This has been a great week in Jamaica.  We have been so busy!  I can’t say we relaxed much, but we had a great time.  My sore back and knees stand as reminders of all the fun we had.  As I prepared for this trip, I realized that we are a family of many fears.  Much of this is my fault as I have put many silly fears onto my children through my actions.  I regret it, and if I could do it again, I would present myself as fearless to them so they would not learn any fears from me.  However, since hindsight is 20/20, all I can do is move forward.  I made a decision a few years ago to start facing my fears.  On this trip, we faced several fears, and I am proud to say we survived.

Mr. Everything, being practically everything, has no fears.  Well, at least he hides them pretty well.  I know for a fact that he shutters at the thought of a snake, but he has never let the kids see that.  He is a bigger man than I am.  I taught my son an unreasonable, wild-eyed, crazy fear of snakes in a matter of one hour when he was four years old.  What can I say?  There was a snake in my closet, and it was striking at the craft supplies I was throwing at it!  Hmmm…that would be a good story to write for you some day.  You could laugh at my expense.

I want the record to reflect that I have actually touched a snake since then!  We were at the Animal Kingdom, and I touched the little sucker.  I even rubbed its belly, although I am quite sure it enjoyed it more than I did.  I was amazed with myself, because I didn’t pass out or anything.  The rest of my family did not even say, “Good job.”  I faced the stupid snake for my children, and they didn’t even acknowledge it.  Come to think of it, that pretty much sums up this trip for me, too.  In fact, why do I keep torturing myself by facing my fears when no one even cares?  Maybe I need counseling.

The first fear we faced on this trip was the fear of flying.  Now, I’m not afraid of flying.  In fact, I considered being a flight attendant once in the early 90’s.  Of course, then I realized my fat butt would not easily fit in the aisles.  I would’ve been knocking people out with my hips.  It wouldn’t have been pretty.

No, this fear was my child’s.  The Goose had decided she was afraid of flying.  I have no idea when that happened, and I have no idea why.  She had never flown before, so how did she know she was afraid?  (Okay.  Wait.  That’s not good logic.  I had never touched a snake before, so how did I know I was afraid?  I guess I won’t use that line on her anymore about her fears.  I hate it when overcome my own reasons.)  On this trip, though, she got on a plane, and she flew, twice!  She did great, and I was proud of her for not wetting her pants or anything.  (That could have been embarrassing for a tween.)

Friday, I went all gangster on my fears.  I knocked out two in one day.  The first fear I faced was the fear of birds.  I am terrified of birds.  Actually, more accurately, I am terrified of birds’ feet…and their beaks…and their feathers.  Okay.  I’m pretty much terrified of birds.  On Friday, I let a big ole’ parrot sit on my shoulder, and I didn’t die.  Then, I held it like a baby.  (I didn’t want its feet or beaks to touch my skin, but I did touch its feathers.  That counts for something, right??)  Then, we went in an aviary where we could feed lovebirds.  Two landed on my hands at once, and I didn’t pass out!  Thank goodness none landed on my head, or all bets would have been off.

No one told me what a good job I did by holding the birds.  No one seemed to realize that I didn’t even pass out.  When I pointed this out, the Goose informed me that I should be proud of her for holding the birds since she had an extreme fear of them.  Hmp.  I have photos of her in the lorikeet cage last fall.  Some fear.

The next fear I faced was the fear of being in water with something swimming around me.  Let me say that I am not afraid of dolphins.  Really, I’m not.  I’m just afraid of anything touching me in the water.  Why?  I have no idea.  It just really freaks me out.  To face this fear, I didn’t just get in a bathtub and free a goldfish in there with me.  Oh, but no.  I have to do things to the extreme (thus the “Not Average” in my name).  I got in a cove with a 100 pound mammal flipping and swimming around me.  Did you know that dolphins can kill sharks with a strike of their tail fins?  Yep.  They told us that right before we got in the water.

