My parents ended up in Chicago after fleeing their native Cuba, post-Castro. I now understand how difficult it must have been for my mom all those years: not understanding the language being spoken around her, hating the freezing winters, raising a daughter in a new country, longing for the days she had spent under tropical palms on the beaches of Varadero.
That has always been the word she uses when referring to those winters. My dad must have felt the same way. The only difference was that he was working day in and day out to make ends meet in this new country, to keep my mother at home "safe" (so very Latin Macho, but that was the culture and the generation), to provide for his daughter. And on top of all of that, he was the one who had to shovel the snow.
How did they manage to keep their sanity?
They'd save all year long, and every single July, they (along with the rest of the tiny family they had there with them) would fly to Florida, where they would spend 15 glorious days on Miami Beach...under the tropical palms...just like their "olden' days."
There I am. In that picture. My mom was about 4 months pregnant with me. (Funny, how when I was pregnant, they freaked out a little when I just drove to the grocery store, but there they were, flying across the country to get some sun.)
And here I am, the following year..! (Funny, how when I'd take my own babies to the beach for the day, my parents kept worrying that maybe the water was too cold or the sun was too hot or they were too little.)
And the trips kept happening, every year, until I turned 5 and the whole (tiny) family moved to Miami permanently when my dad got what they had so deserved after all the years of sacrifice and hard work: a job offer under year-round sunny skies (and in a mostly Spanish-speaking neighborhood to boot!).
I've heard the story of the year when they refused to cancel the trip, even though at seven months I had a raging fever and ended up with a rash all over after playing on the beach all day. Turned out to be mumps, I hear. Let's notice the pattern here: when my kids have a cold, my parents completely wig out if I let them jump in our pool in the dead of summer, but back then...? What? Baby Liz has the mumps? Chicken pox? A raging fever? That's okay, she'll be fine. The sun is good for her! The ocean water will clear it all out! Besides, we have reservations at the cabaret on Ocean Drive later...
And the sunburns...oh, the sunburns. Surely, if I end up with skin cancer, it will have been from these first few years. SPF? Are you kidding me? This was the 70's! We had Solarcaine! There are albums full of old photographs where we are all standing with our arms away from our bodies, lest we make skin-to-skin contact in any way that was not absolutely necessary. I actually remember the searing pain on the tops of my shoulders where the bright pink was neatly broken in half by the Chicago-white line of my bathing suit strap.
And once we moved here? Every single weekend that my dad did not have to work, we would pack up and head out to the same exact beach where we had spent all those years. My mom playing Kadima with me, my dad messing with the seaweed, my sister pouring baby oil on her skin for that perfect golden high school glow (we had now progressed from the Solarcaine post-beach to actually helping our skin cook itself throughout the day). The best days were the ones when we would get there mid-morning and not leave until it was getting dark. An entire day at the beach. That's what we did.
And now? It's still what we do. But now the family has grown a bit.
There we are...our now-becoming-annual Mother's Day tradition. My parents in the middle, surrounded by their not quite as tiny family: my sister with her husband and "kids," me and my little ones, Hubby, his sister and her daughters, and my in-laws. All day. All of us. Same frickin' beach.
My boys are turning out to be beach bums.
I guess, much like my parents with me, we haven't given them much of a choice.
And now, it's that time of year here in sunny South Florida, the time when there is that slight shift: our version of Spring suddenly turns, from one week to the next, into a full blown high 80's pseudo-summer. The long sleeved shirt you wore just a couple of weeks ago to work suddenly seems incredibly warm and impossible to consider. And closed shoes? No, thanks. And people everywhere are already complaining: Oh my gaaawwwwdddd, it's already sooooo hot, what will it feel like in July? (The answer is: what is always feels like here in July; why do you seem surprised?) My car is already like a mild steam bath when I get into it after work. You can feel the heat radiating up off of the asphalt in the grocery store parking lots.
And I love it.
This is my time of year...the time right before summer. The time when I know that over the next few months, I will spend more time in flip-flops than in heels. More time in shorts than in jeans. More time at the beach than indoors.
Just like my parents.
Anyone who knows me, knows I'm a glamour girl. I'm partially known for my stilettos. My make-up drawer could pass for a beauty counter. And I love me some high-end fashion. Sit me at a hoity-toity bar and order me a Cosmopolitan (Grey Goose only, please!), and I'm a pretty happy girl. But I am never happier than on the beach...the salt water (okay, and some leave-in conditioner, too, I admit) making my hair all va-va-vavoom-y, the sand sticking to my brightly-colored toenails, my cheeks and shoulders feeling slightly burned (I have upgraded to SPF 30 these days, but no matter what you do, 8 hours on the beach is still 8 hours on the beach). Those days where we get there early and stay until just before it gets dark....when we go home feeling exhausted and replenished at the same time.
While everyone around me is melting in the infamous Miami heat, I am coming alive. I'm the one turning my face slightly up to the sun while pushing my cart in the grocery store parking lot, my cart filled with the snacks and drinks for the upcoming weekend. Cause for this glamorous beach bum, the only thing better than a Grey Goose Cosmo is an ice cold beer on the beach.
Cheers, Mom and Dad!