48 hours ago, I was driving to the airport for my return flight from Maui. I hadn’t been to Maui since I honeymooned there almost eight years ago. I remember that trip as five of the most peaceful and relaxing days of my life. This trip to Maui had a different feeling.
It started on the airplane out of Phoenix. Directly in front of my three year old son, Liam, sat a girl probably ten or eleven years old. She had perfected the tween arts of eyerolling, slouching in her seat, and looking uninterested in anything. At one point, I noticed her creating a Power Point presentation titled “How Bored is Ali.” I understand this is normal tweenager behavior (well, except the Power Point. Who knew that’s what kids do for fun?), but I just wanted to shake her and say “You’re going to Maui! Your parents are taking you to Maui! Feign a little excitement!”
We landed on the island and it was every bit as breathtaking as I remembered it. Clear, blue water that somehow always stays the perfect temperature. Warm sandy beaches, flowers providing color and fragrance from every direction. We dropped our suitcases in our rental condo and headed straight for the beach. It would be the first time for both of my sons to see the ocean.
Liam ran right for the water, jumping into the waves without hesitation. Kellen took a more timid approach, holding hands with his grandparents as he slowly dipped his toes. As the first wave lapped over his feet, he could not contain his enjoyment and burst into giggles. The sun was starting to set, creating a perfect moment as we all lingered in mutual elation.
On the walk back to the condo, I pondered how I could raise my sons to remain full of wonder and skip that “I’m so over it” eye-rolling phase? Is it even possible?
I struggled with my mood for the next couple of days. On my honeymoon, we spent a good deal of time hiking and taking in the natural landscape of the island. With two small children, that was not as much of a possibility. Our condo was located directly across from the beach, so we spent most of our time there, which was lovely.
But I couldn’t help but notice the beaches were lined with rental condos, seven figure homes, and tourist destinations like restaurants, dive shops, and places to buy souvenirs. In every direction, I noticed people working to create this perfect paradise- landscapers pruning bushes, bartenders blending fresh fruit into cocktails, garbage collectors emptying cans. It made me sad to think they created this tangible version of heaven but probably couldn’t afford to live anywhere near it, even though this island is their home.
When I was a kid, I loved to play dress up. This was before the time of dress up outfits made for purchase. I had a box of old prom gowns and cocktail dresses, handed down from my sister and aunts. Within that box, I had a bright bluish green silk dress. On the tag were the words “made in Hawaii.” It was my mother’s dress, and she told me she always dreamed of visiting there. I have now been twice, and she has yet to make her first visit.
I can’t help but feel guilty when I am able to take advantage of a luxury such as a trip to Maui. I know that I am only able to enjoy such treats because of the man I married. We are rich by no means, not even close. But he has worked hard to make a career for himself; he has been smart with his money. I am nearly forty years old and still working on my first degree; I’ve worked consistently but never at a job that was really a career. I’ve never been smart with money. My credit score only recently recovered after a bankruptcy in my twenties.
A friend recently told me she had to attend a special luncheon, and that she felt uncomfortable just thinking about it. She described it as having the feeling of waiting for someone to come up to her and whisper “you don’t belong here.” That was the feeling I was walking around with- I didn’t belong there. I wondered which side of the fence my kids would end up on- feeling uncomfortable when they are afforded a privilege or bored by affluence? Neither prospect sounds very good.
I went for a walk and had a talk with myself. I wasn’t doing myself or anyone else any favors by harboring guilt for experiencing paradise. I have a pet peeve. I hate when people refuse to take a gift instead of just genuinely saying thank you. The real shame would be if I was exposed to all this beauty and refused to let it inside me.
Vacation isn’t just a chance to relax, although I was in serious need of relaxation. It is also a chance to engage in new experiences and create a richer life through that process. From that moment on, I vowed to let Maui in.
I was blessed with two amazing opportunities, one expected, the other a surprise.
We journeyed to Maui for the wedding of Ben’s sister, a small beautiful ceremony on the sand. Many guests remarked about the gorgeous sunset, the incredible food, and of course, the beautiful bride. But what I remember most is the expression of the groom as he got the first look at his soon-to-be wife. He let out a small sound- half sigh, half chuckle. It was the sound you make when you are bursting at the seams with happiness and gratitude and doing your best to contain all that emotion. He couldn’t stop smiling, his face positively radiating joy. I’ve never seen someone so happy to be getting married.
The day before we left Maui, Ben’s folks offered to babysit so we could have some time to enjoy ourselves. We headed out to snorkel with Ben’s aunt and uncle. They are both avid snorkelers and seem to know of many remarkable spots. We ventured to a tiny entry covered with lava rock. As I put on my fins and mask, I asked them to take it easy on me, as I have never felt comfortable in water above my shoulders.
We began swimming out and ran into a boat of tourists. Probably a hundred people in the water, meaning not very many fish brave enough to come around. I was ready to chalk up this trip as a misfire, but Ben’s uncle had other ideas. He told me to keep swimming. The spot he had in mind was further. I was nervous to be exploring so far, but didn’t want to lag and hold up the group. I kept swimming.
Then we saw the first one. A giant sea turtle sitting on the bottom of the ocean. Soon, there were turtles everywhere, swimming under us, so close we could have touched them. They’d surface and take in some air, and then swim around us some more, seemingly oblivious to our constant gaze. I swam above a school of small yellow fish, observing them move as one. I floated over a magnificent coral garden resplendent with color and texture, the water so clear I could note every detail. We swam for nearly three hours, stopping only to take a short break on a small private beach.
I had taken swim lessons a few months prior, with the purpose of snorkeling on my trip. As I swam laps in the pool while learning, I determined I would never like swimming. I just wasn’t a swimmer, or so I thought. Those three hours in the ocean changed all of that. I always imagined the ocean as dirty, scary, and dangerous. I had visions of being swept out to sea, my mouth filling with seaweed and dirt as sharks lingered to feast on my flesh.
I learned that past the waves, the ocean is clear and calm. My movements were in control. I could swim back to the shore at any time. Best of all, I got to observe a landscape worthy of dreams. Sometimes it’s nice to be proven wrong.
We ended our alone time by venturing back to the hotel where we honeymooned. Short on time, we drank a single pina colada and reminisced about our first trip to the island. We joked that it was our twenty minute honeymoon. While it might have been nice to stay a little longer, we were anxious to return to our babies and enjoy our last afternoon in paradise as a family. Maui is a magical place. To experience it through the eyes of the people who bring magic to my life on a daily basis is an opportunity not to be missed.