I swam with a dolphin!  I held on to the dolphin’s fins and let it pull me through the water.  Honest to goodness.  I did.  When I felt the tail fin bump me, I thought I was a goner, but I lived to tell the tale.  The dolphin kissed me.  I didn’t kiss it.  I was laughing too hard, and I don’t kiss on the first date.  It was an amazing experience, and I was so proud of myself for not screaming and running.  No one even said, “Atta girl.”  The man in our group who couldn’t swim was more proud of me than my own family.

On Saturday, since I was being all brave and all, I decided to go for it.  I had already been in the water with a vicious killer dolphin that could have taken me out in fatal blow.  I might as well snorkel.  Actually, I wasn’t going to snorkel, but the Goose asked me to.  She acted as though her happiness depended on me going out on the boat and getting in the water.  Wanting to make my baby happy on vacation, I went.  As I pushed off the side of the boat into the water, I reminded myself not to panic.  Thank goodness myself listened, because it could have been an ugly scene. 

At first, I had decided I just wouldn’t look in the water.  I would just swim until they told me I could get back in the boat.  Do you know how hard it is to swim with fins with your head up?  I kept getting my feet tangled.  I’m sure I looked like a flailing walrus in the water.  So, I decided I might as well look.  I held onto Mr. E the whole time, of course, because if I was going to die, I was taking him with me.  He kept pointing out fish to me, as though seeing those was going to make me enjoy snorkeling.  I thought I was doing fine, and I wondered why I had such a mental block against this.  The sand below us was beautiful, and the water was pleasant.  Then, he pulled me into the water over the reef.  I remembered why I freaked out.  There were things moving under me.  There were wormy looking things.  There were spiky looking things.  There were swimmy looking things.  (I really should have paid more attention in earth science so I would know the names of all these things.) 

Snorkeling wasn’t bad.  It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad.  I would much rather be in the boat than under it.  Now, however, I can say I did it.  When we got back to the shore, my family was so proud of me!  They all hugged me and kissed me and told me what a good mother I was for facing my fears.  (You believe that, right?)  Really, no one even acknowledged that I had been so brave!  The Goose, whose happiness depended on me being backside up in the water, didn’t even sit with me on the boat ride back.  I love my family.

I know you are wondering what fears the Beetle faced.  I’m not sure he faced any.  However, you should have seen the look on his face when we told him he had to get vaccinated before getting back to the states!  That was worth the price of admission.     -Al

I have learned so many things over the last few days in Jamaica.  It’s fun to visit a different country and learn more about their culture and customs.  I studied up today on the Jamaican national emblems and figures in history.  There was a Jamaican trivia game tonight, and I wanted to win.  I didn’t, but I wanted to.

I’ve also learned some things about my family during this last few days.  Some of these I knew and was just reminded of.  Some of these were major revelations that will forever change how I look at my children. (Okay.  Maybe it wasn’t that dramatic, but it sounded good, right?)

First on the list of things I learned is the fact that Mr. Everything will talk to anyone about weather or politics.  I had a sneaking suspicion that this was true, but now I have proof.  The man talked to five different people today about the weather.  I have heard, “It was 85 degrees when we left home and 87 degrees when we got here,” five times.  By the last time, I considered standing behind him and mouthing it while he said it.  I could have acted like a ventriloquist. 

Then, there were the political discussions.  You see, I will do anything to avoid a conversation on politics.  I don’t care who you voted for, and I don’t care what you think about who I voted for.  I guess that’s because I know I can’t change your mind, and I am quite positive that you won’t change mine, so why waste the time discussing it?  I only have 24 hours a day, and I need just about all of them to do what I have to do.  Time is too precious to spend it talking about something I can’t change your mind about.  Mr. E sees it differently, though.  Honestly, I can’t tell you how he sees it.  All I know is that if you want a political discussion, he’s in, and it’s not even that he is all that political.  I think he just likes to talk about it.  He has now had political discussions with, count them, three citizens of Jamaica who know absolutely nothing about American politics.  Mr. Everything was thrilled because he found people who didn’t know anything and wanted to hear what he had to say on the subject.  For each conversation, I just rolled my eyes and walked away.  I couldn’t listen to it again.  It was too painful.

