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.”
_DSC0069A 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. 

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I’ve avoided coming to the computer because I don’t know the end of the story. It feels like ten minutes ago I stepped out of a speeding, shaky car of which I had no control, and now my feet are on the earth again, as if I’m walking away from an experience that just minutes ago consumed my grip and took prayers out of my mouth, but I’m steady now. I’m kind of just relieved to be out of it, a little stunned from the experience, one part effected and another part ready to move past it.

Over a week ago,  a pain in my side I thought I got from working out too hard turned into a monster. It wrenched my gut, caved in my back, had me throwing up in the ER, ripped the soft June rug from under me, and stuck an IV with morphine in my arm. Out of nowhere, it turns out I had a kidney stone that went rogue and another hiding in the shadow, just waiting.


It took close to a week before I could get the rebel stone shattered, and that waiting time is the sandwich of this story: a slowly trickling outpour of club members, or really family veterans, came through to commiserate and share either their rogue-stone stories or magical remedies with me.


After the ER, my dad took me to the doctor and entertained Layla for hours; my mom, who pulled a muscle just the day before, limped around my kitchen to feed and care for the always-snacking kids for the weekend while I stared out, high on medicine and disgusted with food and myself; and Kal stayed with me as much as possible, like the days where he was near me more often for long stretches of time, taking care of the stuff I normally do.

Before surgery I truly wondered at how people with long-term illness function in daily life–how can you remember dates, raise kids, pay bills, or function when you’re just trying to breath without throwing up? You need help and the hope that you can come out better enough to thank the people who stepped in to run your world or give you steam while you suffered.  

While in the thick it,  I tried to think about how I’d write about the experience. Philosophy had little room in my pain fog though. I was so scared at what my body felt so violently that I could only grasp at moments. I lay in the bed trying not to excite any senses. I’d hear thumps of my kids’ feet running patternless across the hardwood. I’d grip the handlebar in the car and crack the window open to get through the ride.  I’d talk slowly and try not to let the sound waves exhaust me. I’d apologize for all the trouble I’m causing.

I remember what I used to think about kidney stones–you hear they are worse than childbirth and know some vagueness about how stuff goes down when they occur. But this stone situation has made me feel bad for any time I haven’t been a better friend to someone in pain or someone unsure about their health. I’m in the club now. It’s made me wrestle again with that thin line that freaks out this capricorn all the time–how do you live without the trust that the life you try with all your might to build won’t be blindsided by some unforeseeable pain or change? It’s a reminder of all the stuff out of our hands. One day you’re forgetting what day of the week it is because you are nestled in the glow of June, and the next day you are counting the hours to see which pills to take.


Today, I felt relatively normal. We drove home from gently celebrating the 4th with friends, and I leaned closer to who I felt like before the last two weeks. My body and I are going to have to trust each other again. I have this new thing to deal with, a new thing to check off on medical history forms. But pain is a necessary evil to rattle us. I’m listening to music again, and tonight Amber Run sings, “It’s all a fickle game. Oh life’s a fickle game we play.”

I won’t wrap this up with a metaphor or advocate with any certainty because I’m not there yet. If anything, I’m closer to the reality than the reflection. The only certainty I have tonight is that while the last of the fireworks beat on outside our house, I consider today’s health and the possibilities it has offered–however ephemeral–and the kindness I’ve been shown as a personal celebration.