This is the Gulf of Mexico. It is across the street from where my mother lives in Florida. One, Mom, and I spent a few hours there, enjoying the warmth and the wildlife. Although Mom's pulmonary fibrosis makes it difficult for her to walk anywhere, she was game to go and sit on the beach. We took our time, and made it over the dune, so I could watch One in the water. Which was a bit chilly. Not Atlantic Ocean teeth-chattering cold, but not Gulf bathtub warm, either. I didn't go in. Instead, I made a dedicated effort to tan. Which means I have more freckles now, and a reddish triangle on my chest.
We spent the week focusing on all the things that make One happy. He just turned eighteen, and the trip was his birthday present. One hasn't been on a plane since the world turned upside down in 2001. He doesn't have a driver's license, so we had to get him a government issued I.D. I had prepped him for all the security requirements, but forgot the simple things, like escalators. It was impossible for him to make it down, when his good hand was pulling his carry-on suitcase. When we landed in Tampa, I found the elevators instead.
We visited Myakka State Park, which is forest, plains, and lakes. There were herons, pelicans, egrets, and diving cormorants. We saw alligators and an armadillo. More lizards than can be counted or caught crossed our path on one of the nature trails, and an adorable orange snake slithered past as we left. It was One's vision of Heaven.
Each day, I wrote a little more of the book, sometimes while sitting on the front porch, enjoying the scent of jasmine carried on the evening breeze. Each night, we ate Pappou's homemade ice cream. And when I climbed into bed, I read until I fell asleep. My version of Heaven.
When it was time to leave, I hugged my mother good-bye, for now. She will return to New Jersey in June. I know she feels the passing of time more acutely. But there is a part of me that doesn't want to give these days any more weight than all the ones that have preceded them. Each day, year, decade she has been my mother has been a gift, and I don't need her to tell me, now, how much she loves me, because I've lived that all my life. There is no unfinished business. Just living.
The Captain and the little boys came to meet us at the airport. It was late, but they were so excited, they unbuckled to give me kisses. They talked and talked, and so did I, until Five said, "Mom sounds like she's had a whole box of coffee!", which made me laugh. Every so often Four would proclaim, "I love you, Mom!" and then diplomatically add, "And you, Dad!" because their week had been pretty great, too.
I was delighted to see them, and when we got home I couldn't wait to climb in their bed and snuggle. I contorted my body to accommodate hand-holding on one side, and head-resting on the other. I lay awake in the dark, smiling. And I understood my mother a little more. The time away was wonderful, but I was happy to be back with my boys. Just living.