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A slightly altered and better person

I’m writing this blog post from a painfully narrow and cramped airline seat in economy class. I’m not a good flier. Claustrophobia and recycled air always get the best of me. Combine that with boredom, anxiousness, and no control over my schedule, and well, I’m not anyone’s favorite travel companion.

We’re headed to the Caribbean. Thankfully, my guy graciously puts up with my whining during the air portion of our journeys.

For us, heading south is a grand idea right now, and here’s my laundry list of why.

Warning: There’s a lot of complaining to follow.

Winter woes

February and life have closed in around me and the people I love. Weeks of winter hell (or polar vortex as those drama queens on TV like to call it) delivered by the state of Michigan is record breaking.

My teenage son has coasted his way into countless snow banks with his inherited Pontiac Vibe, a small car for sure — but too heavy for either of us to free from the several feet of fallen snow and icy tracks in the driveway. My oh-so-terrible-in-this-winter-weather Mazda 3, too, has made a number of near-death treks across Greater Grand Rapids as well as the entire mitten. Between my son and me, there were three calls to roadside assistance inside one week because we were stuck in the damn driveway.

Single mom that I am, and teenager that is my son, we were too busy to be bothered with snow removal, and neither of us really care about it until we can’t get out of the drive. With vacation impending and very spent from recent events, I rather desperately asked my fiancé to find a freakin’ snow plow to take care of my drive. Seems those who own snow removal services don’t need my money. They’ve all been kept so busy by the very pissed-off Mother Nature that anyone with a plow can’t be bothered to return a call.

I’ve been absent from this space for weeks. OK, months. In addition to winter, other parts of life have consumed me.

I switched jobs again. A change I was so, so happy to make. But, navigating the personalities, culture, and expectations of a new work environment is a bit nerve wracking. I’ve known my new bosses for some time now, through other work, and it’s more important than ever to me that I do well. This is a second new job in the space of 8 months. Three months in and I’m feeling more at home there. Looking forward to the days I spend in this new space and with this new work . That is when this winter’s death roads aren’t doubling my already long commute.

My son, a senior, is alternately pushing the envelope, on the precipice of being a full-fledged adult, yet wisely recognizing the weighty responsibilities of growing up. We’ve argued a lot. Had some really good talks. Been emotional together. Well, it’s me more than him, but I suppose that’s the natural order of things. No longer a boy, I’m trying to understand better ways of communicating with him. The evolution of this mom/son relationship keeps me thinking and worrying much of the time. I just love that kid so. This coming spring will mean letting go even more.

Giving up things

Health issues have been unresolved for months (that’s a whole other post). Celiac disease, Hashimoto’s disease, and a leaky gut have meant many, many appointments — and dollars spent — with healthcare professionals and alternative healers as I search for ways to feel better and have more energy. Food allergy testing turned up high sensitivities to wheat and gluten (obviously), yeast, peanuts, dairy, and….wait for it….chocolate.

I’ve given up Diet Pepsi. Again. So, take away two of my favorite food groups, chocolate and Diet Pepsi, and what’s a girl to do? Apparently, bellyache (see what I did there?) and feel sorry for myself. A friend of mine said recently her life has become a series of giving up things. I get that. Mostly in the morning, when I’m scrambling to find something to put in my lunch bag because eating out is such a hassle and when I’m NOT stopping by my local Speedway for a 44-ounce Diet Pepsi.

Wedding planning, house selling, house hunting, moving our crap

I’m getting married in June (yay!). We’re ecstatic and very ready. While we have many of the details nailed down, there’s still plenty to do. In the span of a week, two people told me I really should send out save the date cards, to which I can only think, You’re shittin’ me, right? Right?

With the impending nuptials, we’re debating the guest list, I’m having a dress designed and the fittings have started, wine needs to be purchased, flowers considered. I love my guy and I love weddings. Hell, I love a good party. We just need a little space to enjoy this process.

When we return from this vacation, my guy and I will be putting our houses on the market. Because, in the midst of all this, why wouldn’t we want to sell two houses, buy a new one, and move all our crap? Bring it on.

Winter’s worst

Everything I just wrote about all pales, becomes inconsequential, when I think about what happened most recently.

My niece almost died. This is not an exaggeration. The truth needs no embellishment. Kiddo and I drove across the state in the middle of a frigid and icy January night not knowing if she would still be alive when we arrived at the hospital.

My smart, funny, creative, funky, gorgeous niece — the person I covet as my own daughter because she’s such a bright light — was on life support for several days. She’s facing open heart surgery. Maybe someday I’ll share the entire story, but for now, I can say this: I’ve never been so utterly terrified in my entire life.

