Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Flying vs. Jumping

In the past month, I have taken a trip on an airplane and I’ve also jumped out of one. Oddly enough, I was more scared to board my domestic flight than I was when being pushed out of a Cessna.   Maybe it had something to do with the amount of time I spent on one plane verses the other.  Or maybe the fact that I had a parachute attached to me on the small plane made me feel safer than the “cushion as a floatation device” safety feature on a regular aircraft. But my fear of flying verses my excitement for jumping made me think about what I have been teaching my children about practicality and risk.

When I was on the domestic flight, I had two and half hours to think about all of the things that could go wrong.  Just for the record, I am typically not afraid of flying.  However, this time, I couldn’t stop thinking about whether or not I have properly prepared my children for life without me.  While in the air, I cursed myself for not having supplemental life insurance for my family in case the plane goes down.  I wondered if I have given my seven and ten year old little girls too much support.  Is too much support even a thing?  Probably not when it pertains to young children, but I think there is a fine line between being an enabler and being supportive.  In other words, have I been doing too many things for them, or have I been giving them more useful hands-on experiences?  Have I given them enough life skills to navigate the world without me? Of course, when your kids are seven and ten, that answer will always be no.  So, of course,  I immediately began going through everything I have taught them to do for themselves-making breakfast, brushing their teeth, making their beds, using their manners, making kick-ass chocolate chip cookies.  The list was long, so it made me feel better.  But then I started thinking of all the things that I still haven’t taught them to do on their own like balancing a check book, making plans (in pencil) to achieve their goals and figuring out how to get through new toy packaging without scissors.  My domestic flight turned into a parenting 101 class in my head. Flying made me think practically (albeit a bit extreme based on the current age of my kids) about what I needed to do to ensure that I give my girls the lessons that will help them thrive in the real world. 

A few weeks later, I decided to plunge out of an airplane.  Although my chances of dying were probably much higher when I decided to try skydiving, I didn’t have any of the concerns I had when I was flying a few weeks prior on JetBlue.   My stomach was filled with butterflies, but not the nervous kind.  I was truly excited.  I took in the view as we flew over Florida and was truly happy. Stepping out on the ledge of the plane didn’t frighten me, nor did the countdown to jump time.  There was no hesitation at all and there were no thoughts about risks, or what would happen to my kids if I didn’t make it.  I just threw my body out the door, and I jumped. 

A little while after I landed, I thought about my girls, and how I wished they were there to see me.  I think there is a benefit to letting your child watch you do something out of the ordinary.  If a child only gets to see a parent do their day to day jobs-making meals, cleaning the house, going to work, how will they ever learn that taking a leap of faith may be the best decision of their lives?  How will they learn that sometimes, taking a risk may outweigh the safer bet?  I’ve found that in my life so far, it has always been the jumping, not the flying, that has reaped the greatest rewards. 

So, to my children, I encourage you to always fly, but every once in a while, I hope you find the courage to jump.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Crystal River, FL Travel with Children

Last week, we embarked on our second mini-vacation of the year.  Because we are staying local this year, I chose a spot that would get the most “oohs and aahs” from my little girls.  I figured a place that allows swimming with manatees would be perfect.  For all of the non-locals, swimming with or touching manatees is illegal in all parts of Florida, with the exception of Crystal River and Homosassa Springs.  So, Crystal River it was!

Upon arrival, my youngest could barely contain her excitement and exclaimed, “It looks like the White House!”  She was, of course, speaking of our hotel, Plantation on Crystal River.  I have to slightly agree with her initial assessment, as it definitely did look regal. 

For roughly $200 per night, we got a spacious room overlooking the river.  The room itself was not glamourous.  If anything, it was a bit dated.  However, the beds were very comfortable, and the room had a mini refrigerator, which is a huge bonus when traveling with children. The surroundings were postcard-worthy, as we were literally steps from the river, so that really made up for the quality of the room. 