The next thing is something I learned what about myself.  I learned that a resort in not how I should vacation.  There is too much to do.  With a daily schedule that has 50 things or more on the list, how am I supposed to relax?  I have asked Mr. E what time it was at least 40 times today.  I didn’t want to miss that demonstration on underwater basket weaving, you know!  In order to relax, I really, really need to be dropped off on a deserted island with no technology and no clocks.  Then, maybe, just maybe, I would relax.  However, it wouldn’t last long unless I was placed under a good umbrella, because I am very pale and freckled.  I would be burned in a matter of minutes, and then I wouldn’t be able to relax because of the pain.

I learned that the Beetle does not need vacation at all.  The kid always says he doesn’t care what we do.  He doesn’t care where we go.  He just doesn’t care.  When we are out and about, he just wants to go home.  I have discovered that the same is true on vacation.  He really doesn’t care about all this activity.  He doesn’t want to swim.  He doesn’t care if he goes snorkeling or to the beach.  He doesn’t even care about the X-Box game room.  He just wants to be in the room, on the couch, watching TV.  If I throw some food at him every few hours, he doesn’t even have to get up unless he has to go to the bathroom.  I told him I was so glad we flew all this way for him to sit inside and watch the same shows he could watch at home.  He said, “Yup.”

The last thing I learned was about the Goose.  This could be the most valuable tidbit of all, and this is one that may forever change my homeschooling techniques.  I have discovered that the child will do anything, and I do mean anything, for points.  The resort has a point system that allows you to earn points for participating in activities.  What do the points get us?  We really don’t know.  We just know that if you have 150 or more points, you get something.  Before we heard about the points, the Goose did not want to participate in anything.  Then, after the points were announced, the child has done everything.

Yesterday, the Goose participated in Soca lessons.  What is Soca, you ask?  Well, it’s a form of Jamaican dance.  Picture the most African tribe inspired modern dance you can imagine, and you’ve got Soca.  Picture this.  Here is my little Goose on the stage with Jamaican employees (because no other guests cared enough about the points to participate).  They are showing her this dance and practicing with her.  I should mention her that the Goose comes from two parents who are rhythmically challenged.  I don’t dance.  It’s not that I think it’s wrong to dance.  I just know it’s very wrong for ME to dance.  Mr. Everything has even less rhythm than I do.  He can’t even clap along to a beat.  Honestly.  He’ll try, and the kids and I will grab his hands and lower them before he embarrasses himself, or, more importantly, us.

So, here is the Goose, on the stage, surrounded by Jamaican dancers.  She tried.  She really did.  The fact that I was laughing hysterically probably did not help her confidence level.  The lesson went on for 30 minutes, and the child stayed on the stage.  I was so impressed that she followed through with it just to get the points for a valuable prize (I’m picturing the leg lamp from A Christmas Story here, but I don’t think her prize will even be that good).  I’m pretty sure when we start back to school, there will be points involved. I can get her to do all kinds of stuff just for points!  Who knew?

The other thing I learned about the Goose is that the child is fearless.  I wouldn’t have gotten on that stage to begin with.  Then, once I saw what they were doing, I would have been out of there.  Not my child; she stood up there and did her best.  Then, today, when they announced that we could earn points for doing a reggae dance class, the Goose got up there again!  And today’s lesson was even worse than yesterday’s.  I stand amazed at her bravery.  I hope to be more like her when I grow up.   -Al

In Jamaica, there are so many beautiful sights.  The mountains are green and plush.  The cliffs above the water are amazing.  The crystal clear water is breath-taking.  The sky is blue with just a whisper of clouds.  The palm trees are swaying gently in the breeze.  It is truly a beautiful place.

We have seen much beauty today and have enjoyed every minute of it.  I realized, though, that I’ve also seen some sights that I never asked for.  And because I know how my brain works, these are the images that will forever be in my memory.

