Our family tradition of 18th birthday trips began with my son PK. It was the spring of PK’s junior year in high school. PK’s high school basketball team was doing very well and ended up finishing in the final four in the state. At one of his basketball tournaments leading up to this, my boy was staying at a hotel with his teammates. He called me so excited one night after he and some friends were watching tv. “Mom!” he exclaimed. “I was thinking about how I am going to be 18 this summer. My friends and I were watching these commercials on waterparks, and I thought that being I was going to be 18 that I could drive my friends and I to one in either San Antonio or in Wisconsin.”
I remember smiling and thinking “No way!!” I was softer in my reply to my son. It had been approximately 1 1/2 years since my husband had died from a work related accident in August 2011, and any time that my children were having moments of joy and excitement again then I was so happy to hear it! I knew they all three missed their dad so much. I was so thankful for each time that I saw joy or excitement in them. There was no way that I was going to let my son drive that far on his own, but I decided to give him an option. I responded to my boy with these words, “PK, your mom can drive you and a few friends to one of these waterparks this summer. We could celebrate your 18th birthday and go over Memorial Day Weekend.” PK and I decided on San Antonio instead of Wisconsin because we already stayed at one of the big water parks in Wisconsin Dells in the past. I told him that he could invite three friends.
We had fun looking at the huge waterpark in San Antonio and were excited for the trip. As a mom, making memories had always been very important to me but after Kirk had died then the realization of how quickly life could vanish from someone was so much more of a reality then I cared to understand. However, I was committed to doing everything that I could for my children. I wanted us all to appreciate each moment that we had and to experience all that we were able to.
As we left for PK’s birthday trip that Memorial Day Weekend in May 2013, I had no idea that this was the last traveling adventure that I would be having with my only son before he was instantly killed in a car accident at the age of 18 in June 2013. Looking back at each memory and adventure that I had with my son, then my heart bursts with gratitude for each moment with him. My heart simultaneously hurts and longs for so many more that I will not be able to share with him. Grieving the loss of my only son travels with me each step of my journey.
We had a wonderful weekend in San Antonio. PK’s three friends were so much fun to have on the trip. We enjoyed all of the time together. We had a blast at the huge waterpark even though we encountered some rain. We loved the riverwalk and our time there. We loved walking through the streets of San Antonio as the city celebrated the Spurs and their victory one of the nights that we were there. I still remember all of us walking back to the hotel and the long procession of vehicles that were honking and the passengers who were yelling “SPURS!!” from their vehicles. I still remember watching the joy on my son’s face… he loved the excitement and the atmosphere. He was a Celtics fan, but he loved the atmosphere that we were in so much that I remember him raising his hands in the air and yelling “SPURS” along with the rest of the crowd as we walked down the street. The grin that he had on his face was huge. I loved it!! We spent our last night in Houston before returning home. It was a wonderful trip, and I will always treasure those last traveling memories with my boy. I am so thankful that I said yes and found a way to work out our last traveling time together before he died. How unimaginable that approximately a month later that I was burying this boy, my incredible son, who was so full of life, energy, and joy. I am so thankful PK that you started this tradition in our family!! I love you with my whole heart, and I miss you every day my sweet PK!!
After the loss of my son, then my desire to make as many memories with my two daughters grew even more. I tried with everything in me in the midst of my pain and sadness to continue our traditions and to make new ones with my two sweet girls. As Kylee finished her junior year in high school then we decided to do her 18th birthday trip over Labor Day weekend as she was beginning her senior year. It would fall just a few weeks before her birthday, and Kylee and I had a lot of fun planning her trip. Kylee wanted to go to the beach, and as we looked along the Florida coast then we decided on Panama City Beach, Florida as our destination. Kylee had started planning with her three friends, and we all had fun getting ready for our adventure to celebrate Kylee’s birthday.
Kylee’s birthday trip was filled with many memories on the beach… swimming in the ocean, tanning along the coast, long walks along the beach, fun times together when we went out to eat, and lots and lots of picture taking and capturing each moment that occurred. I remember Kylee’s excitement as we planned and prepared for her trip. I remember how excited Kylee was about turning 18 and for her trip. Her three friends that she brought with us were just wonderful, and I remember so many laughs and fun times. I remember seeing the joy in my daughter’s eyes and being so thankful for each moment of happiness. Throughout the past several years of looking into my daughter’s eyes after the loss of her daddy and brother, then there were so many moments of deep pain that I saw in those beautiful eyes. I was so happy each time that I saw some joy. It was a wonderful trip, and I am ever grateful for each moment that we had together and with Kylee’s special friends. I remember as we drove home how my daughter’s eyes were filled with such joy. There was no greater gift to me at that time. Despite her pain, I so desperately wanted my girl to have lots of moments of joy and laughter. I was so thankful for all of the joy that I saw on that trip!!
