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I’m not sure if I have written this down before, but I know I have told this story in person to many people. Six months ago, when this whole journey into becoming a full time writer, a public speaker, a force for good in the world, a big part of that beginning was letting go of fear. I had to confront demons that were flying in my face faster by the day, by the hour, by the minute. I had to look them in the beady little eyes and say, firmly, “I am not afraid of you. Because you are not real.”
I have come a long way since that day. And I remember it quite clearly. I remember letting it all go and surrendering to the beautiful possibilities of life. I remember knowing, from a place deep within, that whatever happened, wherever my path led, it would be beautiful, and I would welcome it as a new experience to be enjoyed.
So when the opportunity came up to take a weekend trip to Monterey as part of a homeschool trip with our meetup group, I jumped at the chance. My husband and I take Celaya a couple of times a year. The drive down from Hayward is under two hours, and there is so much to do that the trip is worth it every time.
I figured we’d go as a family, stay in a nice hotel, I’d get in a couple of runs on the beach, and we’d look for butterflies at the sanctuary in Pacific Grove. We’d hit the aquarium Monday before heading home.
Then my husband couldn’t get Monday off from work.
Well, I wasn’t going to let that stop me. I could take a road trip with my two girls. I had done it plenty of times with Celaya, and could do it with Celaya and Matilda.
Then Celaya got a cold.
Then Matilda got her one year vaccines: varicella (chicken pox) and hepatitis B the Friday before we were planning on leaving.
And she got a fever. And the fever persisted through two days, through Tylenol and Motrin.
And here is where my fear would normally creep in. Here is where I would tell myself that I had done something wrong. I shouldn’t have made those plans. I shouldn’t have schedule her vaccines before a trip. I shouldn’t be taking my kids on a road trip with colds and fevers. I shouldn’t vaccinate my children!
Of course, the whispers came in, they pss pss pss‘d around my frayed nerves and my lack of sleep.
But this time, I let them come in and go out, I acknowledged that they were fears, I checked in with my kids and with myself, and I felt good about my decision to make the trip. My instincts, my inner voice, told me I would be just fine, to breathe easy, and enjoy this first time adventure.
Yes, Celaya has a cold, but her energy levels are normal and she still wants to go. Yes, Matilda is reacting to the vaccine, but it is just that; she is reacting to a vaccine. She isn’t running a fever from a virus or bacteria. Her body is doing what it is supposed to do, and it would do that whether or not we hit the road.
In fact, if I had stayed home, I would have worried more. I would have let the fever coming and going drive me crazy.
Instead, I packed the Tylenol and the Motrin, I packed her snacks, and I loaded us into the car on Sunday, kissing Papa goodbye in the early afternoon.
Matilda slept most of the way down, Celaya watched her iPad, and I listened to The Universe Has Your Back, by Gabrielle Bernstein, preparing for her lecture the following Monday night in San Francisco.
We got into Monterey around four o’clock and stopped at Dennis the Menace Playground to play with friends from our group. Celaya of course took her jacket off, in 50 degree weather, to run around in her Batgirl costume.
She climbed up structures, slid down rubber walls, and ran through mazes. If you haven’t hit this playground, do. It is worth an afternoon in Monterey for sure. It is large and sweeping, with something for all ages, and it is enclosed enough that you can (mostly) keep a good eye on your kid.
“I’m hot!” She declared, snot running down her upper lip.
Of course she’s hot.
We headed over to r.g. burger a half a mile up the road after the playground.
Matilda got tired and fussy.
“Hm. Something’s wrong.” The fears whispered at me.
“Thank you fears. I’ve got this.”
She drank water, she ate some bread, she napped on my chest, all normal reactions to her shots.
I had booked us a suite at a hotel in downtown Monterey. When we checked in, the front desk staff was lovely. The hotel is gorgeous from the outside, exactly what you’d expect from a mid level hotel in Monterey, and our room was large, spacious, and beachy feeling, with sand colored tile flooring, deep blue carpeting, and shutters on windows and acting as doorways.
I gave Matilda some Tylenol, and within minutes she was hungry. I offered her Cheerios and milk and a banana and she gobbled her food right up. There is no better feeling for a mother than knowing that her child’s belly is full. Food and water for my kids are two things that I am relentless about.
