Last weekend, my husband and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary by taking a short cruise to Mexico. With my past history of seasickness, I have stayed far away from any vessel that wasn’t the submarine ride at Disneyland, but reconsidered after hearing from friends and family how much they enjoyed relaxing on their cruises. Just in case, I tucked in a good supply of anti-nausea medication.
My stomach was also worried how Danny, our 19 year old with significant physical and developmental disabilities, would fare without us. For the first time, he was going to stay overnight at our babysitter’s apartment with their six kids, ranging in age from 23 to 3. I arranged for international texts ahead of time so we could be in touch while in international waters.
On the appointed day, we were told to check in by 4 pm for a 5:30 sailing time but saw that you could check in as early as 1 pm. After all the paperwork and logistics, we boarded at 3 pm and could see that the party was already well underway, with the dance music blaring from the DJ's stand, barstools occupied, and the lounge chairs in the best locations filled up as well. Thanks to my sister, our stateroom was festooned with red hearts and happy anniversary decorations, plus a heart-shaped chocolate cake.
It wasn’t long before we were sipping a margarita, watching the sunset dip below the shimmering silvery horizon and figuring out which live entertainment show to see first. We sought out the over age 21 Jacuzzi area, away from the over-excited kids, and played a round of miniature golf.
People we met at dinner were friendly, but didn’t talk much about their jobs. Mostly people wanted to talk about other cruises they had been on, or where else they like to go on vacation. Everyone asked us the same three questions; “Where are you from?” and “Have you ever been on a cruise before? “ And once they heard we were celebrating our 25th anniversary, the final question was, “Do you have any kids?”
The simple answer would have been “Yes, one girl who is 22 and just finished college and one boy, 19, in high school" and then to move on to the really important questions, like, “How many desserts can we order tonight?” But of course, the simple answer wasn’t the whole answer, and opened us up to other questions, such as “Why is he still in high school if he is 19?” and “Why do you need to text a babysitter?”
I realized that I have become so used to identifying myself professionally and personally as a parent of a child with developmental disabilities that it felt dishonest to leave out the special needs part. But if we did mention special education even in passing, it wasn’t long before strangers were telling us long stories about their nephew with autism or the day care lady’s daughter with Down syndrome, and that sure wasn’t relaxing. After a while, I realized I needed to leave behind some baggage on the dock, even if it felt strange. The ship rolled to starboard and my stomach began to feel a little uneasy, so I popped in an anti-nausea pill. It was time to sail away.