I am writing these words awaiting the sunrise—as I often do. Only it is tomorrow today on the balcony of my room overlooking Trinity Bay on the Northeast Coast of Australia. Sharla-Dawn-at-dawn again, but from the other side of the world.
Anyone who knows me (or who has read my book) knows that I have always loved to travel. I left the country for the first time on my own as a teenager at 17 when I moved to Costa Rica to teach English. At 19, I was hired by Pan American World Airways as a flight attendant. I would visit every continent but Antarctica within the year. Rinse and repeat for another 16 years and that was my career with the airlines.
Yes, I love to travel, but did less of it after the boys were born. We often visited family in Washington, or enjoyed cruises in the Caribbean when Myles and Tay were little, but big elaborate family vacations were just not financially or, I’ll admit it, emotionally prudent for me. Travelling internationally with kids—as enriching and educational and exciting as it is—is also utterly exhausting. I admire the families I’ve seen on this trip with little ones, and I don’t even mind screaming babies on planes. These parents are brave and adventurous. I give them and their tantrumming toddlers grace.
But I thought it prudent for me to wait a couple of years before I took my babies on a really big adventure. They’re big boys now. They are potty trained. They can be reasoned with. I no longer have to cut their meat for them.
They are 21 and 23. I can do this.
Fortunately, we are all pretty mellow folks, not a prima donna in the group. Myles’ girlfriend, Janna—the daughter I never had—came along with us as well. So we are five. Five adults joined at the hip for nearly a month in a foreign land.
I planned the trip rather meticulously. Two of our group aren’t crazy about this. But it is summer here and Christmas break. Without a plan, we would be lost in the crowds.
Two of us need lots of alone time. One prefers nearly constant interaction. Two prefer to be always moving, another would rather be still. One doesn’t care as long as the other four are happy. (Can you guess who that might be?) One got quite ill early on and another was slightly injured on the Reef. One is compelled to be in control. The other four are compelled to resist. (Ha! Not always. Just when we’re cranky.) One likes to talk about every little thing she sees. Another just wants her to shut up, maybe.
But here we all are. Cohabitating for nearly a month. And, it is good. No it is great. Because at the root of all of our personality quirks and preferences is this: We love each other, and we love the world. And we all know that we are blessed beyond measure to be sharing this adventure of a lifetime with one another.
That said, we still just have to mess with each other. I was the first to acquire a nick-name. Call me Nemo-ma’am.
Now, as I mentioned earlier, I am a pretty seasoned traveler. Pretty hardy. I’ve hiked for days in mountainous wilderness with only the pack on my back. I’ve Euro-railed from one end of the European continent to the other. I’ve stayed at youth hostels and luxury hotels, remote campsites and penthouse suites. I once slept in an actual jail cell (no, I hadn’t been arrested) because there was no room at the inn—any inn in town. I’ve also booked a room at the Four Seasons in Maui and lounged by the pool while Kimo spritzed me with Evian and placed cold towels on my brow. I’ve cruised the Caribbean with Spring breakers and the Mediterranean with the old folks. I’ve done these things with others and right by myself. I know how to do this. I’m good at it.
That said, when Ted is present, I completely forget everything I ever knew about traveling and become a clown fish. Total amnesia.
The clown fish, or anemone fish, was the only creature our scuba instructor on the Great Barrier Reef absolutely guaranteed we would see on our dive. They are everywhere on the Reef, and Disney has made sure that we all recognize Nemo—the little orange, black and white striped rascal—aw, so cute.
Well, the clown fish, specifically the female of the species, while perky and adorable, is a little on the pushy side. In fact, she’s so demanding that, according to the little guide book I found in the room, she actually stunts the growth of her partner. Ha! I’m so sorry, Ted.
“A pair of clown fish usually inhabits an anemone, the larger and more dominant of the two being the female clown fish. She is larger due to the demands and stress she inflicts on her mate stunting his growth…”
I laughed so hard when I read this I choked on my breakfast. I had just asked Ted to see if he could keep the sun from rising for a sec while I ran in and refreshed my coffee. He knows how I hate to miss the sunrise.
At the airport in Sydney I had asked Ted to hold my stuff while I took off my jacket. Twenty minutes later I’m sashaying down the concourse, with nothing but my boarding pass, and I look back to see Ted-as-Sherpa schlepping not only his backpack, but all our documents, my massive carry-on carpet bag, my purse and my jacket.
And despite the fact that I know how to plug stuff in, for some reason, I’m compelled to ask Ted to charge my phone, my iPad, my computer and my keyboard. I never have a room key on me or any money and I can never figure out which way to turn when I get off the elevator in our hotels. Actually, I have no idea what floor we’re on, and when we leave the hotel, I’m not real clear on how to get back. I have a watch on my wrist and a phone in my pocket, yet I just can’t stop asking him the time.
I’ve wandered away from the group dazed and delighted and been pulled back into the fold like a kitten by the collar of my jacket. I have fallen asleep on his shoulder and completely cut off all circulation to the left side of his body. I’ve asked him the same question 12 times and he has answered me 13. I have eaten his supper because it looked tastier than mine, and drank the last of his coffee.
And he never complains. He just smiles and says, “Okay, Nemo-ma’am.”
If it hurts to have your growth stunted, he doesn’t let on. In fact, I think he enjoys it a little. He knows I am capable—I lived independently for more than two decades—so his ministrations are more kindnesses than requirements. And he is, above all, kind to me. So very kind.
That said—I don’t want to wear him out just yet. We still have two weeks on this anemone to go. I don’t want to bring him back to y’all a crippled little version of himself all worn down by the stress of looking after his Nemo-ma’am. I’ve vowed to schlep my own shit from now on, to memorize my room number, and to figure out what time it is without any clues.
But I’ll still rest my head on his shoulder. It’s my favorite. Hold me closer tiny clown fish. I adore you.
Thanks, Ted, for affording all of us the trip of a lifetime! To quote Fleetwood Mac from back in the day, “You—you make loving fun.”