And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way”
These are the hands (typing this) of a girl who has slept through, in no apparent order, a Flogging Molly concert, a tap dancing, stomping Broadway musical, a gunpowder plant explosion (put that one in your pipe and smoke it, so to speak), not really planes, but certainly trains and automobiles. And these are the hands (typing this) of a girl who has NOT slept through, in no apparent order, breastfeeding babies stirring, unsafe college roommates, and the panicked sounds of my kids in some sort of trouble. Sometimes, it’s a wonder we sleep at all.
I was awake enough to be slightly peeved he hadn’t called for me, but through all of my hands-on parenting and kindness and touch and adventures, I am really not the one to call for in the pre-dawn witching hours. Usually I’m tangled in some restless dream about sandstorms and time travel of the mind and disorientation. Besides that, if you sob in the middle of the night, 10 times out of 10, I’ll worry it’s vomit. Oh god, when it’s vomit. So really – Cassidy is the one to call. Probably 9.5 times out of 10, because I do have my moments. Des couldn’t stop crying, though.
Cassidy was the first to still him. He brought him into bed, checked his forehead, checked for bumps, bruises, monsters, and nightmares. Instructed Des on how to breathe, deeply and fully, so that his words would stop flying away on screams and sobs and raw sadness, or fear, or what? We didn’t know. After several deep breaths, that were at least semi-successful inhalations, his exhalations started to come out: “I..miss. I miss..the. I miss..the..aqu..” And he broke into more sobs. “What?” I finally spoke. “You miss what? You miss the aquarium?” A nod and then finally, silence. “Aw, Des. I miss it too.” (more than you’ll ever know, because God, your face and your big eyes and your big dreams and your big heart) More than you’ll ever know, and maybe me too.
I reached for his hands and we talked – about the Georgia Aquarium expansions for 2020, about World Octopus Day, and about the grieving. His hands smelled strongly of cucumber soap, as they fumbled for my hand, reaching my cheek on the way down. “Des, did you get up to go to the bathroom?” “I don’t remember – oh wait, yes I did.” And then, that, is the story. He got up in the pre-dawn hours to go to the bathroom, and his half-asleep self was overcome with the longing and the missing of our adventure weekend seeing whale sharks in Georgia, while Scarlet and Cassidy finished up their big Panama trip. We lived big, and it wasn’t even that hard.
Sometimes you miss things you’ve never experienced, or at least not yet, and it’s the strangest thing. It’s like your brain and your heart have been running a movie all this time, just under your skin, and there’s a part of you that feels it, breathes it, turns it around, and misses it. I missed whale sharks long before I saw them, and I’ll never even know how I came to know where to find them. I’ve known.. for years. People say, “Well how did you research that one?” How, indeed. I only had to look into my own brain. My friend, Bev, went there 5-6 years ago and I asked her, “Did you see the whale sharks?” And she didn’t even know! I did, though. How long have I known where to find them? Long enough that I asked him to dream a little dream for me.
The short origin story is that we threw Des a giant 7th birthday party – he had never had one all on his own! Scarlet put the pressure on us for a giant 10th birthday party for her a month later, but summer was crazy and we didn’t have the emotional resources for another one. We offered her a party, a family of four trip to NYC to see a Broadway play, or a trip to see her dream animal – sloths. It was to be a father/daughter trip, just because of money and interest levels. They researched Costa Rica but settled on Panama because it has sloths, whales (which they saw), and good friends too! In fact, even though it wasn’t my trip, maybe Scarlet will guest post soon.
He said whale sharks! Every night before bed, for months now, I have told him my real life aquarium and ocean adventure stories. I’ve had my own dream to see whale sharks. I knew they were in Georgia and it was so easy to plan! Two flights, a hotel in walking distance to the aquarium, pre-paid meals, and the Uber app. Done! We got that going pretty darn fast.
I used to travel alone quite a bit, and even though I wasn’t alone, this was my first time flying as a solo adult in well over ten years. Of course, he’s seven and it was easier and so we flew from gloomy cold weather right into 97 freaking degrees in Atlanta! We were declined by our first Uber driver (I’m still bitter) but the second one was a dream. He dropped us off at our fun hotel, which is only a quick park’s walk to the BIGGEST AQUARIUM IN AMERICA, OMG, HOLD ME.
I had pre-purchased aquarium tickets through the hotel to go for two days. Since our flight was early on Sunday morning, it would have to be Friday and Saturday. For some reason – an event, I think – they were only open until 4 or 5 that first day! We landed at 1, finally got situated in our hotel around 2:00ish, and then raced to the aquarium to drink up that last hour or so! Holy, worth it! It was NOT crowded. We burst in and the first thing we saw was a whale shark statue in front of the Ocean Voyager exhibit so we raced to it. We saw a tail! Holy cow – a tail whipped by!
The aquarium has all these cool skylight, porthole type places to view the Ocean Voyager tank (which is football stadium sized), and then you ride or walk through the tunnel, and then you get to the largest viewing room which will all take your breath away. We spent our hour there.
This was not a budget trip – this was a dream trip! I let him pick out one toy and one article of clothing BOTH DAYS! So day #1 was a cool shirt, and a stuffie that was a mother and baby whale shark. Then we walked to the hotel in 97 degrees to get dinner. We wound up getting room service and then spending an evening exploring the splash park, the giant Sky Wheel, and the pool/hot tub. That was really fun! All of it! What else can I say? Rooftop hot tub, giant ferris wheel with my kid, and lying in a park watching him get drenched by the fountains. I had to blow dry that kid’s socks and underwear to go home! Worth it. All of it was just right.
And then the next day we had buffet breakfast at the hotel (grits, anyone?) and we went to the aquarium right after it opened. And then, let me tell you, we stayed until dinnertime. We stayed about 8-9 hours. It was dark when we walked out for yet another room service picnic on the bed. His day #2 souvenirs were another stuffed whale shark and shark socks. Totally gobsmacked.
From up and down and still somehow
It’s cloud’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all”
I miss their slow swim. I miss them next to me, and I miss his wide eyes next to me. Oh, how I miss the way they swim so close to the tank – as if they know and can feel those wondrous, outstretched hands reaching for them. We touched a dream, and we’ll never be the same.
To say “I love you” right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I’ve looked at life that way”