forehead lingers on my lips. I'm happy I missed that spot in the bath.
Anna decides she wants oatmeal for breakfast our first morning on vacation. We're groggy and slow after multiple sleep interruptions last night...until Anna remembers the almond milk chocolate ice cream she devoured for dinner twelve hours ago. Somehow, she convinces me that ice cream for dessert - after breakfast - is a good idea, too. So, after oatmeal and OJ, we scoop chocolate almond goodness into her bowl. She declares that we've made a pattern: "Dinner. Ice Cream. Breakfast. Ice Cream. That's a pattern!" I am floored at this clever observation. And I'm kinda hoping she doesn't figure out what comes next.
Days upon days of drip castles, sandy bottoms, salty hair, frolicking dolphins by the dozens, diving pelicans scoring fish, perfect sunsets, and lazy mornings watching cartoons in bed and playing Legos. Days of sweet sounds like Anna and Blake giggling over staring contests, waves crashing just outside the sliding glass door, crowds clapping at the glorious sunsets. Days of kettle corn and potato chips, frozen fruit drinks and lemonade, and bedtime snacks out on the patio.
I'm walking the beach by myself on our second day on Marco, so grateful for forty-five minutes alone, forty-five minutes to contemplate the blue sky, sparkling water, and soft sand under my feet. I notice beautiful miniature conch-shaped seashells on the shore, and I wonder why nobody is collecting them with the other shells they gather in their bags. I don't stop to pick one up myself, although I think about it many times during my walk. As I near our condo, I see a woman scooping up these shells and throwing them in the ocean, and I'm sure I know why. I stop, asking her for confirmation that they are still alive, and we work together to throw back the washed up sea creatures. I feel good for helping the few that I did. I feel sad that I didn't help the dozens I saw earlier. Days later, Blake and I walk along the beach and he suggests that maybe I'm interfering with mother nature by throwing them back. It makes me wonder.
We're swimming in the pool again, and Anna's bravery is exploding. After just three days, she is back to feeling good about putting her face in the water. She declares, excitedly, that she might want to try putting her whole head in...maybe. Or maybe not. Blake and I watch her kick and scoop across the pool with the aid of her water wings, amazed at just how much this girl can and will do On Her Own Time and When She Is Ready.
We're walking just one half mile along the shore to find a beachfront restaurant where we can eat lunch in our sandy, wet suits. Anna and I are fading fast, grumpy from growling guts, overheated, and in need of a cold drink. As she takes a moment to tickle a wave with her toes, I hurry her along, unable to appreciate this simple joy. We try to pick her up, move faster, but she'll have nothing to do with it. Finally, we sit and gorge ourselves on expensive, mediocre, yet somehow satisfying beach fare. Anna becomes chatty and cheerful. I am a different person. We walk the half mile back, playing chase with each other. Anna giggles from her full belly. She plays chase with the waves, too, and this time, I watch with wonder. And, I can't help be in awe of the power of an empty (or full) stomach.
It's Wednesday night, and I think we are all finally beginning to unwind. There's an edge that's softening inside of me, an anxiety that is easing away. The spotting has subsided. I'm full of the sun's warmth. It's in this space that I realize just how Not Me I've been feeling, how Not Us we've been. Just noticing it, speaking it out loud, allows it to shift a bit. Blake and I sit on couches, talking about our Selves, how we are independently and together. We go out to dinner together after Mo D arrives for a two-day leg of her own Florida vacation. We take a morning walk on the beach, we wander under the bright moon along the shore at night, each time continuing our conversation. I feel so grateful for all of this.
Mo D arrives with a laminated fold-out "menu" of seashells found in Florida's gulf. Uncle Loren and Aunt Kath sent it with her, along with a few shells and shark's teeth. Anna isn't too interested, until Mo D tells her how Grace used it as a menu to play restaurant. Mo D, Blake, or I sit and pick out which shell appetizers (Lettered Olive is Anna's favorite shell and menu item because of its name), entrees, and desserts we want to order. Anna checks with the chef repeatedly to determine if the restaurant is out of these items, and in most cases it is. When it's Anna's turn, she orders the Lettered Olive, the pasta-shaped sea shell, sea urchin, and so many others. She doesn't bore of this, and plays shell restaurant right up until we leave on the very last day.
It's our final day, and it's another perfectly sunny, almost unbearably hot one. We take our time packing and cleaning in the morning. My mom's efficient help makes it all so much easier. We stop periodically to watch the dolphins put on a farewell show. I think to myself how I'm not quite ready to leave. Blake speaks my thoughts, declaring that it's the first time he's not been ready to go home from one of our vacations. Anna seems content with the present, but shares none of what she's thinking. Before we leave, we sit on the balcony together saying good-bye to the waves, the dolphins, the sunshine, the palm trees. We thank them for the amazing days. Later, while driving to the airport, bellies full of pasta and pizza, Anna sighs. "I just don't want to leave the beach." I think we all had a very, very good time.