Once we got settled in, we immediately hit the hotel pool.  The pool was a nice size and it went from three feet to four and a half feet deep.  In other words, it was perfect for the kids.  There was also a sand volleyball court area, a shuffleboard area and a giant size chess game (which we took advantage of on our second day).  Just steps away from the pool, a tiki bar awaited the adult crowd.

After a few hours in the pool, it was time for dinner.  We decided against the hotel restaurant, as the menu wasn’t exactly child-friendly.  There were many local “mom and pop” restaurants to choose from, but on our first night, we played it safe and had dinner a mile away at Applebee’s.  After dinner, we just relaxed in the hotel room and got to bed early in preparation for the next day.

We started our second day at 6am with a substantial buffet breakfast at the West 82 Bar and Grill.  Our scheduled manatee tour time was 6:45am, so after breakfast, we headed to the dive shop.  Once we were there, we were given our dive suits.  Attention parents:  your kids are probably going to HATE the suit.  They are tight and uncomfortable and warm (especially when you are sitting in the Florida heat).  They also take quite some time to get on, so make sure to arrive early if there is a whole clan of you participating in the tour.  PS-Make sure everyone uses the bathrooms before putting the suits on.

Our captain, John, was knowledgeable, friendly and really loved his job.  Being that the entire river is a manatee zone, the boat ride was a very slow one.   After a few minutes, Captain John showed us what to look for and all of the passengers were on the lookout for manatees.  We were in luck!  The captain let us know that some tours don’t leave until much later, which reduces the chances of seeing a manatee.  Fortunately for us, we were the first tour of the morning, and we found some right away.  We even saw a mama with her baby!  Note to readers-The colder the weather, the better chance at seeing more manatees.  Also, the tour does not guarantee that you will see any at all.  Remember, this is their natural habitat and not a theme park where the manatees are in captivity.

The captain was looking for a manatee who was settled and might be interested in playing.  He found one easily, and after going over the rules for swimming with manatees, he let us all off the boat into the 74 degree water to try our hand at interacting with the manatee.  Our manatee was a girl and she was really friendly.  She did a few barrel rolls and seemed as though she wanted to play with everyone. My oldest daughter even got to touch her!

After the manatee experience, we went to our next destination, which was Three Sisters Springs.  Because they need fresh water and a place to stay warm, this is where the manatees gather in the winter.  Note to parents-this is quite a long swim, but my girls (seven and ten years old) were able to do it with ease.  Also, even with the suits, be prepared for shockingly cold water. 

We swam to each of the three springs-Pretty Sister, Deep Sister and Little Sister.  The girls loved the Deep Sister the best because of the debris at the bottom, which reminded them of an abandoned ship.  They each tried to touch the bottom, but it proved difficult because of their buoyant suits.  Even after touching manatees just minutes before, splashing and swimming around the springs was everyone's favorite part of the tour. My words simply cannot describe what an amazing and breathtaking place this was! 

Once back on the boat, the captain offered everyone hot chocolate or coffee, and we headed back to the dock.  I feel privileged to have had this experience, and I am so happy I got to share it with my family.

The captain had a GoPro device, and for about $32, you could have the pictures and video that he took during the trip.  It came out to be a total of 82 different pictures and videos, so it was well worth the money.  The cost of the manatee tour was $55 per person, which is a total steal!  Plantation also offers scalloping tours, and kayak and boat rentals, so there is plenty to do if you happen to stay there longer than three days.

The tour ended around 10:30am, so we still had the entire day ahead of us when we got back to the dive shop.  Normally, I am a planner and would have each day mapped out.  However, other than the manatee tour, I made no plans for this mini holiday, and I loved every second of relaxation!  After the tour, we headed back to the pool.  So we played and relaxed for a few hours, had a late lunch, and though it started raining, we didn’t let that stop us from playing on the giant chess board.  After our chess game, we went for a late dinner at the Olive Tree, which is a Greek diner-like restaurant about a mile away from the hotel.  It is definitely family friendly and a bonus is that it serves breakfast all day, so bring on the pancakes!  After a few games of Clue (yes, I packed board games just in case of rain), we all went to bed after a tiring, yet exhilarating day.

