“Shhh!!” I hiss at my five- year- old. She is whimpering, loudly. “We’ll get caught!”
We are on a covert mission in broad daylight. It is imperative that no one spots us, I tell her. I hold my breath and wait. From our vantage point behind some trees, after what feels like an eternity, all women leave the bathroom. It is finally empty.
“Now! Move it! Move it!” I growl, half-dragging the girls along.
At the entrance of the small wooden structure, I sneak inside with my three sand-covered, sweating, miserable girls. The sign on the bathroom door reads: “No showers between 10am-2pm.” Ha! I snort as we hang up our towels.
This was supposed to be a lovely, week-long family vacation on St. John in Virgin Islands.
This is how my husband sold it to me: an eco-resort where we can embrace simplicity, be a part of nature and have a great opportunity to teach the girls that you don’t need a lot of stuff to have fun. It’s about adventure on a national park reserve! Who needs Club Med when you can create your own fun on half the budget?
I am all for conserving water – at home, my girls know to turn off the tap while brushing their teeth and don’t take baths filled up to the brim, but this? The no-showering-rule during the hottest hours of the day on an island in the Caribbean was just plain madness.
I want to love this place – the rustic tents built into the mountainside, the clear turquoise waters, the cafeteria –style dining hall overlooking the ocean where they even serve tofu! This is exactly the kind of place that we would have dreamed of going to before we had children. I even want to love the feral cats that wander around meowing and rubbing up against our legs.
As I struggle inside the bathroom, I imagine some hard-core hippie-type who’s been coming to this eco-resort for the past decade marching over to the front office and tipping off the young woman behind the counter: “Pssst! There’s a crazy woman using gallons of water in the women’s bathroom during off-hours. You have to stop her!” Then the young lady – let’s call her Emily – would walk down the 60 steps to the bathroom to reprimand us (that’s right – 60).
The whole compound is connected by a never-ending set of stairs up and down the mountainside, with spigots of potable water here and there where you can fill up your bottles, or, say, a pan to boil on the tiny camping stove in your hut so you can spend two hours making spaghetti for your three young starving children, for example.
Poor “Emily” would be ready to preach her “importance of conserving water because we are on a tropical island with a fragile eco-system” speech and instead – Wham! – Emily would be faced with me, a wild-eyed, brown-haired medusa keeping a murderously hard grip on her three-year-old’s shoulder as she screamed at an octave so high it didn’t sound human.
This is because I am holding down the pull-chain of the cold-water-only shower with one hand and trying to wash the sand out of my child’s bum with the other hand. “Emily” would be shocked into speechlessness. Then she would turn to see my naked infant, sputtering and squirming against my other daughter’s body, as she stood on top of a bench by the communal sinks, tears pouring down her five- year-old face because she had developed a sand phobia, refusing to walk until she washed off her feet. “Emily” would slip out of the bathroom and run. All the way up those 60 steps, she would.
My anger is not really with “Emily” though, she would just be doing her job. I want to lay the blame with my husband, to deliver it like a baby, wild and slippery – see how he handles it. Will he accept it as his own? Will he take responsibility?
The truth is, the blame belongs to me just as much because I have been an enabler.
When our first daughter was born, we were warned by many friends who knew our love for travel and adventure (we met in South Africa) that those days were essentially over. My husband, Adam, reacted strongly to this and felt compelled to prove everyone wrong. Why should we adapt our life to this baby? No, he asserted, she needs to adapt to our lifestyle. And that was that.
Travel is what brought us together – it is how we fell in love. Our sense of adventure and risk-taking has been at the heart of our relationship. Seven months after Dahlia was born, we were on the plane to Argentina and Patagonia for 17 days of adventure.
The plane ride began inauspiciously when we ended up drugging our baby with Benadryl because she was so hysterical that no one on the plane could sleep. Eight hours later when a flight attendant came by to tell us what a darling angel she was (still sleeping) we were humbled (and worried.)
I remember hiking the Torres del Paine trail in Chile, a world biosphere reserve and one of the most breathtaking landscapes I have ever seen, and having to stop on a narrow piece of trail to take Dahlia out of the back pack. I perched awkwardly on a rock and lifting layers of hiking clothes and gear, I began to nurse the miserable, screaming child. Other hikers passed by and exclaimed “Wow! You guys are hard core! Bringing a baby- that’s awesome.” And off they went, decidedly baby-less.
Adam was determined to make it out to the actual torres (towers) three huge granite peaks, towering and snow-capped – gems of the Patagonia region. I looked at him and saw how much this meant to him, how grateful he was, not just for my willingness to hike this trail, being sleep-deprived and worn-down by Dahlia’s constant needs, but for my complicity in maintaining the illusion. For pretending that nothing had really changed – at least for a little while longer.
I said to him, “You go on and keep hiking. Take some good photos and tell me all about it when you get back.”
He hesitated a minute or two and then asked, “Really? Are you sure?”
“I’m sure.” I put the calmed baby in the back pack. We kissed and parted ways, walking in opposite directions – Adam towards the torres and glaciers and me down to the meadows and lake. I knew I would get back there one day, perhaps with Dahlia when she grew up. But Adam needed this now – he was still clinging to the idea that life didn’t have to get so complicated with a child.
Although it took just one day, it was six years in the making (and two more children later). Even I was surprised at my husband’s admission of defeat. At the end of that first night, we raged in whispers outside of our “tent” and my husband, beaten-down, exhausted from carrying the children up and down hundreds of steps in 90- degree humidity and cleaning out pots of poop since the girls could not always hold it to get down to the communal bathroom, admitted shamefacedly, “Maybe we should try getting our money back.”
Turns out, there is a high price to pay for simplicity after all, and just maybe, there is some adapting to be done.