Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Expectations, Super Hereos and Ice Cream

I prepared for our Spring Break trip to Cancun with a higher than normal level of anticipation. I had high hopes for a great vacation. Having only spent a few hours in Mexico while our cruise docked in Cozumel in 1991, I felt as though this was my first trip. Knee deep in my second semester of Spanish 1, I was excited to “practico hablando espanol”. Due to late booking, our only ticketing option on the flight out was first class – a direct flight no less. Our flight departed at 6:00 am and we were on the beach by 2:00 that afternoon.

Experiences rarely meet expectations, good or bad. Our flight out was better than expected. The hotel was gorgeous. The weather was perfect and the beach exquisite. The hotel staff was courteous, helpful and extremely pleasant. They tried desperately not to cringe when I asked if I could practice speaking Spanish with them. I soon realized that I was one of thousands of exceedingly poor students of their native language that bogged down their day by attempting to mooch some free tutoring, so I kept my practice to myself.  They were so nice I just couldn’t put them through one more tragically  pronounced simple noun or heaven forbid, a conjugated verb.

As the week progressed I wondered how receptive I would be if one of the many Hispanic immigrants I run across in my home town stopped me while I was working and asked if they could practice speaking English with me. Now that I am trying to learn a foreign language for the first time, my respect for those who attempt to assimilate into a foreign culture is immense. It seemed to me that many American tourists in Mexico were irritated that the natives spoke English with an accent and should’ve been over-joyed and amazed that they knew how to say, “Hey amigo, we need-o some cervazas over here-o”.

The “family” environment of the all inclusive resort I researched extensively caused me painful awareness that the term “family appropriate” varies dramatically from home to home, especially for United States citizens “cutting loose” or should I say “letting it all hang out” in Mexico. Once I realized that I wasn’t likely to find families that shared my goals for sober family bonding, I uncharacteristically kept to myself during the week. While my husband and boys were off para-sailing and riding speed boats, I found the quietest place I could on the beach and read. I marked almost nothing off my bucket list and met very few people, with one exception. I enjoyed my first massage, mud wrap and facial. It was heavenly and I think I have some sort of mid life crush on my massage therapist, Letty. She was about my age and extremely kind. No, I not announcing anything, but after twenty six years of marriage and four children, that experience definitely had its perks. AND I didn’t have to clean up or make her dinner afterward. 

My expectations for the trip home were fairly low and initially right on target. The airport in Cancun is no place to be on a Saturday during Spring break season. Our tickets were coach, the flight was delayed and we had a four hour lay over in Ohio. Okay, another thing off my bucket list - I have now spent four hours in Ohio. The airport however, was extremely nice and unpopulated. It was quiet, as airports go. After we ate lunch I was looking forward to curling up in front of the windows in the almost abandoned waiting area outside our gate to catch up on some homework before our flight. Before I had the books withdrawn from my back pack, an adorable little boy plunked himself down at my feet and unpacked all his favorite toy action figures on the window ledge in front of me.

            “Do you see this guy? He flies faster than anything!” As he said this, he tossed a plastic toy into the air as high as he could. Then we were off and running. Jayden, my new four year old friend, introduced me to each of his toys and demonstrated their many skills. Some were good guys, some were bad guys. They all had super-powers, as of course, did Jayden. Things haven’t changed much with super heroes or four year old boys in the last decade or so. It didn’t take long for my younger son Peter, who is 15 now, to join in. Jayden soon lost interest in me. I have to admit when it comes to playing with action figures, Peter is ‘way cooler’ than I am.

I had a chance to visit with Jayden’s mother, who was a lovely, polite young woman who had been attempting since 6:00 that morning to fly standby home to Michigan for her mother’s 55th birthday. It was now after 5:00 pm and she was hoping there would be two seats on the flight leaving from our gate in an hour. She was very composed and gracious and I found myself praying that she had seats on that flight too.

 Peter asked me if he could buy ice cream McFlurries for himself and Jayden, and his mother seemed grateful and said that was fine. Jayden, who was animated before, lit up like a Christmas tree when Peter brought him the McFlurry. A few minutes later they left to board the plane. It had been a joyful experience and both Peter and I were sad to see them leave.
            It was maybe a half hour later that I got out of my chair and walked right into Jayden. He was standing by the ticket counter with his backpack over one shoulder, teddy bear in one hand, the horizontal, half eaten, McFlurry in the other, covered in drops of melted ice cream – teddy bear and all. He saw me and said, “Next time we come here, and we see you, can your brother buy me some more ice cream?” It was adorable. I asked his mom, who was busy at the ticket counter, if I could take him to the restroom and clean him up. Jayden walked with me and submitted to the damp paper towel treatment for his clothes and his bear as if he’d known me all his life. We went back to the gate and Peter showed Jayden how to play his Game-Boy, which kept him quiet while his Mom made hotel arrangements for the evening.
              So once again, my travel experience far exceeded my expectations. Meeting Jayden and his mother, being able to help someone, sharing those moments of joy with them and my son were definitely some of the highlights of my week. Family it seems, it alive and well in the United States. Like the ocean, when preserved and respected, family is vibrant and fills the heart with joy.  Once again, the Lord allowed my best laid plans to go south of my expectations, because He’d planned something so much better all along. So on that note, I’m praying this Lenten Season to be more open to welcoming the potential blessing of an unexpected inconvenience, to be slow to lament unavoidable “lay-overs” on journey, and to remember to be grateful for the blessing others are in my life.


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