I love my husband.
You won’t find a better human walking this earth. But homeboy is one lucky son of a biscuit that my love language isn’t gifts.
In our 15 years together, he’s gifted me on various birthdays, anniversaries, Christmases and Valentine’s Days with such treasures as a rubber ducky from his school bookstore, long underwear (a few times), a mini muffin pan and, most recently, Microsoft Office. Now that’s not to say he hasn’t had some real winners in there, too. He has. But none sexier than Excel. I mean … you guys, merging cells, sorting, formulas …
And here I am giving him lemons like this:
“Why didn’t he just say it out loud?” a coworker and mutual friend asked.
“You should always say things like that out loud. ‘I got my wife Microsoft Office for her birthday.’ I feel like he would have done things differently.”
Every holiday is caked in suspense. What will he come up with next, I wonder. He’s a thinker, my husband, and he lives in a literal world. It’s part of what I love about him.
So, this year, on Christmas morning, when he excitedly handed me a small cardboard box and told the girls Mama was going to open “the one,” I immediately started running through the possibilities in my head. An attachment for the Kitchenaid? A bug net? A set of encyclopedias? No. It was a foam airplane. Taped to the bottom of the box was a picture of me and my friend, Nissa.
“Oh, is Nissa coming here?” I asked.
“No, you’re going there.”
“But, I’ve never flown by myself …”
“It’s a direct flight. Really easy.”
“But … oh my gosh!”
“Well, I asked the girls what we should get you and JoJo said, ‘Mom needs a break,’ so we decided to send you away for a weekend.”
Does this make my child incredibly observant and sensitive to others, or has all of my bitching and yelling over her seven years of life resulted in her recognizing my borderline psycho personality, thus prompting her to suggest shipping me off? I’m still not sure.
I immediately picked up my phone. I wasn’t sure if the time was different in Florida. I wasn’t thinking clearly.
“I’m coming to Florida!” I messaged.
“I know! Are you excited?!” Nissa replied.
“Yeah! I just can’t believe it!”
I thought I’d seen every play in Hank’s playbook, but this was entirely unexpected. One of my resolutions was “less things and more experiences,” so my old man’s yuletide treat was right on time. But I was admittedly nervous.
“Your mom and brother told me you’d hate it.” Hank said.
“Yeah. They said you’d feel guilty and hate the travel.”
“Oh, gosh, no I love it.”
How does a woman go 34 years without taking one of the most popular forms of long-distance transportation alone, you ask? I don’t know. I mean, I’ve just always had someone with me. And I prefer it that way. You might recall I have special eyes, so navigating the unfamiliar can be tricky. I also have another disorder I don’t talk about much. Chickenshitosis. I’m often frightened by things that are generally completely harmless and part of being a grownup.
The weeks passed quickly, as all weeks do after your third child, and soon I was packing my carry on for my long weekend in Tampa.
A bit about Nissa. I know this pretty gal from the Sunshine State through my previous employer. After my first day on the job, I went home and told my husband that there was a girl about my age, but I didn’t think she was necessarily interested in making friends. Turned out, she was just monotoned! We grew close as crossed eyes pretty quickly. She was the graphic designer. I was the copywriter. We pitched a blog and then spent months taking trips where we found creative ways to expense food crawls around New York City (“It’s what our target demographic would do!”) and attending conferences with castmates from Laguna Beach and the likes of Rachel Zoe.
After about four years collaborating during work hours and bonding over Bachelor finales in our free time, Nissa told me she was moving back to her home state. I hated Florida for a hot second. She came in for a visit shortly after I had Sloppy Joan, but that was it,aside from emails and SnapChats, for years. In fact, she had a whole child in the time that passed since our last meeting. She became a mommy. And has another on the way.
The most important thing to know about Nissa is she loves food. This Scandanavian can throw down on some grub, lemme tell ya. If I had to pick someone to plan my last meal on this planet, and I got absolutely no say in it, I would pick Nissa. She’s the girl who knows which restaurant specializes in sardines three ways and which one makes pasta strictly from the hair of angels, and so on. I’ve gone on at least six trips with her that I can think of off the top of my head, and she picked the restaurants we dined at in every single city. She never misses. She started sending links to restaurants about 3 weeks out. I couldn’t wait.
I arrived in Tampa without incident Friday afternoon. It’s always so surreal when you set eyes on someone you haven’t seen in awhile. Like your pupils have to adjust to their familiar face. Not surprisingly, she told me we were heading to South Tampa for tacos and margaritas (just for me, because, you know … bun, oven) at bartaco.
“Do you want to sit outside?”
