My little family of four just went to Cuba for a friend’s wedding. It was magical. The midnight flight there wasn’t magical, but totally worth it to end up in paradise. My kids were tired but also enthralled by the sight of the blue water and the white sand. None of us had seen such a perfect landscape in our entire lives and I felt like a billionaire being able to show my kids this so early in their lives- endless memories being made for them. Isabella and Hunter couldn’t wait to get down to the water so they went with their dad while I took a nap on the couch inside and waited for our room to be ready. Our rustic room (still very nice and incredibly spacious) was perfect and I set it up to be our little home for the week while the kids ran around like they had just eaten a handful of pixie sticks, they were so excited.
My first visit down to the beach was supposed to be a walk on the sand along the water for the length of the beach front. The minute I dipped my toe in the water though, the walk was over. We swam for ages. Hunter let the waves crash in to his face, laughing and diving in instead of crying or spluttering and getting out, a huge milestone for him! Izzy had to go change in to her bathing suit, as she was dressed for walking, but when she came back she jumped the waves with Hunter until it started to get dark and we were getting hungry.
We spent most of our time at the resort, which was made super amazing and special by the people there. The servers, bartenders, housekeepers and groundskeepers were all so friendly. Their English was enough to communicate with us and get us what we needed- sometimes they figured out what my kids needed when I couldn’t!The buffet was just a buffet. It was open to the scenery, with big wide open spaces for windows. Stray cats wandered in occasionally, wanting to be fed and some people obliged. Birds have nested in the rafters, and sometimes would swoop down on to an empty table to eat the scraps. It was definitely interesting. Being gluten-free, I stuck to the made-to-order omelettes, fish and kebabs. The buffet was hit and miss, as they are, and I am surprised none of us got sick on some of the food, but what made the buffet really special was the people. The servers there were amazing.
In my extremely broken Spanish, I was able to talk to them a little. Most of the women live in nearby cities, which is quite the commute on bus; some of them were up to an hour away, and some lived nearby but had to get up early to make sure their family was all set before they left. The woman who cooked my omelette every morning communicated to me through simple Spanish and a lot of hand gestures ( and thanks to first year Uni Spanish class, I got the gist every time), that she has two boys at home, ages 11 and 7. She gets up at 3 am every day to make their breakfast and pack them a lunch before she makes the commute to work. They do the prep work and open the buffet at 10am. Then she works every meal. She works until 9pm and then makes the long commute home, before starting over the next day. She gets one day off a week which is the day she cuddles her boys and tries to get housework done. Many of them had the same story- and most of the women had boys at home! Our favourite server has a 5 year old boy at home. She leaves every day at 5am and gets home at 10pm. He cries when she leaves and hugs her tight when she gives him a kiss when she gets home- even though it often wakes him from his deep sleep. She saw our kids more than her own boy, which makes me sad!There was one day where Izzy and Hunter started crying at supper because we would have to leave soon. The server(I didn’t catch her name and Izzy isn’t home to ask, ahhhh!), came running over and asked what was wrong. I explained the vacation was almost over and they didn’t want to leave their favourite people. She gave them the longest hugs ever and they calmed down and talked to her for awhile. It was so special. A lot of the people were like that. On our last day there, Izzy gave her a gift for her son and when we left the next morning both the server and my kids cried when my kids said goodbye to her.
All of the staff were attentive, and so good to our kids that they started to feel like a mini family to us. As the days went on, I let Izzy wander a little away from me. Whether it was up the beach a bit to grab shells, or around the buffet room on her own to get food or take pictures, I knew she would be safe. Everyone looked out for us there. Some of the staff that recognized our kids high-fived them on the way by or said hello. And EVERYONE commented on how well-behaved they are.
My kids were amazing. They asked intelligent questions, used their manners, and told me when they needed alone time rather than having tantrums. I was so proud every single day.
