I expected our trip to Guatemala, our first trip back since we adopted Miss E, to be challenging. I anticipated daily explosions – emotional outbursts – born of too-tight quarters, a lack of Spanish language skills in two of us, our dependence on translation by the other two, and most obviously, I imagined this odyssey to my daughter’s birth country would set off fireworks inside us all.
I was wrong.
This was quite possibly the smoothest, warmest, most beautiful family vacation I’ve ever had.
This isn’t to say we avoided every possible conflict. This isn’t to say we spent nine days holding hands and squeezing one another with overwhelming love-hugs, our lips turned up in smiles without pause – but WE WERE AMAZING. Yes. I will brag on us all. Miss E was the very best nine-year-old traveler I’ve ever had the pleasure of traveling with – yes, even (especially) when her fever crept past 103 one frightening night. (She is completely fine now, finished her antibiotics with not a trace of illness left.) Grace’s ideas — like a 7 a.m. swim in the middle of three volacanoes in a place of peace in an off-beat area one simple boat-ride away from where we slept — her ease with us all and with herself, her Spanish fluency, her flexibility, her curiosity about unfamiliar things – impressed me and touched me, endeared her to me. Deeply. It’s been years since we spent so much time all together. And KellySue, who handled our money, our lodging, our transportation, who was an endless font of ideas for where we might explore? She rocks my world. Daily.
In a good way. 🙂
Now I don’t have a coherent story of our being there – for me, these things take time (that is, if they come together coherently at all, they do not come together right away), but here are some glimpses, according to my pen on the page in those rare moments when I stopped JUST BEING long enough to write:
Our trip so far:
- Rooster alarm – a ring tone, not the real thing – awake for the day by 3:00 a.m.
- Piled into a cab by quarter to 4:00. In the morning.
- Cuban breakfast in Miami and a new camera from the airport shop because – no – I do not want to whip out my camera-phone in the middle of a Guatemalan market.
- Miss E sleeping in the breakfast booth beside me.
- Changing dollars for quetzales, trying to get a handle on the exchange rate and mistaking a giant pile of bills for the quetzales we were getting back (#SillyAmericans) – making the bank agent laugh.
- KellySue and her Angry Birds
- Grace’s muted eye roll
- The colors, the beauty of takeoff – both times – rising above the clouds over Chicago, the skyline, the towers, the red-pink-gold of dawn as the sun crested swiftly – too soon for my phone to turn on (and the new camera still in its’ box, stowed away) – breathtaking.
- Then lifting off from Miami over the water, the generous shades of blue green turquoise aquamarine, boats leaving white wakes in the water miles and miles below, rocks and algae, green shores… and then up in the sky beside me, my girls on either side with their iPad and iPad mini screens – Percy Jackson, Breaking Bad – and me with a book called “Bloom,” subtitled “finding beauty in the unexpected,” an honest memoir by the mom of a child with Down Syndrome. All of this makes me (breaks me) open.
- Remembering our last trip to Guatemala nine years ago – to bring home our baby, our love, our joy. Remembering dinner in Antigua before endless days in a Guatemala City hotel with occasional day trips to a giant market, to the Embassy, to dinner. The glimpses we had of the country then, I recall in something like snapshots through the haze of becoming a mom – the abundance and amazement. Watching my girl for hours, mesmerized, looking up sometimes to share the love, to notice where we were. In a hotel. Sitting on the floor.
- Flying through the air today back to our baby’s birth country.
She’s nine now, lying on my bed – after giggles and a chat, after dizzy spells in the restaurant, two hours or more of rain, a new hand-sewn perrito dancing along the blankets, my new shoulder bag, a lovely beautiful day and an adventuresome boat ride.
A day of tiny mishaps and high emotion, snippiness, hunger, picky eating, a sprained wrist, and high-arch shoe inserts soaked through in the rainstorm. My first zip line.
Zipping across the canyon blew my mind.
Today, Miss E wishes desperately for the familiar. She is shocked by the freedom and responsibility of her Mayan Guatemalan peers.
“Everyone here looks like me,” she says.
She surprises, them, too, as much as they surprise her. They watch her with the camera, observing her attire, her hippie-tourist, tie-dyed t-shirt, her deeply dark hair which is not pulled back from her face, her eyes, her round bronze cheeks.
“That is the name of my sister,” one artisan tells our family, making friends with us to sell her bracelets and bags.
All I can think to do with this hour we have before our next excursion is: Eat, sleep, or shop.
How do I catalog my adventures in real-time?
What to say about the tuk tuks, the motorbikes, the relaxed safety standards, two children dressed alike in Mayan dress, one three years old and the other more like ten, and an eight year old nearby, clearly connected to them, laughing with them, maybe their sister, dressed in a turquoise tank top, sequined, with black skinny pants and black flats? By her attire and her likeness to my daughter, she could have been a student back home.
I want to tell the women we meet – when they ask about Miss E – is she mine? is she Kelly’s? – that she’s theirs, too, but how do you say this in Spanish and have your meaning clear? Layers of meaning. Layers of belonging. Because she is ours. And she is theirs, too. Both.
I don’t know that I can explain this in English either.
How do I write about the young children peddling their bracelets, that feeling of overwhelm when they’re all flocking around, and our new traveling friend who pays each of them something small just because? Or my reaction – a brief smile, a quick glance, no real engagement – my reaction, which I’m not proud of?
[By then, we’d met Tania. We talked and played, and it rained, and Miss E got sick, and we loved our time, all of it, but I didn’t write.]
Days Later – Back Home
We loved where we were – with its’ tin roofs and luscious green, with public boats and people mixing – locals, tourists, jeans and Mayan dress – effortlessly, simply – all ages, all of us taking it in.
How do I describe our return to the States, to so much STUFF, knowing that in a few more days, this will all feel normal again – this here, this life, this… microwave?
My girl raises her head and grins ear to ear each time her Aunties ask, “How was your trip?” It was right for us to go.
And our new friends! Totally brought our trip to life. Jenna, our hostess, and Tania, our traveling companion for a day… Jenna’s dogs, Tania’s tales, and Casimiro, our guide the day Tania invited us to come along. The day we decided to go back and swim. Early. By the hot springs.
Thank you, Kim and Anna and Jen and Sadie and Cindy and Loretta and Tania and Jenna for all your ideas about where to go and what to do.
Panajachel. Iximche. Santa Catarina.
And thank you to our friends and family who responded to Facebook photos and called and emailed when we got back, who brought us donuts and fruit, who invited us to dinner, and who’ve loved us each step of the way.
We are deeply grateful.