I’ll never forget the look on his face as we descended through the clouds over the south shore of Oahu and he got his first glimpse of the turquoise blue water. It was one of pure joy and excitement – like Christmas morning only better. My oldest son Eli was finally in Hawaii!
In my job as a college admissions counselor I get the privilege of travelling to Hawaii about twice a year. For most of his life Eli has heard my stories and seen my pictures longing for a chance to experience the islands himself.
A combination of factors had finally aligned – namely we had saved up enough air miles and he was old enough to handle a trip which involved some fun and some following me around for work – to make this possible.
Before the trip I had given him some suggestions of activities we could do but outside of my work responsibilities was committed to letting him guide our steps for the most part.
When we got off the plane our first stop was to grab some lunch and then head to Pearl Harbor. Eli is a bit of a history buff so was excited to see one of the most significant landmarks of American history.
Our next stop was the ocean.
As a kid from Oregon he has grown up playing in the frigid waters of the North Pacific and was more than eager to experience Hawaii’s much warmer temperatures.
When we got to the beach he jumped out of the car not wanting to wait for me and ran down to the shore. He waded in slowly taking in all of the experience but then finally plunged in splashing around with utter glee like I’d seen him do so many other times when he was younger.
The next couple of days continued similarly. In between work responsibilities we fit in surfing and snorkeling both of which he did for the first time. He was a champ and tackled the challenges head on paddling through crashing waves and swimming into deep waters in search of tropical fish.
Then, on our third day about two hours into the snorkeling adventure he hit the wall.
Just like Christmas day the adrenaline wore off eventually and he crashed.
“Dad, I’m ready to go” he said as we stood just off shore resting with our snorkel masking lifted off our eyes.
It was Sunday, our only day off on the trip and I’d had plans to drive around the east side of the island and show him some other great beaches. I asked if he was interested but he was too tired just wanted to go back to the hotel.
Initially I was disappointed because things were not turning out how I had anticipated but then I remembered this trip was really about him and letting him have the experience he wanted.
So back to the hotel we went.
We rested in our room for a couple of hours and then spent the rest of the afternoon by the pool.
The rest of the trip proceeded much the same. In between work activities – which he dutifully and even enthusiastically joined me on pitching in to help as he was able – we mostly hung out at the pool and he played like a kid.
Occasionally I’d suggest doing something more adventurous like going on a hike or boogie boarding but he was totally content right where he was. It wasn’t necessarily what I would have done but it was just right because it was what he needed.
This trip was billed as a coming of age experience for him.
It was a chance to go on an adventure with dad and see what I do for work. In many ways it was but as I reflect back, I think it more importantly was something else. It was a chance for him to just be a kid a while longer.
He is in sixth grade and middle school is a tough time. It’s that transition from being a kid to being a teenager. When you start sixth grade you’re just a kid but those eighth graders are something much different – something much more grown up.
Most younger kids naturally aspire to be like the older kids but at the same time I think it is tough to let go of being a kid and the tension can be stressful.
We’ve seen the tension of this transition come out in Eli in many different ways. Sometimes he deals with it well and other times it comes out in outbursts and lots of attitude.
Honestly throughout this school year I’ve been beyond frustrated with him many times. In fact on several occasions leading up to this trip I was tempted to bring his younger brother along instead. But I knew that wouldn’t be right and that this time together was really important for him.
I was honestly kind of surprised that for most of our trip he just wanted to do kid stuff but it was also neat to see. I think he’s like so many other kids his age in that he wants to grow up and be a teenager but the journey is also scary and difficult at times. Sometimes kids need a break from it.
I think that was the case for Eli during our time in Hawaii.
What he needed most was a chance to be a kid a while longer.
I think so many of us adults feel the same way at times. While we have to attend to life’s responsibilities we also need a chance to be a kid once in a while. The child is still inside us and we have to let him or her come out for a while.
My mantra going into this trip was to “be present” with Eli. I didn’t always do that perfectly but when I did it led me back to my childhood and gave me the chance to be a kid a while longer with my biggest kid. I’m so glad I let it happen.