Dispatch is a series of first-person stories from the road.
My girls fill up a bucket at the beach shower for the seventh time. I watch them closely but my mother declares – from a prone position without looking up from her Second World War novel – that I take too many chances with them. It doesn't help my case for more grandparent babysitting when I answer that she and Dad are old fuddy duddies.
I've flown to a beach resort in Cancun this past April with my parents and children for a two-week holiday.
My 40th birthday will pass while we're here. I'd imagined simple days dozing in the sun while my parents played easily with the girls. Instead, I tell myself to smile while I worry about toddler-drowning rates and wonder when I'll get a moment to myself. Back home, at least, there's work and babysitters.
I have a fantasy of my ideal day at this beach resort. I wake feeling rested. I stroll along the beach with a cappuccino and watch exotic birds fly by.
I arrive just in time for sunrise yoga, where a sensitive man with long, dark hair frees my mind through my breath.
I eat granola, yogurt and fruit for breakfast. So much fresh papaya and mango I have never seen.
The wind is light and I head to the windsurfing shack. In one short hour, I fly along the skin of the ocean, a feat I never managed as a slim and more fertile teen. Exhilarated, I sip a pina colada before a lunch of fresh tuna and crab on a crisp salad.
In the afternoon, I have the waterski dock to myself. The instructor takes me out on both skis and wakeboard and suddenly I'm some hip chick in daisy dukes slicing through the water.
Over a glass of wine, I find a quiet spot on the beach and work on that novel I've always wanted to write. The sticky plot point comes unglued and I breeze through five pages before I find my light is fading.
I slip on a flowing white dress and head to dinner, where it's Fiesta night. I'm seated with a table full of Europeans who've just wrapped a film shoot. They're fascinated by me and my novel. They pull me along to the nightclub where the music is loud and the lights so dim that all we can do is dance and dance.
After a few songs, I find myself dancing near the attractive man I met at the bar when I ordered that midday pina colada.
Where does this fantasy day end? I'll never know.
This afternoon, my mother finally sends me off for some alone time.
Twenty-nine minutes into that gifted hour, I give up the fantasy. I'm not working on my novel, I'm drinking a glass of wine by the still-loud pool, out of the sun, and feeling a certain bliss from my day. My non-fantasy, possibly ideal, day.
I wake feeling rested. The kids are both asleep and I sneak onto the balcony to work on that novel. I manage 27 words before I hear the toddler's cry of "Momma," and my real day begins.
Changing a toddler, dressing a preschooler, I chase them both with sunscreen.
At breakfast, I implore them to eat, and stash muffins and fruit in my beach bag when that fails. I eat three croissants (miniature), jam, chocolate, eggs, bacon, papaya and mango. Surely I get enough exercise here?
I find a beach spot with the last available lounge chairs and juggle swim diapers, sun suits, beach toys, bathroom runs. The toddler wanders off and I chase her down with a life jacket. My father asks if the bar is open yet – it's not.
At lunch, my toddler is knocked over while spinning circles. Despite an impressive forehead goose egg, she actually eats – hot dogs and fries – as does her sister. They shout into giant flowerpots that decorate the dining room, "Hello!" Other diners actually smile at their antics.
There's more beach, more sand and an ever-exciting rinse-off shower that the kids monopolize. They fill buckets, bury the resort beach towel.
My mother reads, discovers she likes mojitos. My father leaves for a nap.
With a hint of sunburn and wet, sandy children, I run out of dry clothing and diapers. We return to the room, surprised we've lasted all day.
My oldest one wants to shower in private, says she's a big girl now and doesn't want anyone seeing her nakedness. When did this happen? The younger one falls asleep and I tuck her into bed.
I check in with my parents in the adjoining room.
"Everything seems to be under control here, can I go and write for an hour?"
I dress nicely, though I haven't showered, and grab the chance while I can.
I sit with a glass of white wine, overlooking the beach and wonder, is this my fantasy day? Or was it the other one? I can't tell. Other families pack up their towels and sand toys.
I watch, I listen. I breathe.
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