MiKayla’s 18th birthday was in January during her senior year. MiKayla and I had discussed what she wanted to do for her 18th birthday trip, and she also wanted a beach trip like we had for Kylee. We had decided on Panama City Beach like her sister’s trip, and we were originally planning on going during her spring break. I like to go to the beach with my girls BEFORE June 1st when Hurricane season begins. As we approached Spring Break week then we found out that Kylee would not be able to go with us if we took our trip then. MiKayla and I discussed it, and we both wanted to be able to take the trip when Kylee would be able to accompany us. Our sweet dog Kya was also set to have her puppies around the time of spring break, and we would not leave her alone as a new mom with her new puppies. I talked with MiKayla about Memorial Day weekend, and we decided that we would plan for that weekend. We were both excited that Kylee’s schedule worked out for her to go with us as well.
As we neared the time for our trip, then the weather forecasts begin predicting a tropical storm developing during that time. I begin praying that our trip would still work out and that we would still have some beautiful beach time. Our trip was already going to be quick, and I was hoping that our trip would not be filled with a tropical storm. I had paid for the place that we were staying in advance with the majority of the payment coming from points that I had saved on my credit card, and this was not something that was able to be moved to a different time after it was purchased.
The girls and I begin driving on Thursday after I finished work on Thursday. The trip started out with so much joy and laughter from the beginning. The three special friends that MiKayla brought were dear to all of our hearts and all had been and continue to be such special parts of our hearts and lives. Most of the road trip was filled with lots of singing and laughter… I absolutely loved it. My MiKayla laughed and smiled and was having the best time. My heart was filled with so much gratitude. When we arrived on Friday then the weather was beautiful for the entire day. We spent the day swimming in the ocean, tanning on the beach, and experiencing so much joy and laughter. Friday night was also gorgeous, and we had the blessing of a beautiful sunset on the beach. I absolutely love watching the sun rise and set and most especially love watching these two gorgeous times of day at the beach or by the mountains. The beauty of God’s creation amazes and inspires me. I love and appreciate the beauty of the earth so very much.
Friday night, we went out to eat after the girls “photo shoot” on the beach. The night was filled with so much fun and appreciation. I love those times of togetherness where we just enjoy each other and have lots of time to talk and laugh. The sweet girls that were with us made each moment so special. I loved the joy that I saw in MiKayla’s eyes throughout our trip. I loved hearing all of her laughter throughout the day and night. When we went to sleep Friday night, then the weather forecast was calling for some rain during part of the day; however, it looked like we would have a beautiful late afternoon and night.
The girls and I did have some beach time on Saturday, but the weather was beginning to move in as Alberto moved closer to our location. Rip current warnings were out, and the girls and I spent time discussing these and we stayed shallow during the day as the warnings were at the high risk level. The girls still enjoyed their time despite some rain and the warnings. I loved watching their ability to shift to a different activity and still continue on in their laughter, fun, and enjoying being together. This is such a special group of girls to my heart.
As we watched the forecast and Alberto’s approach to our destination, then we decided that we would drive north of the coast on Sunday and adventure somewhere else. The forecast at our location was for rain all day and for building storms and winds. The newscasters were warning that our location was under a state of emergency. I was amazed at all of the people who continued to arrive there and check in. On Sunday, we drove to Selma, Alabama first and went to Edmund Pettus Bridge. We walked across the bridge and retraced the footsteps of the courageous men and women who were nonviolently marching for their voting rights and were attacked with billy clubs and tear gas. Retracing their steps and thinking of their courage and endurance encouraged my heart to try to follow their example. I want to be a woman of courage. I want to live in God’s love for others. I want to endure. My hope was for my group of girls that they will always learn from those who have gone before us and to live their lives in courage, endurance, and most of all in God’s love.
We had another wonderful night on our last night of our trip. As we venture home this morning with a little more planned along the way, my heart is once again filled with so much gratitude. I am so thankful for these wonderful 18th birthday adventures that each of my children had the blessing to experience. I am so grateful for each friend that journeyed with us. I am thankful for each laugh, each smile, each lesson learned, each picture capturing the special memories, and most of all for each moment that we all had together.
“Live every moment, Love every day, ’cause before you know it, precious time slips away.” Author Unknown