After Cheerio-gate, we were all tired, and the heater in the room hadn’t heated up the room to my liking yet, so I decided to forego bathtime. I didn’t want Matilda getting the chills in a hotel room.
The bathroom was large and luxurious, with a deep seated tub separate from a shower. I will definitely be back just to take advantage of that tub.
The room I reserved had two double beds, so we made the best of it (both girls of course want to sleep with me) and we pushed the beds together to make one gigantic bed. I shoved pillows and blankets into the small crack so Celaya wouldn’t fall in on her inevitable journey from her double bed over to the small of my back.
I got the girls settled down finally around ten, and I headed over to get some writing done at the convenient writing desk set facing the beds.
But Matilda’s fussiness wouldn’t let her sleep without her skin touching mine, so after three attempts to leave her I finally gave up and snuggled down next to her, sending off apologies to my clients and letting them know my assignments would be a couple days later than I had anticipated.
Yes, the fears tried to make me worry about me alone with Matilda in a hotel room. “What if her fever spikes and I can’t get it down?” “What if something happens?” “What if someone breaks in and tries to kill us?!”
Yes, that’s how quickly my fears escalate.
So I reminded myself that I am a strong, smart, capable woman in touch with the universe and living in modern times with modern technology and modern science. I could handle anything that happened, and there’s no use worrying about what ifs.
Also: no one was going to break in and kill us. Get a grip Shanna.
We woke up Monday morning and headed down to breakfast in the lobby. We walked past flowing fountains with the lovely tinkling of flowing water, past green plants and brightly colored flowers. We entered the breakfast room decorated in clean blues and whites with dark wood furniture and found bagels, toast, ham and cheese, cereal, milk, juice, fruit, and more, all displayed beautifully with white dishes and stainless steel silverware.
The staff was in and out, cleaning, clearing dishes, sweeping floors, smiling and laughing with my girls. The morning news was on a flatscreen over a fireplace surrounded by chopped wood in cubbies built into the wall. Very, very Monterey Bay.
After breakfast, we checked out of our room with the help of yet more pleasant staff, and we drove the mile and a half to the aquarium.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a place you want to keep coming back to over again. Trying to see everything in one trip is exhausting, so we usually plan a few trips a year. Often our family will accompany us. In fact, I went ahead and bought the Ocean Advocate membership this time around because it is not only good for a year’s entrance for my whole family, which will pay for itself in two visits, but I can also get any other kids and two more adults in any time I go. And it’s tax deductible. Win win.
We met up with our friends and hung out by the waves for a bit. Then we entered the Aquarium and of course my kid heads straight for the toy store. She proceeded to spend all of her allowance on an Eco Friendly doll named Zumi. “Whatever.” I had to tell myself. “It’s her money.”
Just an hour into our time at the aquarium Matilda was over it, tired, fussy, who knows? All of the above.
Celaya and I zoomed down to the cafe to grab a quick bite to eat. The little personal pizzas are a perfect affordable lunch. We then left the aquarium and stopped at Starbucks to pick up a mobile order I had punched in on my phone on the walk over.
While we were walking from the aquarium to Starbucks, a whole two blocks, I made my very first selfie video! I had been nervous about making videos but I understand that, especially as a person who is busting into public speaking, video is the new medium, and I need to jump on the damn bus. So I did! I posted it to Instagram, we picked up our coffees, and made our way under a light drizzle to the car, Matilda asleep in the front pack and Celaya chatting away next to me.
When we got to our little Santa Fe, I unlocked the door, opened Celaya’s door for her, and reached into the front seat to put down my coffee before walking back around the car to maneuver my sleeping baby into her carseat. Both of my cupholders were already full, so instead of dealing with moving things around that second, I placed the full grande soy latte on the center console. (foreshadowing)
I then walked around to the driver’s side of the car and slowly and carefully began to unfold Matilda from the front pack. Meanwhile, Celaya, ever the bull in a china shop, begins clambering into her seat, unpacking her doll, taking her build-a-bear off her back, and then “OH NO!” She gasps and looks over at me.
