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Five years ago I was on a beach in Cuba as my sister, who I adore, was married.  It was a sunny, beautiful day, with a breeze coming off the water to where we stood under the shade of the trees.  The background sounds were of the waves gently crashing a few feet away, our brother singing, and Dean playing guitar.  With a simple ceremony, followed by playful pictures in the waves, and climbing trees, our group celebrated together.

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At the time, Dean’s parents had flown to Ontario to watch Ethan and Audra, who were almost 5 and 3 years old.  At the time, there were no cousins yet born – and now there are five: 3 to my sister and 2 to my brother.  Again, I am astonished at how time flies so quickly, and yet those moments feel like yesterday.

For us, it was the first time away from our children.  And while I missed them – at times intensely, the other part of me that craves freedom revelled in the contrast between how busy those years were for us, and the luxury of being able to fully and completely relax.   The concept of relaxation had entirely been lost on me for years at that point.

One thing I doubt I will ever take for granted is the ease that comes from having family nearby to help out.  I can say that with confidence, I believe, simply because it’s one thing we have never had in our time as parents.  With both of our families in different provinces, our early years were spent relying solely on each other.  And the contrast we experienced when traveling to Alberta or Nova Scotia to visit our parents – or when they came to us – was striking.  I will forever say that I am grateful that we had passed (in one piece!) to the other side of the toddler years when my sister and brother started their families.  I am quite certain that I would have been green with envy, and wallowed in tired self pity if I had seen how much support was available, and how much of a social life was possible if grandparents happened to live close by.  I do not for one second begrudge that my siblings had that extra help where we did not – after all, we were the ones who chose to stay in Ontario.

However, with the backdrop of five years of constant baby and toddler years and the busyness (and sometimes chaos) that entails, both Dean and I admittedly had one of the best weeks of our lives when we travelled to Cuba sans-kids.  Even amongst the group of friends/wedding guests, the comments were made that we just might have been the most relaxed people at the entire resort.  And they just may have been right. (We had five years worth banked!)

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Don’t get me wrong:  we missed our kids.  I can still vividly remember calling home one day to hear Audra wailing my name – as I broke down into a blubbering mess.  Despite my desire to not make it harder on them, I just couldn’t quite control the emotions that stirred from knowing my babies missed me from so far away.  And yet…  after a little time, that too waned, as I got present to the gift of time I had in front of me.  Time to enjoy the sun, spend time with my husband, have fun with my sister and friends, and to hang out with my parents.  It was our first time to an all-inclusive.  It was our first time traveling to a different country together.  And it was glorious.  The little taste of freedom it gave me was worth every second of the episodes of heartache.

The experience awoke in me the desire to travel, play, experience and be free – both with my husband, and with our children.  I realized that we could have our busy lives, and travel, too.  We resolved then and there that we would do more of this.  I realized that the time and effort we put into our daily lives, balancing work, kids and our marriage – while wonderful – also created the need to occasionally step away from it all and just simply be.

And now, several years later, and with a few more trips under our belt (including ones with our kids), it is a goal of ours to work towards truly having it all:  regular travel together as a couple, and travel with our kids. And we hope one day to travel with our extended family, and to share some of those future experiences with some of our closest friends.

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I don’t know how it will all play out.  I don’t know how often we will travel, nor exactly where we will end up. (But we have lots of fun watching travel documentaries, and dreaming up ideas)  With the value we place on family, freedom and experiencing, all I know for sure that I intend to live my life to the fullest, gaining great experiences and learning with Dean, Ethan and Audra.

One of the great realizations in my life was that I would rather buy an experience than a ‘thing’.  If I had to choose, I would rather live a more simple life – with travel and adventure – than a luxurious one always at home.  For us, having new experiences is what life is all about.

Upon reflection, I think that I would not have so greatly appreciated the exhilaration of that first Cuba trip if we had been living with family close by.  I think I may have been guilty of taking my freedom for granted, if having someone to call on had always been the norm.  But, like the saying that every cloud has its silver lining, perhaps one of the best gifts we have gained from having a family that is ‘geographically challenged’ is the appreciation for the moment in front of us.  For time.  For freedom.  For the people around us.  For new experiences.  And the desire to reach for more.

Cuba, I think, was just the wake up call.  And what a glorious one it was.

(Happy Anniversary Andrea and Andrew!!)