Thursday, April 12, 2012


We're back in Hawaii: me, my girls, and my sister-in-law Jessica for a week in one of my favorite places in the world. I've got sun and the sound of ocean waves, myna birds and palm trees, mongooses (the girls prefer "mongeese"), plumeria trees, fresh-cut pineapple and papaya, a fridge full of Pog, and a much-needed week with no plans whatsoever. No school lunches to prep, no gymnastics to rush off to, no homework to check, no dog to clean up after, and no nagging household chores to do.

The girls, still on California time, have been the first up each day. They wake Jessica and me up with music blaring from their iPod, the little thumps of dancing legs just outside our bedroom door, their high girlish voices singing along to Adele.

We sip Kona coffee on the lanai and wait for the day to start. The first few days we were up before sunrise, but today the sun beat us. We've visited a variety of beaches, had pool time each day, have watched a hula show, gone to the beautiful and calming Place of Refuge, and done some shopping. The days have a timeless feel and pass both quickly and slowly. Yesterday we decided to spend an hour at the beach. With twenty minutes left we took to the waves. The girls bodysurfed while the grown-ups scanned the horizon for the last of the migrating humpback whales, the mamas with their new calves. When we checked the time three hours had passed.

String bean, out of the water since last summer, has gotten reacquainted with her swimming skills. She's built like a swimmer, long and lean with a wide wingspan, and she can cover the length of the pool in a single breath. At seven years old, she's probably a better swimmer than I'll ever be. Peanut, five now and determined to do everything her own way, huffs along in her spastic doggie paddle style, still stubbornly refusing to try any real strokes. Luckily we have water wings, so she can alternate between floating along and thrashing around and I know she'll stay safely afloat. The girls exhaust themselves with jumping waves, making sandcastles, running free in their hot pink flip flops, swimming in the pool for hours, and each night as I cuddle with them for our daily list of three good things, they've fallen asleep on me before finishing.

Jessica has been an enormous help on this trip. After a year of single-motherhood I'd forgotten what it's like to have an extra set of hands for dinner prep, kid-bathing, dishes, laundry, general clean-up, and driving around. I was prepared for a kid-centered vacation, but I've gotten more relaxing in than expected thanks to Jessica's presence. We're a lot alike, quiet readers who prefer the sound of the ocean to the bustle of a crowed street, drama-free types who like to get the work out of the way so we can sit and chat and relax. The girls adore their aunt, and I'm enjoying watching them vie for her attention, off the hook for many mommy duties that they'd rather have her do. It's also been a great week to keep our friendship going, which has always been a separate thing from my marriage to her brother. The separation from my husband has done nothing to diminish my bond with Jessica, and this week has been a great reminder of that.

Whenever we come here, I remind the girls that they have Hawaiian blood, are tied to these islands beyond loving vacations here. The concept of ancestors seems hard for them to grasp, but they like to hear the stories, of their Chinese great-great-great grandfather Chun Afong marrying a Hawaiian Chief's granddaughter. They never met their Hawaiian-born grandmother, and while String Bean has my same almond-shaped eyes and olive-toned skin, fair-skinned and blue-eyed Peanut doesn't look like she could possibly have Hawaiian blood in her anywhere. But from the stories they have decided that they are Hawaiian princesses, and this fills them with a ridiculous amount of joy. Almost as much joy as I get out of being here with them.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Family is Forever

Yesterday I hosted a birthday party for three of my favorite people: my 3-year-old niece, my dad, and my dad's sister. The Aries have the rest of us outnumbered in my family. It started as an idea for a small get-together to acknowledge my dad and niece's back-to-back birthdays, and grew into a big family and friends-who-feel-like-family gathering. There were family friends that I hadn't seen in years who came, and my amazing, artistic aunt, who I hadn't seen in over five years, who is celebrating her birthday today (Happy birthday, Aunt Nancy!).

There's been plenty of family drama and the usual life trials in my family over the years, and many of us have drifted apart, but yesterday none of that showed. Hatchets were buried, bonds were renewed, and best of all, my girls got to be there to see it all. It's an amazing thing, to fill your house up with everyone you love and just bask in it for a whole day. We ate, we talked, the kids played, the musicians jammed, the kids danced, and the party lasted all day long. We're all talking about doing it again, soon.

Probably the only thing I still struggle with about separating from my husband is the guilt over not being able to keep my daughters' family intact. I know what it's like to have divorced parents, the schlepping back and forth with suitcases in hand and wanting desperately to wear the shirt you left at your dad's house and won't see again for at least a week. But watching my girls run circles around their extended family yesterday, giggling and twirling in their princess dresses, and having them ask over and over if we can do it all again next weekend, I'm letting some of the guilt go. They are loved, and they have an intact family, just as I do. My parents divorced over 30 years ago, and had plenty of years of not speaking kindly of one another, but yesterday I got to sit between them and listen as my father played his banjo and my mother sang along. That's the thing about family. They're forever, if you let them be.