These are the top things I wish I had not seen today in Jamaica:

I was quite unnerved by the sight of my eleven year old as she bellied up to the bar.  That’s something I never expected to see.  You see, here they have a swim up bar, in the pool.  (Duh.  I guess “in the pool” would be the “swim up” part of that last sentence.)  Guests can sit on stools in the water at the bar and enjoy a drink.  The bar is open to adults and kids alike, and thank goodness, they do offer non-alcoholic drinks.  The Goose is taking the whole “all-inclusive” thing literally, and she has made it her mission to enjoy as many “free” drinks as possible.  I don’t even want to know how many fruit punch mixed with pineapple juice concoctions she has had today. I’m pretty sure she’s had enough calories and carbs to carry her into sometime next year.  All I know is, every time I looked across the pool, I would find my daughter there at the bar, talking to the bartender.  They were on a first name basis by noon.  She seems to have a little drinking problem, and we may have to have an intervention soon.

Another site I really did not need to see was the 80 year old woman in a bikini and with her hair fully braided.  She rattled when she walked by, and I was hoping it was the beads in her hair hitting each other and not her hip replacement going bad.  She looked like she was one day in the sun short of a leather jacket, but she was happy.  That might have been from the “free” drinks at the swim up bar.

The next one does not really qualify for my list since it was a sound and not a sight.  However, I think it’s worth a shout out.  Something I did not need to hear was one staff member singing in the talent show.  Now, let me start by saying that many of the staff members who performed were very talented.  They had beautiful voices.  Some could dance, and some could act.  It was great.  However, this poor girl really needed a girlfriend to have a talk with her.  Her voice was like the sound I would imagine a water buffalo makes as it is giving birth….to twins.  It was bad.  I looked around at the audience, and mothers were trying to maintain an encouraging look on their faces.  The fathers had resorted to looking into their “free” alcoholic beverage glasses longingly as if they would find solace there.  The children were either laughing or holding their ears.  The Goose began to snicker, and I reminded her that I was pretty sure that would be how I sounded if I stood up there to sing.  I also made her promise she would tell me if I ever tried to sing and sounded like that.  She gave me a look as if to say it had already happened.  That could be why I wasn’t asked to sing at the church holiday party this year.

Another disturbing sight I witnessed today was my rear-view as I walked on the treadmill.  Now, one mirror in front of me is bad enough.  I don’t want to watch my face become increasingly red and sweaty as I work out.  However, a mirror behind me is just plain cruel.  I could see my butt and legs in the mirror behind me by looking in the mirror in front of me.  Thus, it created that never-ending image where I could see my front looking at my back looking at my front looking at my back in the mirror.  Why, oh why???  I shiver at the mental image.  Be glad you weren’t there.

My final observation today was one that will forever be seared into my mind.  Unfortunately, my children witnessed it to.  Couple this one with the old woman taking her shirt off that we saw yesterday, and you’ve got yourself in counseling for a two years and three months.  We saw a family changing clothes at the water park.  I’m not kidding, and I’m not talking about just the kids.  First, the five year old girl stripped naked and walked around.  My kids found that funny, but they weren’t traumatized.  She was a little old to be doing that, but it wasn’t out of the question.  Next, however, came the 12 year old boy.  I kid you not.  This kid held up a towel and took off his Speedo.  His father kept trying to take the towel from him as the kid was frantically trying to change.  The dad was totally oblivious to the fact that the boy was not handing him the towel but was trying to make a curtain for himself.  Meanwhile, my kids were howling with laughter, and Mr. Everything was not helping the situation.  The mother of the family then changed her shirt.  Thank goodness, she was wearing a bra or a bikini top underneath, so it wasn’t too bad.  The father didn’t change, but he was only wearing a Speedo to begin with.  It was like an hour of changing for him, as every time he moved, we saw more than we paid for.  My kids are certainly not the most tactful people.  I’m going to blame that on their father.  They did not care that the Al Fresco family knew they were laughing at them.  I guess that serves the family right for putting on their own version of a talent show right there in the water park.

So, all in all, it has been an eventful day.  I’m ready for bed now, but I’m afraid to close my eyes.  I think I know what images I will see when I do, and I think I’m in for a rough night.     -Al

The Red Hat and The Ugly Flowers
One thing I didn’t mention in part one of my story was the crying.  I thought I would save that for later.