The next morning was our last day in Crystal River.  We got up early and hit the pool for the few hours remaining before checkout time.  On our walk to the car, both girls asked when we could return, which is the ultimate sign of a great vacation!

About forty minutes into the drive home, we stopped in Wildwood, Florida to check out the Russell Stover Factory store.  Being that I’m a little bit of a Godiva chocolate snob, I admit that I wasn’t expecting much.  But as soon as we opened the doors, chocolate heaven greeted us.  Not only was the store overflowing with every kind of chocolate you could think of, they also offered ice cream.  So, to keep the vacation mood going strong, we all ordered an ice cream treat and sat down in the cafĂ© section of the store to sit back and enjoy.  After our ice cream, we chose some treats to bring home with us.

Just a quick note to readers:  Along the way home, about thirty minutes from Crystal River, was Wild Bill’s Airboat Tours.  We did not get a chance to do this, but if you’ve never been on an airboat, I would definitely recommend making a stop here.

Of the two mini-vacations we have taken so far this year, this was, by far, my favorite.  I have learned that being organized and having planned trips is always helpful when on vacation.  But there is definitely something to be said about being completely relaxed and carefree, spending every moment just being present with the people I cherish the most.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

My Grandmother's Gift

My grandmother died this morning.  She was eighty-six years old and up until this last year, has lived a very healthy life.  She was born in Puerto Rico and spoke English with a thick accent.  Other than that, I don’t know a whole lot of history about my grandmother, and that makes me a little sad.   But the one thing I do know is that no matter what was going on in her world, she was always smiling.

Today, I looked through pictures starting from 2004 all the way to the present.  Even though I have been the family member who has consistently spread her wings and flew the farthest from home, my Gramma was still in tons of my photos.  I was actually surprised to see her randomly pop up on my timeline at least once a year.  I mean, I knew she was there as each picture was taken, but now that I’m looking backwards, her presence in my ever-changing life is even more prevalent. 

Though she was physically there in my life, we didn’t have too many personal conversations.  Our chit-chat consisted mostly of polite exchanges about our health or our family.    If I entered a room and my grandmother was there, she was the woman who was almost always sitting in a corner, observing her family with a huge smile on her face.  Sometimes, she would be sitting with one of her children, but for the most part, she stayed out of the spotlight and truly took pleasure in watching everyone around her.  And in today’s “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” lifestyle, my grandmother’s ability to treasure simplicity is becoming extremely unique.

I am thankful that I got a chance to see her three weeks ago, where I had the only in-depth conversation I’ve ever had with her.  We talked like two adults, finally getting to know one another.  We talked about happiness and love-not just the stuff that you can read in a Hallmark card, but we talked about how it applies to our lives.  I walked away from her that night feeling fulfilled, but woke up the next morning with more questions for her.  I wanted to know more about her-not just about her health and how the weather in Puerto Rico was, but I wanted to know her opinions about everything.  I wanted to know what she thought about the president, or the stock market, or whether she prefers the Mets or the Yankees (did she even like sports?).  I wanted to know all of the places she’s been, her favorite trip, her favorite food, her favorite color.  I wanted to know what my grandmother had to say.   But these questions were never answered because they were never asked.   I had to catch my flight back home.  And now, three weeks later, she’s gone.

I don’t want this to sound like a boring clichĂ©, but in the last few hours, I have learned three very valuable lessons. 

  1. Smile as much as I can, regardless of how shitty my day is going.
  2. Ask better questions so that I really get to know the people I love.
  3. Observe and find pleasure in the simple things, even if that means being the quiet woman in the corner once in a while.
My grandmother was a beautiful woman with a beautiful smile, always seeing the good in everyone and everything, always hopeful when the odds weren’t in her favor, and always willing to sacrifice herself, even in the smallest ways, to make everyone around her happy.  She may not be here today, and I may not have been able to ask all of the questions I wanted to ask, but she did leave something behind for me.  She left me inspiration.  And with that gift, I will try my best to live my life a little closer to the way she lived hers. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Women Can Be Just As Disastrous As Men

If you’ve ever watched America’s Funniest Home Videos, you know that other than the cute animal and kid videos, about 99% of the “funny” videos aired are of men doing some stupid shit. On this show, you’ll find men racing down slides while on a bicycle, men getting whacked in the balls when landing on a pogo stick, men swinging from a child’s tire swing and breaking the tree branch. You rarely see women trying these ridiculous stunts because we know that the outcome has a high probability of being disastrous, and we simply don’t want to make asses out of ourselves.

