Our California Honeymoon was overwhelmingly sweet -- romantic, relaxing, full of happiness and good food and gorgeous hiking.
But there was a bitter taste from time to time, and before delving into the gloriousness of the places we stayed and the great moments we shared, I'd like to expel the bitter all at once.
The first was less a sting than a mildly hilarious irony -- on our flight from Chicago to San Francisco, the in-flight movie was "Born in China." Oh yes, what better way to kick off our celebration of accepting our new life without children than to watch animals raise their babies in the wilds of China. How fascinating that pandas look insanely human as they hold their babies up to the sky, soothing them after a tumble down a hill. Or that a snow leopard can look as annoyed as any mom to be clambered over by her kids. I didn't listen to the audio, I wanted to read my book instead, but I kept seeing these vignettes of motherhood and infancy play over the seat in front of me and was just filled with "are you KIDDING me?" Luckily, the fact that we sprung for first class on this trip meant that I could have some sparkling wine and chardonnay to help make it more funny than sad.
Is It Better? IS IT?
Napa really held very few sad moments at all, except for a dinner out at Mustard's Grill (oh holy deliciousness) where I was overcome with sadness towards the end of our meal, and I couldn't really put a finger on the trigger. It was our last night in Napa, and we'd had a wonderful time, and I think maybe there was some sense of "See? See how our life can be amazing and beautiful and full of wonderful things and travel and occasional extravagance?" and I think I somehow interpreted that as "see, isn't this better?" and I couldn't see it at that moment in time. All I could think was I'd trade all the smoked duck and cabernet flights and butterscotch pots de creme in order to have a baby in my arms, a child to share these things with. It consumed me to the point where I had to excuse myself to the ladies' room because the tears just rolled down my face without any stopping, and I sobbed in the pretty bathroom until I could fix my face and come back out, somewhat reset by catharsis. I don't think anything was said in particular and I can't figure out when things shifted from "oh wow this is awesome" to "I feel so acutely all we've lost," but I was able to recover and we had a lovely evening after we returned to our beautiful room with its gas fireplace and cozy quiet.
Carmel wasn't as sad for me as it was for Bryce, as we arrived at our hotel and found that a couple with a baby were situated next to us. The hotel was much more family friendly than the Napa inn, and I think we were a little surprised and a little disappointed that our first foray into our room with its beautiful veranda and spacious sitting area was so close to a young couple who had what we couldn't achieve. Bryce was worried we'd be awakened to crying in the night, but ironically we heard nothing from them and a ton of barking from the couple who replaced them the next day with a very loud dog (this inn was very dog friendly as well). Still, it felt a little like another jab from the universe. I actually contemplated if in the future it would be helpful to note that we would like to be in a room that is not near very small children -- but then I thought maybe that was crazy. Is it? You tell me.
Funk and Fear
Pasadena was great -- we visited with my dad, we went to a fancy botanical garden, we went to Universal Studios. There was some brou-ha-ha at Universal where Bryce got sick, and I was in a bit of a funk already since despite my friend who brought the baby home from the same agency we'd used told me it was okay to hide her on facebook and that I might want to, I hadn't yet and so that morning I was just flipping through my feed when I saw the 6-week pictures posted, and they were beautiful and so happy. The pictures didn't get me. It was the hashtags: #worththewait and #dreamsdocometrue. These are great for them, just incredibly stabby for me. In no way do I think that they shouldn't use these, or that they aren't applicable to them, but it felt like hot acid in my wounds and all I heard from my nasty little voice was failure! see what you could have had? dreams don't come true for YOU, you're not worthy! you couldn't even wait properly! you don't deserve this happiness! Which is cruel, and I know it's not true, but it just seemed like such a contrast and while our trip had been amazing and beautiful it was like this little pokethrough of an alternate reality that won't ever be ours. I hid her. And I wasn't myself all morning. So when Bryce got unexpectedly sick and we couldn't connect with him for a little bit, I immediately went into worst-case-scenario mode and could visualize him ill on the floor of a men's room somewhere, not wanting to cause any inconvenience to anyone but then dying alone on a piss-soaked floor. My dad was like, "uh, that's not really a likely scenario, that's not going to happen," and I freaked out and hissed, "REALLY? You think given everything that's happened that I'd be spared that sort of thing too? You think it's not possible that I could end up childless and widowed, here on our honeymoon?" I sort of wished I'd brought my anxiety medication with me (it was in the hotel) but it worked out okay. My dad was unaware of the developments of the two people bringing babies home recently, and how that had made me feel, and how sad I was from the morning's ill-advised facebook viewing...after he was made aware and got teary-eyed himself, he said he'd check restrooms for me. But then, Bryce found us and said he was going to go to the hotel and we'd meet up with him later, to have a good time, but that he was feeling icky enough that he needed to go home and lie down and he'd be fine tomorrow. I was relieved but also just overwhelmed with anxiety, with the fear that I could lose everything. It was quite the bump in an otherwise great part of the trip, and it all turned out okay, but it really brought a ton of fears and feelings to the forefront.