My family needs her, and she was nearly lost to us. She and Kiddo have grown up together. Both only children and only 8 months apart in age, each is the closest they have to a sibling. I’m grateful to say she’s better, but her recovery will be a long one. Nearly every day the news is two steps forward, one back. There are bound to be more sleepless and worry-filled nights ahead of my family as we cheer her on.

Back to the vacation part of this post

You’re probably thinking, boo-freakin’-hoo for her. I’m so glad she’s stopped bitching. As I write this, I’m cringing a little at my own self-absorption, my lack of perspective. I mean, really. My niece is still alive! My son is well! I am healthy (enough)! I am employed! I have a man who loves me even when I’m not my best self! My parents are here and healthy! I have many beloved friends and family members! So much to be thankful for. So, why can’t I remember all that all the time? I suspect, like many of you, I get sucked into the smallness of everyday living.

When I get a little time to breathe, to slow down, to be present, I can remember those lovely things and beloved people I just named. Sometimes, I just need to exit my regular life to get my head straight. It’s why I make getting away such a priority. It’s the reason I live in 900-square-foot house sans garage, shop clearance racks, and drive an economy car. It’s so I can get the hell out of town, experience a different way of life, climb mountains, run in the surf. It’s so when I return I am a slightly altered and better person.

For me, the travel doesn’t start when I board a plane. It starts with the research, the choosing of destinations, the planning, watching the balance climb in my travel savings account, packing. Everything that leads up to the travel gets me through the long winters. I adore the countdown app on my phone to each departure date.

Sure, the travel means I get to leave behind some of the worries and stress, and take a break from the routines and the grind. But, getting on a plane or hopping in the car to drive hundreds of miles is something so much bigger. It’s existential. It feeds some essential part of me.

Other languages are music to me, fashions and customs intrigue and dazzle. Right now, my guy and I are headed to Mexico. A place I’m convinced I lived in another life. I remember how the air smelled and the sky looked when we were there last year. I’m tingling a bit with the anticipation of touching down.

We will spend much of our time at an all-inclusive, adults-only resort, floating on blue rafts in a blue pool, walking the tightrope of sand and sea, eating artistically carved fruit, and just generally soaking in the glorious and healing sun. It’s our routine to actually set the alarm on these vacations so we can be in the sun as long as possible each day.

I understand, this is vacation, not travel. But, my love and I have a deal. While we will enjoy the decadence of our Caribbean resort, we will not only absorb the 100 yards of beach and the gigantic pool at our disposal. Excursions will be had or a guide hired to show us some of the country. I do long to be a more adventurous traveler. I want to know my way around airports, to become accustomed to customs and immigration, to not be rattled by language barriers and currency exchanges. India. Vietnam. Peru. They all call to me. Someday. Someday soon.

In the mean time, I will enjoy every millisecond of the resort, the pool, the sea, and the sun. But when we experience some of the culture and landscape, that’s when I’ll come alive. All senses electrified, greedily consuming everything from the colors and textures, to the street musicians, to the touch of the wind across my shoulders. Sometimes it feels sacred, and I feel touched by something otherworldly when I’m in places far from home.

There’s more travel coming this year. A trip to California with my guy, my Kiddo, and Kiddo’s best friend. We’ll fly into LAX, rent a car and head to the central coastline along the Pacific Coast Highway, take in the magnificent Hearst Castle, walk among the elephant seals in San Simeon, breathe in Big Sur’s beauty. Eventually, we’ll wind our way to Yosemite.

Oh, and the honeymoon. Fiji. A dream. A destination so far away we’ll time travel across the international date line to land in the middle of the South Pacific. I’m certain it will be romantic, and completely surreal. It will be time out of mind, which is really what all good travel offers me. That space in time that’s like no other. Experiences that will come back to me in my dreams or explode in my memory out of nowhere. It will strike when I’m in the shower, or taste a certain piece of fruit, or catch the scent of the flowers outside my open window on a July afternoon

So, after all my whining about the busy and stressful life that is currently mine, I’m on my way to freakin’ Mexico! I can feel the plane descending. Soon, I’ll be out of this god-awful seat and into the sun. Never mind there’s still a 90-minute ride to the resort. This day that’s been full of frustration and discomfort will be worth it.

My black bathing suit and sunscreen are in the bag in the overhead compartment. My guy is sitting right next to me and he will handle my luggage, arrange our tours, fetch drinks, make sure there’s sunscreen on my shoulders. He insists that’s the way it should be — it’s the trade-off for all the planning I do up front. I do really love this guy.

That other stuff I was just talking about? It can all wait. (Except for my niece. I’ll be checking in on her!)

And, very importantly, I promise to find a new attitude while I’m gone.

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