Born @ 27 weeks
2lbs 7oz

Monday, September 18, 2017

A Full Tank

It started in high school. I'm an only child and when my parents divorced, Christmas became hard. Many of my Christmas Eve memories are reminiscent of my dog and I traveling alone, from one home to the other, trying to remain festive for each parent.  

My father recognized the holiday strain and said, "Candace, why don't you spend Christmas with your Mom and come to work with me (in the Caribbean) after Christmas."

Clearly, I did not hesitate.

And so the tradition began. Days after Christmas each year, my Dad and I explored island after island: singing The First Noel to steel drums, sipping Le Caribe Christmas ale and explaining snow to the locals. 

I felt blessed to have the opportunity to travel - but my Father's gift has lasted a lifetime. With his encouragement, I was exposed to new cultures, history, and an education of life beyond what I was learning at home. This introduction of adventure gave birth to a lifestyle.

In college, I studied abroad and knew shortly after school that I wanted to return to Europe. While I had saved and saved to backpack a month with friends, I distinctly remember calling home from a pay phone in Greece saying, "Sell my car and send the money. I'm staying."

It didn't exactly happen that way, but I did manage to not return to the US close to a year later.

As a single woman in my late 20s, it was often challenging to find someone to travel with. I remember the look on my Mom's face when I announced I would be spending Thanksgiving alone in Thailand teaching English to Buddhist monks or sharing a guinea pig on the Inca Trail.

Then, for my 30th birthday I came to Africa. 
Sigh. 
It's hard to find words for that trip. As I climbed Mt Kilimanjaro with my dearest friend, there were risks, fears, beauty and emotions that I have never experienced - and truly have rarely experienced since. Ironically, it was during such a valley in my life, making it rich and influential for tremendous healing and growth. 

When we returned I called Africa 'God's Country'. 
I still feel that way. 

Fast forward to meeting my husband, who coincidentally shared my wanderlust (part of the attraction, I'm sure). We began new chapters of chasing Puma in Patagonia, avoiding pit vipers in Borneo and bathing elephants in Laos. We were young (ish) and hungry and at the end of each journey, we refused to get off the flight without a goal for our next adventure.

We were in Malaysia when we decided to try for Nash (once the malaria drugs were out of our system). We vowed that we would be the family to travel the world, with a baby strapped to our backs. 
People do it! 
WE would do it!!

As CS Lewis once said, "You are never to old to set a new goal or dream a new dream."

Nash had a passport at 3 months.
I think we went to Jamaica and maybe Mexico.
Not quite the family mission trip to the Congo, but we were still moving/trying.

Our traveling priorities began to slow, but the thrill and fulfillment (and fatigue) of having children subsidized our itch to learn from the rest of the world.

Once Shaw was born, travel seemed irrelevant. 
Who really cares? 
We were fighting for a life.
Everyday was the true gift.
Traveling became frivolous and squandering - a life we used to know but no longer valued.

We lived that way for many years and honestly, didn't miss much. Our lives were full and certainly busy. When we asked our Neurosurgeon what it would be like to leave the country, he responded, "Always have an emergency exit strategy and access to reputable medical care."

We considered ourselves rich in other blessings.

Two years ago, Shaw got a passport and we ventured to Mexico.... a couple of times now. He was just fine and we let our guard down for a bit. We could taste adventure again, even if only through a burrito.

So much so that we were at a friend's charity function and as we perused the silent auction, our eyes landed on a trip to Africa. My eyes were ablaze (with bubbly, adreline and hope). 

"Let's do this!" I whispered to Michael.
"Are you insane?" said Michael wide eyed, but curious.
Silence (of course I am - that's why he married me).
And I jotted our name down as highest bidder on the exotic and seemingly intangible auction item.

As we began a battle of  'who means business' as the item and opportunity to go to Africa traded hands, we began to panic that this could be a reality. 

We weighed the options...

We have up to 2 years to use it!
It goes to an extraordinary cause. 
It is AFRICA!!!
I am terrified!
We cannot leave our babies!
What if something happens?
This is IN our blood!
And coincidentally the year of our 10 year anniversary.

As we migrated to the dance floor and practiced our best rendition of the Dirty Dancing lift (acting out everything BUT the lift), the auction closed.

Michael and I were going to Africa.

Fast forward another two years, nearly to the day, and I am sitting beside my husband on a flight from Jo'burg after a the most soul-nourishing, exquisite two week journey in South Africa.

While I cannot tell you how close we were to canceling this trip and how the timing and illness of our son was incorrigible, I had no idea how much I missed my husband and even more so - myself.

Days before leaving, I was certain we had made a mistake. Our son had been in and out of the hospital and now I was consumed with how life would operate without our routine. I asked friends that traveled how they survived and one told me, "I'm usually great the first three days but by day four, I really miss them and am ready to go home."

I waited.
Day Three came and went.
I waited for the worry and void and emptiness to launch from the depths of my soul.
Day Four.
Day Five...
Day Eleven.

Would I be Joan Collins if I told you I cherished EVERY single day we talked to the kids and I love them more than my life or selfish desires. They are the greatest legacy we will ever leave and my greatest job is being their Mom.

BUT can I just say, I Loved - and I mean LOVED - being an adult and myself?

I loved talking with my husband about wine and politics, sleeping in few (if any) clothes, learning (and feeling ashamed) about the apartheid and relishing in the warmth of the people we met along the way.

I loved reading and not watching our news. I loved wine over two hour lunches and choosing fish directly from the sea. I remained in awe as a giraffe gently crossed our path and childlike trying to find the southern cross in a starry sky.

I have not known this person (me) for a very long time. I honestly thought she may no longer exist. 

Rest assured she is alive and well and thriving from a full tank of perspective. Our time away was an incredible opportunity to pause and reflect on our parenting, friendships, careers and identify how we can be better as individuals and as parents. I also have forgotten what it is like for my children not to define me and the guilt of being able to say that aloud. Just breathing without worry - a tremendous and luxurious gift.

Traveling would not have been an option without one word - GRANDPARENTS (two sets of them!) whom we are eternally grateful for their personal time, patience, trust and willingness to step into our lives and home and love our children. (I pray this isn't the last we will see of them!) What a gift for our boys to have time and memories with our parents.

As we make our two day trek from one end of the world to our home, I can barely contain my excitement to see our children. They are little and they need me. 
I need them. 
Plus, I just really enjoy hanging out with them! 

But I am returning a better Mom and wife. 

I don't know the next opportunity I will have to completely refill my tank to this degree. But I do know if anyone ever asks me if they should take time for themselves and/or their marriage, I would literally push them out the door. 

Thank you again, Africa.