Oh, the crying.  You see, this was the Goose’s first airplane ride, and she was convinced that she had a fear of flying.  Why?  Who knows?  She probably saw it on a Disney show.  Whatever the source, she now had a self-imposed fear, and real or not, it was extreme. 

Yesterday, we tried to check in 24 hours ahead of time online to get our seat assignments.  That’s what you have to do now.  You have to log in 24 hours (exactly!) in advance and pick your seats.  So, we logged in yesterday right on time, and there were precisely three remaining seats on the plane available, unless we wanted to pay $18 per seat.  Since there were four of us flying, we were pretty sure this was just a scheme to get us to pay extra, so we decided to wait until we reached the airport to get seats and to let the chips (or more precisely, our butts) fall where they may.   We showed up at the airport without assigned seats, hoping to beg the gate agent to have mercy on our souls.

I had prepared the Goose ahead of time.  I told her just to imagine herself sitting between two strangers on the flight.  That way, if it worked out as such, she wouldn’t be so freaked out.  When we reached the airport, the Beetle and I joked about who we would end up sitting between.  He picked out a very large man with a beer belly and an old woman with big hair.  I chose a woman wearing a red hat who was carrying an ugly pack of flowers and a man with a beard and tank top.  I also threw in that I would be on the last row in the seats where you can’t lean your seat back and everyone bumps you on the way to the bathroom.  The Goose said she was okay, no matter where she ended up sitting.  That was until we checked in.

At check-in, we were given four seats near each other but not beside each other.  They were all four aisle seats, so I was relieved.  At least we would not have to be wedged between two other people.  Two of the aisle seats would be across from each other, so someone could hold the Goose’s hand across the aisle.  (The Mister and I would have to draw straws to see who that would be.)  I told her what good news this was that at least one of us would be across from her, and she burst into tears.  She was totally freaking out about having to sit by someone she did not know.  I reminded her of our discussions about this very thing, but she would not be consoled.  I reminded her that we did not cry over things we couldn’t control, but she rejected my stance on the subject.  The man at the baggage area said to talk to the gate agent and that maybe he or she could help.

This all happened while Mr. E was driving back to the hotel and parking the suburban.  He joined us, and we went through security where we were forever scarred by the poor old lady taking her shirt off.

I told the Goose to keep the tears coming as we got closer to the gate.  I told her the gate agent might just buy how sweet and innocent she looked with her swollen little eyes and puffy nose.  The child is a dramatic genius, I tell you.  She looked so pitiful by the time we reached the gate that I almost bought the act.

We got to the gate, and the agent took one look at us and called us by name.  He must have heard we were coming.  He said he had four seats all together ready for us.  Bless his pea-pickin’ heart.  I silently took a vote at that very moment about who would get the seat between the kids and who would take the aisle seat by the strangers.  It was a unanimous vote that the Mister got the middle.  When he protested, I told him he should have voted.

We boarded the flight and found out seats in, you guessed it, row 30, the last row on the plane.  The Goose, Mr. E and the Beetle all sat together.  I sat across from them beside the lady with the red hat and the ugly flowers.  I called that one correctly!

We landed and went on to have lunch and wait at the gate for our next leg of the trip to Jamaica.  We had a long layover, but it went by quickly, what with buying the $50 lunch and the $20 milkshakes. 

At the gate, I told the Goose to turn on the tears again as we approached the gate agent.  She was amazing with her quivering chin.  I really need to get that kid into acting.  We were given seats together, with the Beetle, Mr. E and the Goose on one side of the aisle and me on the other side in an aisle seat.  We were, of course, in aisle 30.  This time, God was smiling down on us.  No one was seated beside me, so the Goose moved to the window seat on my side of the plane.  Both little darlings got a window seat and all was right with the world.

Then, I heard the words I so longed to hear, “Welcome to Jamaica, mon.”  Oh, wait, that was just the Beetle saying that phrase for the hundredth time of the day, in his fake Jamaican accent, just to make the Goose squeal.  As I was writing this story, I was still on the plane, but I knew I would be in Jamaica soon to start the trip of a lifetime.  I wasn’t sure what the trip would hold, but I knew for sure that it would be anything but average.    –Al

What we had was a failure to communicate.  It all started last night when we checked into the hotel near the airport.  I had been saying all day that the shuttle to the airport ran every half hour.  Then, Mr. Everything checked us in and came back to the car.  I could have sworn he said the shuttle ran every half hour.  He says he didn’t.  Who knows who’s right?  (I do, but I won’t push the issue.) 

