This past summer, as with most summers, I was taken hold of by a sense of wanderlust. We always spend summers relaxing and recharging and catching up with family back in Michigan. It’s a perfect break from the frenetic pace of life in NYC, and it’s fantastic, until it isn’t, and my itch to see or experience something new surfaces. It’s an itch I can usually scratch with a quick change of scenery, like a tag-a-long adventure on my husband’s business trip to Chicago, or a 72-hour excursion to the Upper Peninsula (the”UP”) of Michigan to visit Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
But this past summer, oh this past summer, a bigger and bolder plan took shape. It was mid-July and a catamaran charter I had been following on Instagram as the result of a mutual connection announced discounted rooms available for a sail around the Aeolian Islands of Italy in late August.
My husband will tell you I have one major goal for the ultimate family vacation, sailing the Greek Isles. I was fortunate to experience the magic of such a trip during my study abroad in college, and I am forever talking about wanting my husband and boys to experience it too.
Sailing the Italian islands seemed an equally excellent option.
I bounded into the next room and asked my husband if he could make a late August trip work.
“Sure,” he replied, “if it means that much to you, I can make it work.”
Within 48 hours I had contracts signed, air travel booked, airport transfers secured, and hotel rooms to bookend our time on the catamaran identified.
My youngest was ecstatic. A week on one of those “boats with the trampoline on it” was all he needed to know.
My oldest was another story. “You guys enjoy your trip,” he would say with a laugh or smirk, “I’m not flying to Italy.”
Now is probably a good time to mention we had already canceled our spring break plans earlier in the year because our oldest just didn’t want to fly. He said he needed a break. We had flown so much already, both for pleasure and for trips back and forth to Michigan to visit my mother, who miraculously recovered from a near death experience, and he just didn’t have another flight in him. Fair enough, we thought at the time. We could all use a break, and we enjoyed a NYC stay-cation instead. We would fly again.
Each time he would make his comments about the rest of us going to Italy without him, always with that smirk on his face, or a little laugh, we thought he was just being a teenager, giving us a hard time, making us sweat a little.
When he filled out his individual traveler food and activity preference survey we were convinced the comments about all of us going without him were all a ruse. Even his response to the question: “Anything special you will be celebrating on the boat?…The fact that I actually got on the plane,” landed on us as more teasing. He wouldn’t have filled out the survey if he wasn’t going to go.
So we just kept laughing along.
Because there is never a dull moment in our world, the two weeks before our scheduled departure turned into a complete life upheaval. It’s a long story for another day, but the short version that’s relevant to this one, is that our oldest would stay in Michigan, enroll in high school and play travel baseball when the rest of us returned to NYC in September. Because the school calendar in Michigan in no way aligns with the NYC school calendar, his first week of school would fall smack dab in the middle of our trip. Fortunately, his new school was gracious and understanding of the trip we had already planned and willing to accommodate a later start for him.
Everything was falling into place.
Except, in the face of this big life change, our oldest was becoming increasingly vocal, without the smirks and laughs, that we would be going on this trip without him.
Yet, we plowed forward, me especially. Our entire world was being turned upside down, but I was going to pretend nothing was changing and charge ahead. Even if I was going to acknowledge the change, this might be our last chance to do a big trip together for a while, I reasoned, so I was going to make it happen.
The morning of our flight came, and our packing efforts the night before meant we had time to kill before our evening flight. There was no doubt our oldest was anxious at this point, so we decided to spend the hours before our flight burning off nervous energy. We went to the ball fields for batting practice, then the gym for a workout. I stopped at the gluten free store for some airplane snacks and CBD oil to slip into my oldest, if necessary. Showers happened. And then it was time to get in the car. My oldest refused.
“I’m not going. You can go without me.”
My husband pulled me aside as my oldest slammed the door to his bedroom.
“He’s serious,” he said, “what are we going to do if he won’t go with us?”
“Leave him here,” I replied, “he can stay with my mom.”
“Andrea,” he started.
“What?” I snapped, “He’s a big boy, if he wants to stay here, he can stay here. Just because he doesn’t want to go doesn’t mean the rest of us shouldn’t.”
“Really?” he asked.
“Really,” I replied, stone faced, and walked away.
I’d be damned if I didn’t get my trip.
