I looked down at my bare feet coated in sand while we waited on the small speedboat that was to take us to the two jet skis Kal rented for us. We were at a truly immaculate resort in what felt like sleepy Cancun. The Yucatan Peninsula made the blue water near the beach almost as still as a lake, and when after midnight I stared out of the window of our hotel room open to Isla Mujeres, the low and bright moon cast a white pattern on the Caribbean. I knew taking a picture would disrupt the moment, so instead I just watched.
It was daytime and bright now, and we all wore our hats and sunglasses. I didn’t realize we would be taken to another pier to ride the skis or that we’d take a shuttle back barefoot to the hotel a couple hours later. A day before that I didn’t realize that I like to kayak until Layla, who learned and ventured off on her own kayak daily, taught me how to do it. And I didn’t think I’d get on a paddle board and stand while wading through the ripples until Layla said, “Hey Mommy, you need to try it.”
A 2-minute tutorial and an engine start later, I was on my own with Layla on a jet ski. She begged me to go fast at first, and I was terrified. I knew if I went too slow, we’d fall with the ski, and if I went too fast, the risk may not be worth the reward. So for the first 15 minutes, I held on with white-knuckle concentration as my daughter urged me to speed up. She was the main reason I didn’t want to speed up, but she was also the main reason for when I did.
Kal and Zade rode on one like pros, forming circles of white foam in front of us. But when we finished and the instructor waved us back to the pier, I thanked God that we never tipped over! Kal said, you guys actually went faster than us. I told him that while we were on the jet ski and Layla’s hands were holding on to me, she yelled out like a mini sage, “Mommy, just close your eyes, open your heart, and go fast. Don’t be afraid.”
There were these hidden moments I jotted down in my journal. Right below notes about my core gratitude that my health picked up and didn’t affect the trip, are notes of relief that everyone loved the resort and that we were able to make this memory together. Below that is a list of things that randomly stood out. One of which was that when I was on a kayak earlier that day, I learned that to direct your kayak to the right, you have to paddle left. To row faster, the current had to face me instead of behind me–a perplexing situation that was true for me over and over again. Another one is that the sand, though traditionally beige, had these flecks of red in it, probably a keepsake from the coral but nonetheless surprising.
And there were other things not so pleasant on there that come from travel with family in those tough moments: that sometimes family takes the fun out of the family vacation. You want your kids to see from your tall perspective, but their perspective only starts at your hips. Zade knocking over tienda-bought fruit loops at the fancy Japanese infusion restaurant; Layla’s dramatic reactions when she’s not getting what she wants, a contrast to her otherwise maturity. We are the gatekeepers of their fun; and they are gatekeepers of our sanity. The opposite of what we expect often is the story that lingers, whatever it is.
What took us to Mexico was a promise made a year and a half ago that we’d go on a family vacation with my parents to celebrate my mom’s birthday. What brought us to more adventure is Kal’s refusal to let fear, an emotion that was the backbone of my parents’ and their generation’s parental handbook, stop our kids from certain experiences. In fact, my mom wouldn’t leave her chair until we returned safely. My parents are perfectly content with watching the ocean from the shore, and I’m sort of there somewhere with one foot on cozy sand and the other foot itching to push past myself.
This time last week, we came home. My mom, who had to have been a palm tree in another life, says she stills sees the lit resort at night and the crystal ocean when she closes her eyes. While in the hotel lobby, my kids sat on top of our luggage filled with sandy, damp clothes. I remember leaning over to my dad and saying that I’m 34 and my kids have done way more than I did at their age, that they are under 8 years old and have already gone to Central America. My dad said, “Honey, I’m almost 70 and this is my first time.” We laughed really hard at that.