On Sunday, we barely made it to the flight from Honolulu to Lihue. It wasn't that we weren't up at the crack of dawn (we're still on California time). It was that everything in this hotel seems to be on slow-motion time. No one is in a hurry, and they seem to be terribly put-out if you happen to be, say, trying to make a 10 am flight. While we waited 30 minutes for the car to be brought up from the Parking Garage on the Moon, the bellman asked me where we were headed. I told him, "Kauai."
He smiled and said. "You'll like it over there. It's more laid-back than here." Dude, I wanted to say, If you people were any more laid back, you'd have Dr. House and his minions standing around you drilling holes in your head looking for signs of a tumor.
Despite all the laid-backedness and hanging loose, we managed to make it to the flight and landed in Kauai after about twenty five minutes. Landing here is like taking a warm, cleansing breath. Just getting off the airplane and walking outside to get our bags had a calming effect, and any stress that might have had was released out into the wind. Even though our bags weren't on the same flight as we were, it was like, No worries. Clothes? Who needs clothes. Who cares? This laid-back thing is not just a way of life here, it's like something in the air is whispering, just relax already.
Ten years ago, Frank and I came to Kauai for the first time. A friend of ours sent us an invitation to stay at the Marriott, hear a timeshare pitch, and get a free rental car for the week. We had no plans to buy a timeshare here or anywhere else for that matter. We like to travel, and that means that we like going to places we've never been, not to the same-old same-old year after year. We scoffed at the thought that they could persuade us sophisticated, worldly Silicon Valley types to buy into a crappy timeshare.
What we didn't expect was that we would both fall ass-over-tea kettle in love with the place, with Kalapaki Beach, the view from our balcony, the giant swimming pool with its dizzying array of spitting fountains, the tropical garden and the ginormous koi pond--all of it. We had to have it. We ended up with a half-share, meaning that we can come for a week every-other-year, which suits us just fine. According to the sales pitch, we could trade it in for a different location anytime we wanted. Paris! Marbella! Orlando! The world was our oyster as Marriott owners. The trade-in part did not work out exactly as we hoped, but still, we have enjoyed coming back here each and every time.
After Alex was born, we found that it was a nice thing to come back to, to have a place that he recognizes and that we can bring family and friends along with us. We've never gotten bored with the island and there are still things we haven't seen yet, restaurants to try, as well as some old faithful sights and places we look forward to seeing again. We have friends who live on the North Side of the island, so we get a chance to catch up with them when we come and things have a familiarity that's missing from most of our trips.
After checking in, it was Frank's turn to take an afternoon nap, so Alex and I ventured down to the beach. The ocean's roar is a siren's call to our boy, and he was going to beg me until I relented, so I figured we would go down for an hour just to shut him up. I am not a swimmer, and the idea of Alex being swept out to sea by a rip tide or getting caught in an undertow just terrifies me. He's fearless, and not as strong as he thinks he is, so I made him promise to stay on the beach and build sand castles, or just venture out a few feet to get in up to his ankles. At this point, he would have promised me to each nothing but kale and chard and drink milk for the rest of his life just to get into the water. He kept his promise for about 20 minutes, and then came back to renegotiate the deal. How about waist high? He was already wet, so I agreed. I enjoyed sitting in a lounge chair and starting a book that has been on my night stand for about 2 years.
The surf was starting to come in higher and deeper, and I could see the boogie boarders were getting closer and closer to the shore. Alex went out to the waist deep water, and a big wave came and swallowed him up. I was seized with fear, and ran to the edge. He emerged and I waved him to come over, which he did. "Did you see me, mom? Did you see the water go over my head and I survived!" He was triumphant.
I'm not sure when I became such a buzz-kill, but I believe it was at the moment that I gave birth and was bestowed the title "mother." All I could think of was, "thank God you did not drown" and had to put aside my somewhat irrational fear to say, "Please don't go out so far. You know mom is not a good swimmer and dad's not here to help if you get in trouble with he waves."
He looked crestfallen, and I said, "You are really brave, and I think it's great that you're not afraid, but I'm afraid, so please don't go out so far. We need to go back in and see Daddy in 5 minutes." He negotiated for 10 and I relented, but with the caveat that he had to leave in 10 minutes with no protest.
I kept thinking of the words in The Wasteland, "Fear death by water," Eliot wrote, a common internal refrain for me since I nearly drowned when I was Alex's age. My mom had to fish me out of the bottom of a fishing lake when I went in too deep and couldn't find the surface. I remember thinking that I was going to die and that my parents would be terribly, terribly sad, when a hand reached in and grabbed me and pulled me to the surface. I never wanted to learn to swim after that, or go in water over my head ever again.
Intellectually, I know that Alex is different from me in so many ways. He's had swim lessons and water safety classes since he was 9 months old, largely due to the fact that I am so afraid of water. And yes, I know I should be taking swim lessons and getting the hell over it. I've relied on Frank to be there far too much, and I worry that my fear will rub off on Alex. I think one of the hardest things about parenting is figuring out how not to pass along your own shortcomings onto your children. I want him to be brave and confident, and yet there is this undercurrent of fear that something bad will happen to him if I don't remain vigilant.
I let him play for a while more, but when it really was time for dad to come back, he defiantly ran back to the waves, knowing full well that I would not follow him into the water. I stood waving like a maniac at the water's edge, and when I started wading forward, he knew I meant business and came out. That bit of defiance got him a time out and revocation of TV privileges for the rest of the night.
After our beach excursion, we cleaned up and went back to the airport to pick up Grandma Chris, who was arriving after a long journey from Indiana. The four of us went to dinner at Duke's and feasted on ono, opakapaka, and lobster. Alex was exhausted and barely made it through his macaroni and cheese. We were serenaded by a couple of musicians who played one of our favorite songs, "White Sandy Beach of Hawaii" for us and sang beautifully. Alex and I forgave each other for our earlier tiff on the beach, and the four of us enjoyed the night together.