We eventually coaxed my son into the car with the promise of a stop at the Apple Store on the way to the airport to pick up the new iPad he was required to have for school so he could use it on the trip. He was visibly agitated and anxious in the car. My sister, who had called and prayed him through a few bouts of pre-flight anxiety around the time my mom was hospitalized, called and we all prayed together over the speaker phone as we drove. We prayed for the faith and courage to overcome his fear and anxiety so he could make the trip. There wasn’t a dry eye in the car.
And yet, as we ended the call and I settled into my own silent prayer, what kept coming to my heart was that prayers don’t get answered if you are asking for the wrong thing.
We pulled up to the terminal curb three hours ahead of our scheduled departure, just as recommended. Our youngest bounded out of the car and began unloading bags. Our oldest refused to budge.
My husband, my mother, multiple helpful Delta employees who learned of our predicament (including the lead flight attendant for our trip), and I took turns over the next 90 minutes climbing into the back seat of the car to talk him out and onto the plane. But he couldn’t do it. He wanted to do it, but he was paralyzed by fear. He sobbed and wrestled because he didn’t want to disappoint us, and yet he couldn’t bring himself to do the thing he knew we all wanted.
I sat on the terminal bench next to my husband and our youngest as my mom made one final attempt to talk to our oldest. Practically, we were running out of time.
For the first time that day, I changed my prayer. “God, I don’t know what to do. I want to go on this trip so badly. But I want to be the mother my son needs me to be. Please help me be the mother my son needs me to be. If he won’t go, please give me the heart to stay here with him.”
A few minutes later my mom re-emerged from the car and shook her head. “He won’t go. You guys go ahead, he can stay with me.”
“Give us a minute?” I asked. “Lincoln, go with grandma.”
As they walked away from us, my husband turned to me and asked, “Well, what do we do now? I feel like going without Caiden isn’t an option, but if we don’t go Lincoln will be devastated.”
“Yeah, I know,” I replied, my heart breaking, yet steadfast, “but I won’t abandon Caiden in this moment. There will be other opportunities for trips for Lincoln. For him, this will be a disappointment. Life will be full of disappointments, so I’m OK giving him one he has to learn to handle. I’m not sure Caiden would ever forget the pain of this moment if we left him now; this is much bigger than a disappointment for him. We can’t leave Caiden here to start a whole new life on his own while we are out living our best life on a sailboat.”
“Yeah, that’s right,” he said as he hugged me, tears sliding down both of our cheeks.
We walked back toward the car and started re-loading the bags piled on the curb. “What’s going on?” my mom asked as she approached with Lincoln.
“We’re going home,” I replied, turning to Lincoln. As he burst into tears and crumpled into my arms all I could say was, “I’m sorry bud, I know you really wanted to go on this trip, but no man left behind. If all of us can’t go, none of us go.”
“Andrea, don’t do this. Take him and go. I’ll deal with Caiden.”
“Mom, no. Please just get in the car.”
I climbed in the back seat, between two sobbing boys, an arm around each, holding them, loving them, trying to be for each of them what they needed me to be in that moment. Just as we were about to pull away another Delta employee came out and poked her head through the rear window. “I can scan your passports out here if you need more time to work through getting on the plane. That will give you another hour.”
“Thank you, I really appreciate that, but it’s time we go.”
We arrived home and unloaded the bags we had meticulously packed the night before to a pile in the middle of the living room floor. I retreated to my bedroom, spent, a bag of airplane snacks, chocolate caramels, in hand.
I ate THE ENTIRE BAG of caramels and mourned the trip that wasn’t to be, but it was a grief resting on peace, the peace of knowing we gave something up to build something stronger.
My husband came in the room a bit later. “Linc’s been outside playing hockey since we got home. He seems fine.”
“What were we thinking? What was I thinking,” I asked, “that we could expect him to do this in the face of all the other changes in his life? Why do I always think it’s reasonable to pile more on and just plow through?”
He gave me a smile, “That’s just who you are.”
I smiled back. “I know, I know, but it’s not who I want to be, at least not all the time. It’s good in some situations, but others, not so much.”
“I keep coming back to ‘we weren’t listening’,”my husband started, “he’s been telling us for months this fear of flying was a real thing, in his way, and we weren’t listening.”
“We weren’t listening at all. We totally missed it,” I agreed.
“But we got it right today. As painful as it was, we got it right.”
“Yeah,” I nodded my head, “we took the long way around, but we eventually got it right.”