Finding the ultimate Christmas gift in a surprising place

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Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

For the past two years, my husband and I have given each other (and our kids) a very special early Christmas present: a few weeks before Christmas, we get the heck out of town.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas almost as much as our toddlers, but now that the Holiday Season seems to begin around Arbor Day even I start to feel the Holiday Spirit begin to turn into Holiday Overload bordering on Holiday AHHHHH! by about the second week of December. Leaving for a week removes us temporarily from the decked halls and we come back just in time to enjoy the final buildup to big day. And did I mention we escape to a beautiful tropical island?

We book the trip early in the spring and look forward to it as the seasons change from summer to fall and to the unspeakable horror that (in my book) is Michigan winter. This year in the weeks leading up to our trip, our 3-year-old was almost as excited as we were, as he’s become quite a water lover and couldn’t wait to suit up and get his little self soaking wet.

Beach bums
Beach baby

My husband, who happens to be a 3-year-old at heart, couldn’t wait to get in there with him. The two of them spent the better part of the week running in and out of the surf, jumping in the waves and splashing through the resort’s many pools. Even our baby girl got in on the action this year, dipping her tiny toes in the water with squeals of delight.

I, however, mostly stayed dry, either watching the action from a not too distant lounge chair or supervising the sandcastle building action on terra somewhat firma. It’s not that I don’t love to swim- in fact, quite the opposite. I grew up with a pool right in the backyard and spent entire summers in the water, practically growing fins by the time Labor Day rolled around. The ideal summer wardrobe alternated between only two articles of clothing: pajamas and a bathing suit, and sleeping in the latter was not out of the question.

But something’s changed since the kids came along. For me, swimming with a 3-year-old and an 18-month-old bares very little resemblance to the carefree, easy going activity I’ve always loved. Between the gallons of sunscreen, the flotation devices, the swim diapers, the toys, the snacks, and the sippy cups, just getting to the pool practically requires a sherpa. Then there’s the stress of it all. Maybe it’s the news reporter in me, having covered a few tragedies too many, or maybe it’s just the overprotective Mother Hen instinct, but I simply can not let my guard down enough to enjoy the experience. The weight of keeping those two precious bundles afloat is enough to sink my spirits completely. So right now I choose to sit it out, attempting to drown my guilty conscience with a fruity tropical drink.

When you love something dearly the way I’ve always loved to swim, you tend to assume you will love sharing it and doing it with your children as well, but I’m learning reality is not always on board with that plan. In time, I know the kids will learn to swim and that the family water experience won’t always leave me feeling all washed up. But until that happens I’m also learning to be OK with keeping the enjoyment of some experiences all to myself without slapping the scarlet G for guilt on the front of my bathing suit.

The other night at dinner, my husband I were reminiscing about the trip. “What was your favorite moment?” he asked.

I hesitated and had to bite my tongue. I really wanted to tell him it involved family bonding on the beach, or holding hands and watching the sunset over the water, or sharing laughs with our dear friends over cocktails and dinner.

Sure, those were magical moments, memories I’ll always cherish, but if I’m going to be completely honest, totally candid, they don’t quite float to to the top of the list.

No, my favorite part of our family vacation was the gift I gave myself. One sunny, warm afternoon when everyone had slipped into a post-lunch buffet nap/coma, I suited up, grabbed my towel, snuck out of the room and headed over to the pool. As I slipped into the water I feared the feelings might be gone forever, but after a few awkward splashes it was as effortless as I remembered. Back and forth I swam, letting the cool water take over and do its thing. I don’t know how long it lasted, but it was long enough. Because for a moment suspended in crystal clear water and now cemented in my mind, I remembered how it felt to be utterly weightless and wonderfully free.

Merry Christmas to me.

Mona Shand is a radio and TV news reporter.  You can read more on her blog.

About Mona Shand 52 Articles
I'm a mother of three young children and a former newscaster-turned-PR director who writes to stay sane! If you like what you see, click on over to monashand.blogspot.com for more!