However, ladies, I think we all can admit that we have disgusting, embarrassing and better-left-unsaid moments as well. I’m not talking about common period stories or pregnancy war stories.  I’m talking about the random shit that sometimes goes along with being a female.

Sometimes, we are in such a rush, we forget about logic. A friend was once changing her feminine pad in the dark. Not flipping a light on was probably the result of her rushing to ensure that her new panties didn’t get ruined. Priorities, people! Well, she got the pad on, but accidentally put it on the wrong way-ya know, with the tape part stuck to her pubes. I was standing outside the door when I heard a huge, “OUCH” and then a whimper of pain. She survived and quite possibly may have started the whole Brazilian waxing trend. 

Sometimes, we worry too much about germs, which leads us to do uncivilized things like squatting over toilets to avoid those little butt infestors from attaching themselves to our awesome asses. I think all women know where I’m going when I bring up the overly talked about public toilet system. From pee on the seats, to unflushed crap, to clogged toilets, to a mixture of mystery fluid on the floor that is just about to seep into your brand new peep toe sandals, woman are gross. Period. End of story.  I ask the bravest man to enter a woman’s public restroom and still come out a heterosexual. You’ve all been challenged. Good luck.

Sometimes, we do really stupid shit to impress people. In an effort to get the attention of a hot guy, a friend of mine once wore the highest heels in her closet, along with the shortest and tightest dress (sans panties) that money could buy for a night out at the club. Though dancing was a challenge for her even without the heels, she tried to twerk her way into this guy’s heart on the dance floor. After a few drinks, she threw caution to the wind and decided to get up onto one of those high rise platforms. She lifted one leg and was able to get the heel up, but in the process, her too-short dress revealed her womanly bits. Once she made it up to the platform, she lasted about 30 seconds before twisting her ankle and falling off the platform. Needless to say, the hot guy turned out to be gay and left with an even hotter guy. 

Disclaimer:  No, I wasn’t the asshole friend who sat back with a drink to watch this disaster unfold. I tried my best to talk her out of every minute that went by, starting with her decision to wear the nonsensical outfit. My efforts were obviously ignored, and I wound up taking her home, secretly throwing those heels in the garbage, and getting ice for her ankle.

Sometimes, our multi-tasking brains don’t allow us to process things before acting. In the next hour, I need to get six things done.  And because of multi-tasking, I will be able to get twelve things done instead. Most of the time, women benefit greatly from this ability. But there are a few instances where failure is inevitable. 

I think in this day and age, everyone has looked over their shoulder while driving, only to see some jackass texting instead of looking at the road. Though this is not specific to women, I have to give it up to the chick I saw recently who had a small drink perched in between her breasts while texting and driving. I didn’t follow her around to see if she arrived safely to her destination, but if she did make it, she just “one-upped” the entire multi-tasking driving community.

Sometimes, women have good intentions, but nasty shit still happens to us. When my oldest daughter was a few months old, I lifted her up above my head, waiting patiently for her brilliant smile with a wide opened grin on my face. Her smile never came. But the vomit did-directly into my own mouth. This is, by far, the grossest thing that has ever happened to me. I froze, while my husband laughed his ass off instead of getting me a towel, or carrying me into the shower, or making an emergency dental appointment for a cleaning. PS-We are now divorced.

The point of all of this is that, unlike men, women don’t go seeking out the gross stuff to show our friends how cool we are. Most of us don’t repeat our stupidity over and over again in order to get a good video to submit to AFV.  Most of us quietly acknowledge that shit happens and we move on in hopes that our more nauseating moments are deemed acceptable and even lovable by the very few people who get to know the real us.