I'm in the midst of planning our Spring Break trip and it is unbelievably hard because I'm constantly aware of one less person being with us this year. We've never taken a family vacation without Austin. I'm not sure I know how.
I think back to our last family vacation and how many wonderful memories we now have. It was our first trip to Florida as a family, to Pensacola, last July. We rented a house with my cousin and her family and spent a week enjoying the sun, sand and sea.
I initially worried Austin wouldn't enjoy the trip. He was older than all the other children and being a teenager, I felt he would grow bored or want to do his own thing. However, he was so content and thoroughly enjoyed the trip.
Austin was my co-pilot for our midnight drive down. Tim and Noah slept in the backseat and Austin helped keep me awake for the long trek. We rocked out to classic 80s tunes, counted Waffle Houses, and just talked. It was wonderful.
We drove straight through and were pushing it to make it to Pensacola's beach for the Blue Angels show. As we hit the heavy traffic, our truck began acting up. On the 3 mile bridge, it nearly stalled several times and was a crazy, hectic way to begin our vacation. We made it across the bridge (and changed into our swimsuits in the car!) and pulled into a McDonalds. Austin immediately took charge of Noah and took him inside to cool off and get a snack, while Tim and I surveyed the truck's damage.
Basically, it just overheated from sitting so long in traffic and not moving on the 3 mile bridge but we were hesitant to stay and risk getting caught in the traffic leaving the BA show. We decided to head on to the vacation house and Austin was quick to let us know he was ok with missing the show. I was so impressed with his easy going attitude. We were hot, tired and disappointed and he could of easily complained, but he didn't. We drove on the house in Perdido Key and luckily missed the storm that later hit. (Turns out the show didn't happen so we didn't lose out on that memory either!)
At the house (and really throughout the vacation), Austin was such a help. He carried luggage, played with the kids, packed supplies up and down the stairs, etc. And he did it without asking. He made the vacation so pleasant and easy. On our beach days, I worried he wouldn't enjoy himself but it was actually what he requested to do the most. Austin loved the Quietwater Beach and found the love for snorkeling while there. He, Tim and Noah had such a good time exploring the ocean floor. Austin found tons of sandollars, a sea horse and more, but was most thrilled to find an old cell phone. He knew it didn't work but thought it was too cool that he found it there!
The day we spent at what the kids called "The Angry Beach" he had fun catching jellyfish with my cousin's little girl's butterfly net. He also loved the Blue Angels show (as we all did) and was glad we didn't miss it that first day.
One of my favorite photos of him now was taken on our vacation and is of him sitting in a chair, enjoying the beach. He has a full smile and I am glad I caught that moment of time, a snapshot of happiness. It is a vacation that I will always remember fondly, mostly because it was our last family vacation.
And so, we bravely try to make plans now for Spring Break. We've wavered, hesitated, changed our minds so many times. So much of us can't imagine a vacation without him there. Yet a part of us also needs the time away, together, to reconnect and relax, to get away from the every day. We also know that Austin would want us to - and we know he'll be there with us, every step of the way.