As we were figuring out last night what time we should get up, we planned to leave at 7:00 AM.  I asked why we needed to leave so early when we were 5 minutes away from the airport, but he said we did.  He’s always right, so I just went with it.  Then, this morning, we measured out luggage to see what would have to be checked.  (I know, you’re wondering why we didn’t do this before we left home, but that’s just how we roll.)  Once we realized that my suitcase couldn’t go as a carry-on because of one fateful inch, we had to reconfigure how everything was packed.  We had to put some of the Mister’s clothes in my bag and some in his carry-on and the same with mine.  That way, if my bag went to Peru instead of Jamaica, at least I wouldn’t have to go naked.  NOBODY wants to see that, I can assure you.

So, all this took time, but I didn’t panic.  I knew that if we missed the 7:00 shuttle, we would be just fine with the 7:30.  We went down to get breakfast, and the 7:00 shuttle was just pulling out of the parking lot.  Mr. E said, “There goes our shuttle.”  I told him that we had no worries because we always could fall back on the 7:30.  He said he didn’t think there was a 7:30.  Um.  What??  I said of course there was a 7:30, and he said he didn’t think so.  I’m not sure why he did not share this little nugget of knowledge with me an hour earlier.  Maybe he did; I don’t know, but I didn’t hear him.  We went to the front desk and asked if there was a 7:30 shuttle.  The man behind the desk said the shuttle only ran hourly.  I wanted to know what kind of retarded system that was, but I decided to refrain from asking. 

So, here we were, in the lobby at 7:00, when we should have been on the shuttle.  For many couples, that would be the end of their day and maybe even the vacation.  At the very least, mom and dad would have an angry exchange and play the blame game.  But, that’s not how the Not-So-Average Family operates.  Instead, Mr. E (being the wonderful man he is) did not blame me or fuss at me.  He just said, “Okay?  Now what?”  My response, because this is always my response, was, “It is what it is.”  I find that this is a phrase that fits every situation in life.  You should try saying it.  It will make you feel better.  Without arguing or even exchanging dirty looks, we decided we would get breakfast quickly.  Then, Mr. E would drive us over to the airport and drop us off.  We would get the luggage checked in while he drove back to the hotel, parked the car and caught the 8:00 shuttle.  So, we shifted into action and prodded the kids along.  The Beetle, being the Beetle, didn’t eat anything.  You see, just about everything was touching fruit, near fruit or involving fruit.  The only things that did not have fruit were mushy, gooey or not what he liked.  So, he had a cup of milk.  Hmm…That will help a growing boy to sustain life.  The Goose ate a little, and we kept telling her to hurry up.  That poor child’s entire life consists of us telling her to hurry up.  She has got to be the slowest moving child ever.

After our delicious and nutritious breakfast, we threw the luggage into the suburban and drove to the airport.  I prayed the entire way.  I was not sure Mr. E’s happy attitude and grace toward me would last if we missed the flight.  He’s only close to and not quite perfect, you see.  Our plan went off without a hitch (Praise the Lord!).  We got checked in and waited for Mr. Everything.  He arrived quickly, and we went to security. 

At security, the lines were not bad (again, Thanks God!).  The passengers moved with a glazed look as they went through the X-Ray machines.  This poor old lady had to be patted down because she had a knee brace.  Bless her heart, as they asked her to step to the side so they could check her, she began taking off her shirt.  Talk about being compliant!  They quickly told her that would not be necessary, but not before both kids were exposed to her wrinkles.  The Goose is still having a shiver down her spine every time she thinks about what she saw, and I’m pretty sure the Beetle will not want to see a naked woman again for a very long time.

We made it to the plane and got checked in.  Our wait was not long, and we were on our way to Miami for the next leg of our trip.     -Al