Haunted by What Could Have Been
The last real sad moment was in Santa Barbara. It was pretty much one per leg of the trip, which is interesting for me to look back on. We went to another botanical garden, a more rugged hike-y one than the fancypants one in Pasadena. It was beautiful -- all canyon trails and redwoods and rocky mountainside backdrops. There was an exhibit in one of the conservation buildings about bees, and we went in. It was incredible -- they had all these really high-quality microscopes set up with little acrylic boxes of bee specimens so that you could see the way they carry pollen, or differentiate between bee families, or try to tell the difference between bees and look-alike flies and wasps, or examine specimens with their tongues out. It was beyond cool. There were little sweat bees that were brilliant green, or mermaid blue and purple. The microscopes made it possible to see their little faces, with the antennae and multi-faceted eyes. It was enjoyable (and air-conditioned). A family walked in -- a mom and two kids, one an older boy (maybe 9) and one a younger girl (maybe 5). The girl was hilarious, looking at the bees and exclaiming, "Ack! Ugly face...peace out, bee!" and the boy was ironically a huge fan of The Fly with Jeff Goldblum. His mom kept saying, "Everything he knows about that movie is hearsay! He hasn't seen it himself!" as if we might judge her parenting skills. (She didn't know her audience, clearly.) He kept saying that they should make a new movie with Jeff Goldblum and call it The Bee, and put a bee head on him instead. Bryce said, "You know, before seeing that version, you should watch the black-and-white 1940s one -- it's great and not gory at all, but real disturbing!" I'm not sure if the mom appreciated that film recommendation, but the kid really loved it. We set up the microscopes for the kids and showed them where some of the neater specimens were for exploring, with the mom saying "that's awfully nice of you!" as we left. And then I stood out in the manzanita garden behind the building, away from any windows where they could see me, and I just cried and cried and cried. It was so sad, because this is just the kind of thing we would have loved to do with our own child, and here what we have is these brief moments of interaction to cling to. I am grateful for those brief moments, and I so enjoy children of that age, particularly ones who are curious about nature and want to know more, but it made me so unbearably sad that we won't ever curate that in our own home. That these passing experiences with other people's children will have to satiate that unfulfilled desire to raise children who appreciate nature, who are inquisitive and experimental and would take the time to explore bee faces under a microscope. I pulled myself together, and Bryce assured me that he was very sad too, but that moments like that gave him hope that he could still have those interactions, no matter how briefly.
Even in these moments of bitter, there was the sweet.
It's hard to not have that balance -- how do you have a trip that celebrates this new beginning without acknowledging the loss that brought you here? How do you accept that with all these beautiful moments, there will always be a tinge of the life that will never be? I know to expect these moments of grief, or moments of "really???" that will crop up even in the most romantic and celebratory of times. To honor them yet move forward in acceptance and the joy of what we can have, of the experiences we enjoyed that we couldn't have if we were parents...that is the important part.