It took one full second for it to register. My coffee. She had knocked my completely full coffee into the front of my car.
“Fuck!” I rushed around the car to the passenger side, Matilda now wide awake and crying, me hoping I might be able to somehow save something from spilling all over my car.
“Fuck!” The cup is empty. Completely empty now.
“Fuck!!” I keep saying, grabbing napkins from the glove box, from the floor, from anywhere I can find them. “Fuck!”
“It’s fucking everywhere!” And it was. It was fucking everywhere. It was in my cupholders, in my gear shift, on both front seats, everywhere.
“Fuck!” I’m mopping it up, sopping it up, grabbing baby wipes to wipe things down, tossing coffee drenched napkins and wipes over my shoulder, Matilda is still crying, rudely awakened by all my fucks.
“Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck!”
What is so interesting to me about this entire scenario, looking back now, is that I know, I know with absolute certainty and from deep within me that I knew exactly what I was doing. I needed to vent all my fucks. But I never yelled. I never yelled at Celaya. I never blamed her, shamed her, made her feel bad. I needed to express my frustration. But I wasn’t mad, not for a second. I understood it was an accident. And I understood what it would do to her little heart if I were to turn my frustration on her.
My clumsy, klutzy, wanderlust filled, dawdling five year old is innocent, sweet, kind, and incredibly sensitive. Turning my frustration on her would have crushed her spirit. And I knew that with every frustrated second.
And so as I settled Matilda into her seat, and she calmed down, having now cried herself out, and I got into the driver’s seat, I said, “I’m sorry I lost my shit Celaya.”
And she said “I’m sorry I spilled your coffee Mama. Now you don’t have a coffee.”
“Oh honey, it’s just a coffee.” I ordered up a new one at Starbucks on my mobile app, steered the car down the hill, and repeated, “It’s just coffee.”
“I was never frustrated about not having coffee. Coffee is replaceable. I was frustrated about the mess.”
I breathed, deeply.
“Coffee is replaceable. You are not replaceable. If something happened to you, I would be lost forever. Coffee is just coffee.”
I pulled up to the Starbucks and saw a woman about my age walking up to the door. I took a shot.
“Excuse me!” I yelled out of my rolled down window, pulling up to the red curb. “Can you do me a huuuuuuuuuuge favor?”
She walked over to my window, curious.
“I have two kids in the back and my daughter just spilled my full coffee all over my car. Could you grab my mobile order from the counter inside for me please?
“Of course!” She got my name, ran in and got it and came back out.
“Girl, I’m a mother. I know just how you feel. I’ve been there. Here you go.” And she handed me my coffee.
I thanked her, rolled up my window, and drove away.
And as I drove up the hill, heading out of Monterey, as Matilda fell asleep, as Celaya put on her headphones, I thought about how much has changed in my life. How much differently I face the world now than I did just a year ago. How angels seem to be on every corner and how every drama, big or small, is manageable.
And again, as with anytime I face a set back, something that delays me on a path, I think about how grateful I am for this exact path I am on, delays and all.
Every single time something like that happens, spilled coffee I have to clean up, forgotten purse up five flights of stairs, running into a friend on my way out of somewhere in such a hurry, I think about what tragedy I could have just missed. I think about a car running a red light that could have t boned me had I been in that intersection, had I not had to clean up coffee. I think about a speeding ticket I could have gotten had seeing a friend not reminded me to slow down. I think about a blown out tire from an object propelled from a vehicle in front of me had I not had to walk all the way back upstairs for my purse
Because we never know, and when we insist on things being just so, in just such a time, in just such a way, when we are guided by control and fear and insistence and resistance, yes, we may get our way, but at what cost?
So my trip to Monterey with my girls was a lesson in patience, another lesson (much needed) in letting go of fear, in trusting that the outcome I see, happy, healthy kids and a robust, joyful life full of paid writing and speaking engagements that allow my light to shine, that allow me to do the work of empowering and inspiring women around the world is mine for the taking.
I don’t have to figure anything out. I don’t have to worry about anything. I don’t have to control, to fear, to resist, to plan.
I just have to open myself up and follow my instincts.
This time, my instincts sent me, alone with my girls, to Monterey.
And I’m so glad they did.