“Yes!” Always yes. I had left 32-degree days behind me and I wasn’t about to stare at the sun through a window.
We got some magical combination that included spicy cucumbers, a special slaw, 6 tacos, 2 tamales and guac with giant tortilla chips. I also treated myself to a pomegranate margarita. While we dined al fresco, catching up and reveling in the fact we were sitting across from each other, my sweet friend informed me she was waiting to hear if she got a new house. She did. We found out around the time we polished off the guacamole.
This was cause for celebration! (Not that we needed cause.)
We left lunch and hit two sweet spots in less than an hour. Don’t show up if you can’t keep up, OK? There was an adorable new gourmet ice pop shoppe across the street, The Hyppo. Prego went for salted chocolate and I picked up an avocado coconut option that belonged in my belly. It was heavenly. I swallowed it entirely within 3 minutes. My popsicle partner, however, was multitasking. I watched, amused, as she held hers in her mouth and texted her mortgage broker. It would melt and drip. She’d curse. Then she’d put it back in her mouth to send a new text and the insanity would repeat. Don’t waste it! Was what felt right to say at the time.
Next stop? Sprinkles … but these were for later. We aren’t wild animals! We opted for Dark Chocolate Banana for Nissa, Maple Bacon for her hubs, and a Chocolate Marshmallow for me. It was 70-something degrees and times were good.
We stopped by her new digs for some proper surveillance of the situation. The house was beautiful. One thing I find amazing about Florida architecture is how much it differs from house to house. You’ve got your beach bungalows, you’ve got your Spanish colonial revivals, you’ve got your modern mansions, you’ve got your Georgian-style homes. Dare I say I even saw Tudors! It’s all just hangin’ out … mingling. I mean, I like it. There aren’t pockets necessarily. It’s just a giant junk drawer of kickass houses.
Just when I couldn’t take the waiting anymore, we went to pick up Nissa’s little girl. She was cuter in person than in the 9 trillion SnapChats I’d seen her in before that day. There’s a magic in seeing a friend as a mom for the first time. It’s like all of the sudden you feel this energy of shared struggles and consuming love for your little nuggets. And it’s beautiful. Nissa used to stay at our house occasionally and JoJo always wanted to sleep with her. She would play with the girls and dance with the girls. She threw me a baby shower when Spike was on her way. She was an honorary aunt made of all the best stuff. So seeing her here, now, with this towheaded toddler made my heart swell.
Saturday morning brought breakfast and nail painting. I slapped some polish on my new little friend’s tiny fingers and took her on laps around the pool so they could dry in the sun. The funny thing about people who live in Florida, is they forget how delightful the sun is. As soon as it appeared, I was like a poodle at the back door. I couldn’t wait to get to it. The warmth on my skin was like sloppy angel kisses. I turned my face toward the glow and soaked in the soothing heat with my new petite sweetheart.
Nissa and her husband Alexis have a boat (name TBD). Their neighborhood connects to a channel so getting to the bay is a breeze. Right before we left their house to ship out, at the very last minute, I decided to throw my bathing suit on, just in case. Nissa packed up some Trader Joe’s truffle cheese and beverages and we made our way out onto the brilliant blue water.
Now, I’m from lake country. We have our boats tied to docks and we take those boats out for a couple of counter clockwise laps around the modestly sized body of water a few times before we tie the boat back up to the dock. When your boat goes into water that feeds into an ocean, there are no laps. We could have sped across the surface forever. We parked for a bit in the bay and broke out the snacks. I had a beer and a glass of wine, while the little one stuffed handfuls of truffle cheese into her mouth. Seagulls came. They told their friends and more seagulls came. I started to feel a twinge of pee moving in.
There were two pregnant women on the boat – Alexis’s sister and husband came along – so I figured it was only a matter of time before someone had to relieve themselves and I could see how it was done here. But no one said a word. We decided to cruise some more. As the shoreline got farther and farther away, my bladder started to scream. We hit bumps, I squeezed every muscle from the waist down. We turned, I clenched. As soon as the deafening noise of the motor went to a whisper, I mouthed to Nissa that I was moments from pissing myself.
“Oh no!” she offered. “Alexis, we have to pull over!”
But we couldn’t just pull over. We were right next to a bridge that was also a highway. And boats were coming up quickly behind us.
For 15 additional agonizing minutes, as we coasted to calmer waters, I battled the urge to just succumb and turn on the faucet. As soon as we reached the canal, I knew the hour was upon me. I darted to the rear end of the boat – nearly taking out Nissa’s pregnant sister-in-law – put my feet on the ladder off the back and let my butt kiss the water’s surface. There, in the Tampa bay, in front of million dollar condos, a pair of people I’d met only hours before, a boat full of old fishermen and my sweet host family, I proceeded to pee for no less than 10 straight minutes. All I could think was A) This would be mortifying if it didn’t feel so damn good, and B) Thank God I put my suit on. No one knew where to look. It was the best of times and the worst of times.
