We went on a family vacation last week, mostly to see our oldest son in Atlanta but we combined it with a trip to Florida. A bit of history here- I was raised in south Florida. We moved there from Maine when I was about four, and although we continued to spend our summers in Maine I went to school in Florida and lived there most of the time. I pretty much hated Florida, and thought Maine was perfect. As an adult, my opinions are a bit more nuanced.
I tried living in Florida again as a very young adult, and my daughter was born there in 1993. She was my first home birth, and we were profiled in the Palm Beach Post for an article on home birth. Which meant that I had a newspaper reporter and photographer hanging out in our tiny apartment throughout my long day of labor, in addition to the midwife and her assistant. It seems crazy to me now that I agreed to that, but back then I would say yes to almost anything anyone asked of me. And they were cool- it was all women and everyone left me alone to walk around the neighborhood and lean on my husband. We also got some professional pictures of the birth, not that anyone seems to want to look at them besides me.
Those two years we lived in Florida were a tough time for me, the lowest point in our married life. We left in the summer of 1995 and I said I was never coming back. Well, I did get back there but it took me over twenty years. And Florida is still the same, but I have changed for sure and it felt good to go back and be able to see it with new eyes. I still wouldn’t want to live there full-time, but I would consider being a snowbird if the opportunity presents itself.
Emily was able to join us for the Florida part of the trip, so the five of us flew into Orlando. There is another reason why this trip was significant- I haven’t been on a plane in about 23 years. Since before 9/11. When I last flew you could still smoke on a plane (maybe- you definitely could when I was a teenager). It was free to check your luggage. “Airport security” wasn’t even something we thought about.
The craziest thing about this is that I was the more adventurous one when I met my husband, and then he ended up flying for work all the time while my years as a non-flyer began stretching into decades. There wasn’t any big reason, just life with four kids and a single income and a lack of interest. My older two are well-travelled, and my younger two have been on numerous road trips, including cross country ones, but it was time for me to fly again. It was a symbol of something, this new stage in my life I suppose.
We only had a week to do everything, so it was a whirlwind trip. We went to Cocoa Beach on Sunday (the closest beach to Orlando), and stayed overnight in a hotel right on the beach, by the pier. It was way too touristy for my taste, a bit like Old Orchard Beach in Maine, but it was the beach in March and compared to New England it was heavenly. On Monday we drove south a bit to see some quieter beaches, and everyone agreed that it was great and we should figure out a way to spend some time there next winter.
Then we drove to visit my mom in Lake Wales (inland Florida), and had a mini family reunion at her place. My oldest sister and my niece and her family all made it over to see us, and we hung out by the pool and then went out to eat at a local restaurant. It had been a long time since we’d seen everyone and I had never met my niece’s husband or children. My niece holds a very special place in my heart- lots of background there but it’s not my story to tell, so I’ll just say that I’m very proud of her and the life she’s created for herself.
Then back to a hotel in Orlando late Tuesday night, and Emily left early the next morning to go home to Maine. We continued on our way to Atlanta on Wednesday, and then spent the next three days with Alex. He has a new job- head chef at a small seafood restaurant in the very cool neighborhood of Virginia Highland. He’s been in restaurants now for about ten years, and this job was a dream come true for him. He was able to get three days off to spend with us, and I treasured every moment. We mostly ate- which makes sense when your son is a chef! Lots of good food, good weather, nice hotels.
But he also needed help moving, and my husband is the person to have around if you need to get something done. He’s at his best when he has a project. Alex wanted to move but hadn’t found a place yet, and his lease was up on April first and he was going to have to start paying month to month if he stayed. His apartment was too expensive, too far from his work, and the neighborhood was too gritty. I’m proud of my son for moving to Atlanta- he loves hip-hop and black culture, has a passion for social justice, but unlike most of the privileged (white) people I know, he actually chose to just go live a different lifestyle. Around here people talk, but they stay in their comfort zones. Nothing wrong with being comfortable, but you probably shouldn’t pretend that you care so much about diversity when you live in a predominantly white, middle to upper class area, and all your friends are just like you.
I don’t pretend to have a passion for it- I acknowledge that racism is very real and continues to be a big problem, but I focus my energy on other things. Like having a happy marriage and raising children who are decent people and will hopefully contribute something positive to the world. But my oldest has done something unique by moving to the south and immersing himself in a completely different culture, and he’s done it all on his own without being part of the bubble that wealth and connections can provide. It’s real, what he’s doing. I don’t know how else to describe it.
Not that I don’t worry- I worry all the time! And I’m glad we could help him out. We had rented a huge passenger van because it was the cheapest vehicle to rent in one location and return to another. It was part of the adventure, driving this giant van all over the place. So Scott figured he had a moving truck. He helped Alex find a place on Thursday, and Friday he and Jesse helped him move. A friend of Alex’s came to help too- that’s how you really know who your friends are, the people that just offer to help you move because they are amazingly good people. Nick and I hung out at the hotel- it got a little boring but I knew that moving was harder than waiting. And so it was all accomplished in a day.
His new place is still in a non-gentrified neighborhood, but it’s affordable and seems relatively safe, and he can walk to all kinds of places. He has a dog, a pitbull, and she is the sweetest thing. I wasn’t sure what I would think, since I can be fearful of dogs. But as soon as I met her I knew she was fine. And once we went out walking I decided I liked having her with us and now I’m glad he has her. Fortunately I’ve had several friends who are pitbull owners and defenders of the breed, so I do have an open mind about them. It depends on the dog and the owner.
Saturday came all too quickly. It’s hard to say goodbye. But that’s what it’s all about, this life. Loving and letting go, making the most of the moments you have.