Bimini, Bahamas, February 2022

I believe in dreams.

It’s been a year, almost exactly, since I wrote about my hysterectomy here and here. In retrospect, this was the start of a downward emotional spiral. For a long time afterwards, I was not really “fine.” Children have been a real and long-standing dream of mine my entire life. From playing with baby dolls to teaching classrooms full of kids to serving as a volunteer for them to finally holding my own sweet baby girls, I’ve never felt truly confident or comfortable or accepted as I do around children. The surgery left me heartbroken, and it left me scurrying to build (more) walls.

By the time December and January rolled around, I’d lost a part of me. I wasn’t the same: although I’d mostly stopped years ago, a tiny part of me stubbornly persisted in dreaming, anyway, but this past year hit hard and I didn’t really believe in dreams much anymore. Until the Winter came. Winter is, hands down, my favorite season. I love everything about it: the snow, the cold, the fireplace, the rushing around, the tree… and, mostly, the birthdays.

Alight’s birthday is first, 21 days after Christmas, my niece’s is 5 days after Alight’s, and Breathe’s is 3 weeks later. It is a flurry of excitement, a flurry of busy. And I love it. It makes me come alive. See, birthdays matter.

Every breathing soul was created by God in His image. Given that no two people are identical, and each is made in God’s image, that means every person I encounter has the potential to reveal a part of God’s character that I cannot learn or see anywhere else.

Birthdays celebrate you, and the potential that only you have. Birthdays matter.

As such, it was important that we celebrate the girls’ birthdays in memorable, meaningful ways they would not soon forget. Alight wanted to visit a theme park with thrilling rides, Alissia (my niece) wanted to go to a water park. So we packed up, flew to Orlando for a week, traversing between Sea World and Aquatica.

Alight @ SeaWorld, January 2022

It was a beautiful trip. Alissia saw the ocean for the first time, Alight loved a few of the coasters and Breathe rode a few with her, and got to see the ocean again. Alight has so much fire in her, such a zest for life and for living each moment too its fullest. She has taught me so much about bravery and courage and cherishing traditions and making new ones. I’ve spent weeks looking at all the pictures we took on the trip, feeling thankful for all the memories she’s inspired us to make. Alight helps me see the possibilities in tomorrow and keeps me pressing on for something more than what I have. Dreaming is “a cherished aspiration, ambition or ideal,” (Merriam-Webster). It’s not hard to imagine as possible what you otherwise think is unthinkable. She sparks a light in anyone she’s around.

Alight, Cocoa Beach, FL , January 2022

Surfing is a perfect example of Alight’s strength, courage and spark for life. While she enjoys looking at the ocean, she is fearful of sharks. This fear is pretty serious; it’s not something she takes lightly. Getting in the ocean causes some anxiety and uncertainty for her; she’s always on the lookout. Yet, despite her fear, she does it abreast because the opportunity to create new memories is more important. She loves surfing, even if, in order to do it, she has to face a fear.

Alight is my hero and, in many ways, the kind of person I’ve always dreamed of being: bold and fearless. Watching her charge into the ocean to surf, knowing the waters hold sharks, and watching her take on Manta, a coaster that has you on your belly as you flip flop in the air at purely ridiculous speeds, makes my heart happy because it makes her happy.

My niece, Alissia, is a ball of energy and sweetness. Her dream was the water park, so we spent her day traversing Aquatica for her 6th birthday. It’s hard not to smile when Alissia is near because she sees the best in every situation. It was a lot of firsts for her: first plane ride, first time seeing the ocean. She handled it all with envious aplomb. I’ve shared a love of Winnie the Pooh with her for years: she calls me Pooh, I call her little Roo. She loves dolphins, being tickled, playing Mario and Barbie dolls and Bluey. She also loves the water. Being able to celebrate her birthday with her was also about dreaming and holding onto them as long as we can.

Alissia, Cocoa Beach, Jan. 2022

I came home from the Florida trip refreshed and happy; memories created, time missed caught up. The day before we left Florida, I booked flights for our next trip, which we’d take for Breathe’s 18th birthday: Bahamas.

Chronicling that trip because-how often does one get to go to the Bahamas? It was a special trip for the girls. Breathe was nervous about turning 18; she was afraid of the day. The pressures that come with growing up are a lot—colleges, what to become, so many things to think about. The happiest I’ve ever seen Breathe was when we went to Santa Monica the first time, three years ago. Her happy place is the ocean. So, to celebrate this milestone for her, I wanted her to be somewhere special, somewhere that would make her happy. The ocean was the best place — not just to see it, but to be surrounded by it.

Breathe, Santa Monica, CA, May 2019

So, booked the first ever cruise on Carnival’s Liberty ship—because that was the ship going to the Bahamas over the exact dates of her birthday. When the girls heard Bahamas was booked, excitement took over. Research commenced. Tickets were bought for excursions. New swimsuits were bought. Actual birthday presents were purchased and packed.