We got home in time to get cleaned up for our lady date. We were putting on makeup and we were going to eat somewhere fancy. We went to edison in South Tampa. If I could actually describe the pork belly BLT appetizer and peanut butter dessert we had there and come even close to doing it justice, I would. But I can’t. You’d just have to taste them. Aside from the bomb ass dinner, we did get a show as well. I don’t know what it was about the table behind us, but it was just full of characters. First up … a couple who was beyond interested in my Korean Chicken and Waffles entree.
“Oh, look at that … she got the chicken and waffles.” the woman said, less than one foot away from me.
“Oh man, that does look amazing,” her partner added for good measure.
“Is that a sauce on there? That’s a sauce on there.”
“It looks so interesting. I bet it’s good.”
“What kind of sauce do you think that is, hon? A sweet sauce? A spicy sauce? I wonder …”
“I don’t know, hon! Sure looks wonderful.”
This went on for a few minutes until I finally turned around, smiled, and said, “I know, I’m pretty excited about it, too.” And they felt satisfied.
At some point, this duo parted and a new pair entered the scene. I don’t know what sparked their argument (I thought I heard him say “sister”?) but the newcomers behind us got into the biggest, ugliest, most brutal fight. She tried to get up and leave, he convinced her to stay and what followed was the most tense series of photobombs in history. (See examples below).
It was a treat sitting in a restaurant, out of our sweatpants, catching up about her trip to Italy, our marriages and our goals. I text and email Nissa regularly, but nothing can replace the lost art of face-to-face chatting with a great girlfriend. It was one of my favorite parts of the trip.
Sunday funday! We went to Ulele in downtown Tampa. Because we are about eating all of the things, I will tell you that I had a beet and pear salad with whipped goat cheese that changed something in my mouth permanently. I then murdered two lobster rolls and polished it all off with maple and bacon ice cream that was coated in cornflakes. If you’re thinking, “That sounds good,” you would be damn right. It was. It all was.
We left to take little Miss to the splash pad next door to the restaurant. The water was straight-from-the-hose cold, and homegirl wasn’t feelin’ it. The sun was relentless, beating down on my reflector-white forearms. I knew I was burning, but I just didn’t care. We took the long way home, down Bayshore Dr., and I enjoyed my zen-like vacation high.
Even more so than deciding who gets to square dance with Ryan Reynolds, the truest test of friendship is whether your girlfriend is willing to get up at 5:20 in the morning and take you to the airport. Mine was, and she did. It was dark and chilly and, knowing my flight anxiety, she even offered to come in and usher me to the right line. “No, Mom, I should be able to figure it out.” I felt turdy for being so scared to get to my gate.
We hugged. Twice. And I felt some hot tears tapping on the back of my broken eyes. Time for takeoff.
I had been reading “Becoming Odyssa: Adventures on the Appalachian Trail” for the first part of my trip, but decided to switch to “The Universe Has Your Back” by Gabrielle Bernstein for the flight back. I read almost the entire thing, which, let’s be real, when was the last time you ever sat down and just read an entire book, cover to cover? “I can’t remember,” said every mom ever.
The premise of the book, and I’m paraphrasing here, is that ultimately you get back what you put out into the universe. If you look at the universe as your teacher rather than this thing you want to control, but can’t, you’ll be in much better shape when it comes to facing fear and uncertainty. I found it incredibly timely considering my current Facebook feed. Come at things from a place of love, not fear, and you will see change in your life, and in the climate around you. It was a really good read. I’ll get into it more down the road maybe. The ironic part was I was trying so hard to zen out and get into the Spirit Junkie vibes, but the woman in the middle seat was breathing her morningness all over me. It was a difficult mental exercise.
I landed and got my luggage without incident. Hello, world! I am a grownup now! On the way home, I stopped at the grocery to pick up a few things and smirked at how naturally we fall back into our roles. I stepped off the plane and right back into my mom jeans … I mean Toms … I mean … something cool that moms wear.
I have to say thank you to Hank and JoJo for treating me to this mini break. Thank you, sweet girl, for recognizing that I am human and that I work hard. Thank you, Hank, for showing our chicks what a supportive spouse really looks like. I can only hope they end up with a partner as exceptional and practically perfect as mine.
Wheels up! (That’s something people who fly a lot say.)