He was an ornery boy with matted down flaxen hair, small plump toes, and crooked teeth inherited from his father. In bunchey wet board shorts and ill-fitting flip flops, he turned his head, straining to take in the odd menu scrawled in loopy letters on the cafe wall. A jagged bone white shark’s tooth suspended on an azure rope had caught his attention from a street vendor the day before, and now hung from his neck. The rope was a perfect match to his eyes.
Having been playing in the wild, white frothy surf of the Pacific, and feeding stray dogs his nutrigrain bar, the boy was decidley hungry. The menu, written mostly in Spanish featured delectables such as Nutella smoothies laden with ripe bananas, and authentic tacos which bore little resemblance to the ones the boy ate at home. Such fare was far too unusual for a child who munched on colorful goldfish crackers and breaded chicken from a box.
His older brother, easily adaptable to change, customs, and a tropical holiday in the little seaside town of Tamarindo, found delight in the food and settled for a smoky dish of shredded pork, plantains, and a velvety smoothie.
Mare, the comely owner of the soda hovered amiably by the table, eager to suggest something plainer and more American for the boy to try. He wasn’t having it. With lips pressed thin, like a string bean, and eyes cast down, the boy shook his head impatiently, pressed his small hands on the table and said,
” I want a hotdog.”
This was Costa Rica. It would be hard pressed to find Oscar Mayer products stuffed in white bread. Even back at the modern, turquoise and ecru decorated boutique hotel, the chicken tenders were hand dipped in homemade bread crumbs lightly fried in extra virgin olive oil, and served with plantains. Not exactly fare for a French fry and chicken nugget gulping 10 year old. My desire to introduce culture, cuisine, and perhaps a vegetable to the boy would not be quenched.
This trip, although much needed, was fraught with fights, and complaints, and tantrums, and many dramatic eye rolls not only from my poor older son who had to deal with his obstinate brother, but by me as well. I had envisioned scenes much different than what was playing out in front of my weary hazel eyes.
I had planned a trip, the three of us- it was always the three of us- a fortieth birthday present to myself, which in reality was a consolation prize for the fact that I was still single at this age. With wounds still fresh from a broken engagement, I flung myself at adventures such as sky diving, volcano trekking, and food truck sampling. My friends marveled as I took on the new role of free, fearless, nomadic single mother, but the truth was I never felt so scared. Traveling with children is a challenge in itself, but traveling with a child who elder ladies with coral lipstick stained mouths call quite a handful, takes a certain amount of blind bravery. Or stupidity.
But I wanted to be brave. Wanted to prove to myself that I could navigate an airport, a far-flung Costa Rican village, and most importantly the minefield of single parenting. Although I was shaking in my sensible yet still stylish sandals, I wanted to show my children, I can do this.
But like the last five years of my life, our respite was not going as planned. The evening before, balmy and blushed with a vivid pink sunset, begged for a dip in the hotel’s elegantly curved pool. As my children splashed, I attempted to sprawl out on a pale blue lounger, sip some sort of adult beverage out of a glass void of any Marvel heroes, and marvel at the beauty of the lush jungle. With the sound of Howler monkeys laughing in the trees, and the pleasant murmuring of people conversing in the outdoor restaurant, I began to slip into a place where I felt a warm sense of okayness. I planned this trip. I trapezed through a foreign airport with great aplomb, two children in tow. I schooled myself in knowing how much 100 colones were worth. I felt that I may not be failing at this solo parenting thing after all.
Then the screaming began. The older one must have made a snarky comment to the younger one, and being as sensitive as he was, he began wailing louder than the hyper monkeys. The two carried on intensely despite my angered hushing through gritted teeth. It took me, red faced like a cranberry and unnerved, pulling them out of the pool by wet flailing limbs before they simmered it down to a manageable roar. As I ushered them past the dining area, back to our room, a lanky blonde in a fitted silk skirt took interest in our scuffle. She sat with her dapper husband, enjoying a cocktail, and remarked in a clipped accent.
“Thank you for such entertainment.”
I was mortified.
At least the sunset had been pretty.
Because of my nervous nature, fear of raising crass men, and deep concern over what other people thought, the ugly pool scene stung like vinegar on a fresh cut. Trying to keep composure when you are filled with rage and humiliation over your own child is a feat not for the faint of heart.
But today had been different. The mood of the previous night had been lifted by the backdrop of the sea, shaved ice as blue as pool water, and a really good day exploring a volcanic sand beach. I had watched my boy push his stubby toes into the glinty black and gold flecked sand and wait for the waves to kiss his feet. With a pointed finger he would draw snowmen and Santa’s hat, write his name in bold capital letters, then run, attempting to shoo the water away from his creation. Then draw it again a little further up the beach. Each time the surf erased his name he seemed genuinely surprised and crestfallen, but rejoiced quickly in the chance to do it all again. This both broke my heart and filled it with a surge of love so strong it scared me. The brevity of life, of innocence, of time being washed away so very quickly was being metaphorically played out in the bright hot sun before me. It was overwhelming, but perfect.
So as we sat at that little soda, I did not brace myself for a tantrum. I did not squirm, worrying if the raven haired girl seated next to us would deem me a weak mother when I calmly turned and told my son,
“Then we best find a hotdog stand for you young man.”
And we did.