Isabella and Hunter were a part of the wedding party and were both excited but also nervous that they “wouldn’t do a good job and would embarrass the bride and groom”. Hunter and Isabella both uttered that exact sentence and I knew then that they would be amazing- as it was in their sweet nature to worry about doing well. And they did really well. Hunter was a great ring bearer and Izzy blew bubbles as the flower girl during the entire ceremony, not just on the walk up the aisle. All of the guests came up to tell me how amazing they were and that I have very polite and incredible children. They could not believe how quiet and well-behaved they were. I guess I never thought of it before. My kids aren’t perfect and often put their best face forward when out in public (because they know that is what is expected of them), but they made me proud all of the vacation. Even in private they were good to each other and polite to us. It was a joy! And they never got bored really….I even had them watching television in Spanish one day while I got the beach bag ready and Izzy said it was fine because she “wanted to fit in, in Cuba”.
One of the days we were there, we went on a two hour bus ride to the city of Havana (the “real Cuba”, as the locals like to say). The only misstep was that lunch was late and Izzy was getting “hangry” as they say, but quietly grumpy, so all I had to do was tell her when she was being rude and she tried hard to keep it together. She was still not hungry enough to stop being picky about the snacks we brought, so I told her she could survive. On the way to Havana, we had a guided bus tour and history lesson. It was extremely fascinating. Izzy read her book through some of it (“El Deafo, which I highly recommend), but Hunter stared out the window and listened intently to Julio, our tour guide. Whatever they listened to, stuck. Hunter and Isabella still ask me questions about Castro and Communism, Che and the embargo. They paid attention when we learned where Hemingway wrote his books, and about the speech Castro gave in the square. They heard all of it. Facts that I have already forgotten they bring up. When I google to see if they kept the facts straight, they have. I can’t believe what a sponge both of my kids are! And here I thought all of the facts would go over their head and they would be bored. Not so. I under-estimated their thirst for knowledge at this age.
It was such a rewarding trip. I had no cell service there and they only have dial-up internet in the hotel lobby, so it was 7 days of bonding with Josh’s old friends and quality time with each other. I got to watch my kids blossom and appreciate how their minds work. Izzy read a lot during the trip and shared her insights on the book. Hunter asked me questions about everything and shared his theories on life. They were polite to everyone and we laughed non-stop. And for once, my mind rested. It was at ease. Being a mom is my job and somehow the trip validated that I am good at my job, and that my job is invaluable, even though I don’t bring in a physical pay-cheque. For once, I didn’t second guess my parenting. I didn’t wonder if I was too calm, too indulgent, too harsh, not fun enough, not involved enough, a helicopter parent, or too picky. I didn’t worry. Watching my kids being themselves and interacting with other adults and kids, I could tell that what I was doing was enough and my enough was great. It was a nice revelation to have and I came home a calmer and happier mommy. The kids came home feeling worldly; their little heads filled with memories of the beach, conversations with locals and new ideas about politics. Izzy wants to go back to “live for awhile in Havana”- as do I! Hunter wants to “write about his travels”. My heart is full and my head is still abuzz with the stuff we saw.
Of course, as soon as we got home the kids fought and argued over every game they played, but I know they are exhausted and sad that we had to leave. Such intense emotion needs an outlet- right? I sent them to their rooms a lot for quiet time, haha. It seems to have worked and the transition to “real life” is humming along.
(And, as an aside, I would like to apologize for my formerly skewed perceptions of being in an all-inclusive as a cop-out when traveling. It was INCREDIBLE and in the long run saved us money. Not having to forage for food and drinks every day made it a more enjoyable experience and freed up our money for day trips to see the “real Cuba”. I recommend it highly. Next time we travel overseas, I am going to look for reasonable all-inclusive hotels or resorts and research affordable day trips from the resort. That way you see the “real” part of the country away from the resort, but can mostly eat at the resort, freeing up a lot of cash and TIME. The time we spent looking for places to eat during other getaways- oy. )
I recommend Cuba. The people touched my heart, the history is rich and we felt safe there. It was neat to be there at the same time as Obama’s visit since history was being made, even if it did make our travel in to Havana inconvenient with the closed roads, security and closed market. But it was still incredible. History was changing right under our noses, and even our kids were aware of it. What an electric time to be alive!