“The cure for anything is salt water. Sweat, tears or the sea.” – Isak Dinesen
The day I returned from maternity leave with my oldest daughter, now 11, I was called into my editor’s office and offered my dream job: travel writer.
For a split second, I considered turning it down. How, I wondered, could I travel and also take care of an infant? But I also realized that since my husband and I had always both loved to travel, it was an incredible opportunity to see new places, at least some of the time, as a family.
In the years that followed, our family grew to include another daughter, now 8, and a son, 6. I relished new adventures with them and frequently encouraged hesitant fellow parents to “just take the trip.”
Then, last year, everything came to a screeching halt. My husband and I, who are also foster parents, welcomed a 7-year-old foster daughter; then, four months later, our goddaughters, 4 and 3, came to live with us, too.
I can assure you we are not a couple who dreamed of raising a baseball team and that going from three kids to six was a shock. It was a struggle just to find matching socks and to keep up with the incessant snack requests. Taking a trip? Inconceivable.
Travel began to feel like a distant memory, my suitcase something to set up on the shelf next to childhood stuffed animals and high school yearbooks.
Then, last weekend, stir-crazy after a long Thanksgiving week off from school, we booked a two-night stay in an Airstream trailer at Matagorda Bay Nature Park, located about three hours from Austin along the Texas coast. As it turned out, the crashing waves and cacophony of chirping birds would provide not only a perfect escape but also evidence that traveling as a family of eight might not be so bad after all.
I’d stayed in an Airstream before at another of LCRA’s parks, Lake Bastrop North Shore Park, and, as someone who doesn’t consider herself an adept camper, fully enjoyed the amenities. The same was true in Matagorda, where our palm tree-flanked, waterfront Airstream, Ranger, came with all of my favorite creature comforts: air conditioning and heat, a hot shower, a fridge, two TVs with a DVD player, an indoor stove, an outdoor grill and, perhaps most importantly for those of us with young kids, a Keurig. We also pitched a tent, allowing a free flow between inside and out.
We arrived late afternoon on Friday and immediately walked down to the sprawling adjacent beach, where the kids were captivated by the waves as they rolled into shore. My phone died as I was attempting to snap my first photo, forcing me to fully unplug.
When I did, I noticed things I hadn’t realized before, like how fluid my 8-year-old’s cartwheels had become as she went head-over-heels on the shoreline, or how meticulous my 5-year-old goddaughter was as she plucked shells from the sand.
In particular, I noticed how our foster daughter seemed rejuvenated by her adjacency to water, as if her troubles could be healed, at least a little, by the salty sea.
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The next day was a blur of fishing, grilling, shelling, splashing and Nerf-football playing. We spied herons (aka cardinals, according to our 3-year-old goddaughter). We tied a chicken neck to a net and tried unsuccessfully to catch a crab. We watched a quartet of women wrangle and land the biggest fish we’d ever seen on the dock behind our Airstream. We cuddled with hot cocoa.
It wasn’t perfect, of course. There were squabbles, spats and requisite poop jokes. Someone, while skimming through my Spotify playlist, conceived of the band name Bootie and the Blowfish, which I fear will have legs for months to come. On the drive home, the decibel level got so high that I had to wear my trusty earplugs.
But overall, it was OK. Better than OK. It was fun.
Sure, the eight of us may not be jaunting off to Bali anytime soon, but Matagorda made me realize that maybe we can still find time to get out of our comfort zones and seek out the beauty, and the healing, that’s around us. And maybe, when we’re lucky, it won’t be terrible. Maybe it will be great.