It has been a quiet few weeks on the blog front and I can only promise more of the same as we gear up for our coming adventure. Next month, we are dropping Sampson (of the Dog Blog) off to live with sister Mercy, handing over the keys to our house to friends, and moving to Utila, (pop: 2,500) a remote island off the coast off Honduras.
For the past few months, J has been involved in developing Coral Beach, a luxury eco village on the South Shore of Utila, a destination that attracts international SCUBA divers to its gorgeous, pristine waters. Via Skype, he showed me sprawling, untouched sand beaches and wild mangroves. He emailed photos of sea horses and live coral reefs, of majestic speckled whale sharks. It's like Cayman was thirty years ago, he promised. He has been flying there for several weeks each month, and I see a little bit of the boy I fell in love with flickering back to life under his corporate exterior: the kite boarder, the diver, the water lover, the adventurer.
Our relationship has island roots--we met as vacationing pre-teens on Seven Mile Beach and fell in love after moving to Grand Cayman permanently after college. J worked as a dive master with a marine biologist, and I cooked the breakfast shift at a hospital in George Town and trained horses for a beach riding organization in the afternoons. In the years before we moved back to the States, we windsurfed and swam and rode horses and drank Red Stripe; I wrote really bad magnetic poetry and an even lousier first attempt at a novel.
Fast-forward sixteen years, multiple jobs, degrees, pets and three kids later. I've always dreamed of living abroad as a family, showing my children the world. I had assumed it would be Tarifa, Spain, when the kids were in their early teens. I imagined them bilingual, learning to windsurf among the levante and poniente winds as I did, reveling in the thirteenth century architecture, and eating crepes at midnight.
Our oldest, Hayden, is ten. When we proposed the idea of moving to Utila, of homeschooling and dropping off the map into this adventure, he threw his fists in the air. He had his first taste of SCUBA diving on our annual trip back to Grand Cayman this year and is hooked. The most social of our three, I was worried about his response. If we waited to live abroad in another few years, friends and sports could be more important than the promise of new experience. We are on the cusp of the years when J and I appropriately fade in importance and social life becomes everything.
Max, my middle man is a homebody--he begged to go home from Disneyland!--but he too gave it the thumbs up, though he wants to come home for ice hockey season. We had him try out for his travel soccer team, but let his coach know we wouldn't be here this fall. He promised Max would have a spot on the team next year, or whenever we came back. This, and the promise that each boy may bring 5 lbs of Legos and all of the Big Nate books, and the assurance that the iPad is coming, made the difference for Max.
And sweet Piper is endlessly game. In 2010-11, when I homeschooled the boys so we could all go on book tour, I enrolled three-year-old Piper in preschool whenever we were home. Since then has been yearning for her own homeschool experience. As she said the other day, "It doesn't matter where, I just want to learn to read and do art."
On my part, it feels a little crazy to pack up our life, board a tiny prop plane and move to a place I have never seen. We have debated this often over the past three months: Should we just continue with our American suburban life, our commuter marriage? This would mean soccer, hockey, violin, that I would enroll all the kids in school again. This would be the first year with everyone going five days a week--think of all the writing I could get done, all the running time I could log! Think how clean our house would be!
Or should we take a chance on an adventure, a complete reality shift, an opportunity that may never come along again? The answer seemed obvious.
The Doctors Give Their Blessing
Still, there was a roadblock. Hayden was born with a craniofacial birth defect that affected our lives significantly when he was younger, but not as much now. We see a battery of specialists annually at his team evaluation, and an ortho specialist monthly at the Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia. This doctor had projected two new upcoming surgeries, including a brutal jaw distraction, where the bones of the lower jaw are broken and set with a bar and crank we turn at regular intervals.
Last month, at his annual evaluation, we asked each specialist if they saw any reason that Hayden couldn't travel to Utila for a year. Everyone said fine, but then ENT found a mass in his sinus. The doctor warned me gravely, "A mass could be anything. Do you understand what I am saying?"
In my imagination, our dreams of Caribbean adventure took a sharp, dark turn. Thankfully, an emergency CAT scan showed this to be likely just another aspect of his unique anatomy.
Hayden was also reassigned to a new ortho specialist who saw no immediate need for the projected surgeries or the monthly schedule we have been on. She is a lovely woman who was raised on a converted tugboat-- the only doctor who had heard of Utila. She devised a treatment plan where we could see her right before we leave, and come back in six months. At the end of the day, we saw the final doctor, Hayden's plastic surgeon, the head of the team. He listened and examined and read the reports of the other specialists. He gave Hayden an uncharacteristic handshake/hug and we left the hospital grinning; the final piece of the puzzle had fallen into place. I called J and told him: we can go!
J has assured me that while Utila is rustico, I will fall in love with the natural beauty and charm.
I've seen photos of our little house, Casa Tranquila--a thatch roof, Swiss Family Robinson type lofted abode just steps from the turquoise ocean. There are two rescue dogs that belong to the development--Amigo and Lobster. J has introduced us via Skype; it will help ease the sting of leaving Sampson behind.
Last week, he texted me two things that sealed the deal: One was a photo of him at a restaurant in Utila Town with a pizza in front of him. The kids won't starve! And the other was that he had met a family, with kids. They are on the complete other side of the island--this means a boat trip through the mangrove waterways into Town, and then a fifteen minute golf cart ride on the sand roads. And I thought, though most of their playdates here are local, I regularly drive them at least this far around northeast Philly to their hockey games, and the scenery is more Dunkin Donuts/traffic/strip malls than Caribbean paradise. Pizza and potential playmates--we're in.
This month, I will be packing and purging, shuttling everyone to dentists and doctors for shots and last check- ups. I will be writing and submitting our home learning objectives for the State of Pennsylvania and trying to cram everything I think we will need into a handful of suitcases. On August 1, we will drive Sampson to his foster home--I have no doubt there will be tears.
I will be posting regular dispatches from our adventure--Casa Tranquila--here, and with Lisa Belkin's Parentlode column at the Huffington Post. Please stay tuned for more!