The ship departed Cape Carnaveal the day before Breathe‘a birthday. On our first night, we are in the dining room, where we were introduced to our serving team. The three of them made our entire trip very special: they were funny, They were thoughtful and they were kind. We explored the hot tub and took lots of pictures. Our favorite part of the trip, though, was the next day: Breathe’s 18th birthday. It was also our first port of call: Princess Ceys, which was also where all of the excursions were booked. The busy day started with hugs and gifts for Breathe, then onto land we went via a ferry. As a pro-tip: if you ever plan to go to Bahamas, make very sure you purchase extra sun screen -before- getting on the ship. The ship didn’t sell it. Princess Ceys was out of it – none to be brought anywhere on the island. I ended up going around to random moms every couple of hours asking if we could borrow some. #momfail.

Breathe & Alight, Princess Ceys, Feb. 23, 2022

The weather was gorgeous: 70 degrees and sunny; the water was perfect. Our first excursion was the one Breathe was most excited about: swimming with the stingrays. I was so happy we could do this, and so proud of Alight, because she doesn’t really enjoy being in the water with wild animals or touching them. But she did it for Breathe. There were 10 stingrays, and it was so much more than just swimming with them! We were able to snorkel with the rays for awhile, then we stood in a circle with the two guides, who treated the rays like pets. We fed them, we held them, they took silly pictures of us with them.

Stingray excursion, Princess Ceys, Bahamas, 2022. We ended up purchasing about $100 worth of pictures!

Alight, stingrays, Princess Ceys, Bahamas, 2/23/22

After the stingrays, we had a little time to enjoy the ocean. We found a spot that was not crowded and waded in. The water was crystal clear, there were not many people near us and we lounged around until it was time for lunch. Walking along the island, listening to the live band playing the island music, was fun. Birthdays are meant to be savored and we soaked up every moment on Princess Ceys. Our last excursion was snorkeling; the underwater reefs were so colorful and beautiful. Alight enjoyed this more than I thought she would, given we were in the middle of the ocean. Later, once back on the ship, we went to dinner where our wait team sang to Breathe, before the final treat came on the form of her first professional massage.

Breathe felt special and happy on her day—but not as happy or lucky as I feel every day being her mother. Breathe is very thoughtful and wants to do everything right; she protects those she loves, especially Alight, even when it’s hard, and she isn’t afraid to be herself.

My sister Mandi and niece Alissia, Bimini, Bahamas Feb. 24, 2022

Our last port of call came in Bimini. Bimini offered the most gorgeous waters ever, a fun trolley ride with happy islanders and uninterrupted time in the ocean. We snorkeled, played and soaked in the island life. It was a much needed respite.

Bimini, Bahamas 2/24/22

Alight & Alissia, Bimini, Bahamas 2/24/22

Birthdays matter. Dreams matter. Our entire lives are rushed; it feels kind of like we’re on a hamster wheel and we can’t get off. We’re reaching for lots of things—success, money, recognition—but none of those things really matter. In the end, just as Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said and what you did, but they will not forget how you made them feel.” These girls make me feel as though I matter, as though my presence is both needed and desired. Watching them dream reminds me to stubbornly hold to any scraps of dreams I may have left. Because dreams inspire us. And people motivate us to achieve that which we don’t have the courage or the strength to do alone.

The trip of adventure—scary roller coasters and sling shot rides in the dead of night and all day energy levels at water parks—was perfect for Alight & Alissia. And it was exactly what I needed too because it allowed me to witness her joy untamed. Adventurous days remind you what it is to feel alive, to chase the lightning and-most importantly— to take risks. I’ve loved my entire life staying close to the sidewalk, afraid to reach out and chase “crazy” dreams. I can’t describe how proud I am of Alight for seeing the value in taking risks in order to live her fullest life. I can’t tell you how proud of her I am for staring her real fear of sharks in the face in order to create memories. The trip to Florida felt like home.

Sheikra, Sea World, January 15, 2022

Alight, Kiawah, SC , May 2021

The trip to the Bahamas was the perfect farewell to the birthday season, and the perfect hello to this new chapter in Breathe’s life. Because as necessary as taking risks and chasing dreams is, taking time to rest and unwind is equally important. Seeing faraway places and experiencing different cultures and falling asleep to the sound of creating waves and the gently rocking of a boat inspires you to dream, and to dream big. With all the sadness, evil and terror in the world… faith, love and dreams sustain us.

Each in their own ways, these girls make me a better human. They open my eyes wonder and make me trust my instinct. And I thank God every day for the gift of them, and of the pieces of Him I find through them.

Princess Ceys, Bahamas. 2/23/22