I feel like I have spent the last year chomping on a mouth full of acidic fruit, lemon after rotten lemon passed over on a chipped plate. Fingers pinch my nose tight as I slowly dissect the rotten flesh and eat my way through its bitterness. Just as I rid my mouth of its sour taste another is put in front of me. Each time I am convinced this will be the last piece of spoiled, bitter fruit that will be served. Each time look up from my empty plate to be served another.
“How have you coped?!” asked a close friend.
“The universe is trying to tell you something,” said the next.
“Give up when you are ahead,” coached my neighbor.
“Redefine your happiness,” pleaded my mother.
“Learn to cook,” said myself.
With optimism, stubbornness and bull headedness, I decided that I would turn that chipped plate upside-down, denying a diet of disappointment. Rather than consume each lemon, I would collect them and turn it into a bartender’s #1 drink. After stockpiling them, I would transform them. I pulled out my largest mixing bowl, grabbed my best kitchen knife and my biggest wooden spoon and I started to concoct a beverage that would make something beautiful out of something debauched. I cried when I cut into my lemons; I froze when I sunk my hands into the ice; I despaired when I lost sight of the recipe; I exhausted myself when I waited for it to mix. At the end of a long day of cooking, I poured my concoction into tall glasses and served it up for friends and family to taste.
“Ahhh…. !!” they said in union, “The Perfect Lemonade!”
The ingredients to a tasty lemonade made from a batch of bitter lemons are as follows:
2 complex arm surgeries
1 damaged pancreas
2 determined parents
a pinch of supportive friendships
a dash of resolve
Put both miscarriages in a bowl and mix with a gallon of gratitude. Let sit until fully absorbed. In a separate bowl, add one wrist surgery and one hand surgery and douse with a litre of amazing medical ingenuity. Combine one diabetic son with a year’s supply of insulin, a crate full of syringes and 2,016 testing strips, add a satellite phone and a 24-hour emergency hotline; bring to a boil and simmer gently, uncovered, until tender. Remove from heat and cover with two dog-headed and determined parents committed to a dream.
The batch is ready to serve when you have a daughter with a redesigned limb, a son with an injection-supported pancreas, and two parents with their dreams still intact. Transfer everything to a serving platter and garnish with a twist of humour.
Lemon after lemon, my family has been tossed a succession of hurdles this year that have significantly affected our well-laid plans; each time we redefine our way forward to be hit with another obstacle. When I look back on the year I see that with every trial we carved out sweet memories, with every hardship we found beauty and adventure, with every lemon we squeezed out a few more drops of lemonade.
The first lemon was a miscarriage that changed our plans to cross the Indian Ocean in 2015, putting us back in New Zealand for a six-month contract and a delivery that never happened. Our next lemon was dropped three months later with a second miscarriage, which resulted in a trip to America to escape the New Zealand winter for the sunshine of California and the comfort of family in an attempt to put the two losses behind us.
During those first two months in California my daughter was given an opportunity to undergo a wrist operation to stabilize her right limb, turning our two-month holiday into a four-month separation from John who had remained on contract in New Zealand. At the end of that period Braca, Ayla and I flew to join John in Malaysia to resume our life afloat. We spent a furious two months getting work completed on Atea and the ship out of the boatyard, provisions purchased and last-minute purchases done to prepare for a year at sea.
At the conclusion of all our hard work and preparation, my son was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes and our trip across the Indian Ocean aborted a second time. What was expected to be a year that would see us drifting through the Indian Ocean with sand in our belly buttons and seawater in our ears instead had us wiping grit from our mouths and salt from our eyes; is was a succession of hard hits for our family and we were finding our way forward step by step by holding onto perspective to keep our lives on course and emotions in check.
We turned our hospital-tainted lemons into exotic tropical lemonade by taking the opportunity to explore Bangkok while awaiting our repatriation to New Zealand for further medical support and education. Rather than waiting out those weeks in the safety of a controlled environment, we packed up our insulin and our resources and hit the tourist circuit to explore temples and palaces, frenzied markets and congested riverboat taxis. This may sound little to most, but taking this on during our first days of caring for a diabetic without a team of medical support personnel was a daunting exercise. We found an unexpected pocket of pleasure through exploring the city and escaping the emotional trials we’d been through during the weeks stabilizing Braca; we cast aside our dependency on the medical community and put faith in ourselves that we would be capable of managing Braca’s condition whilst bringing laughter and play back into our world – and we did it with spectacular success.
Reality returned to us when we landed in Auckland and began our diabetic training within the New Zealand system. We spent our first month under the care of the pediatric diabetes team, re-learning how to care for Braca under a different system; gaining our understanding of the disease under two different systems gave us the advantage of additional resources. Again taking our lemons and converting it to lemonade, we completed our last course of training a month after arrival and immediately flew to the South Island to test our knowledge; we needed a good trial of glucose control on the road. If we could succeed on our own in the South Island, we would be prepared to succeed on our own in the Indian Ocean. Our camper van tour took us to all four corners of the South Island and the result was a fantastic month spent exploring one of the most beautiful countries in the world and being reminded of all that home holds for us.
At the end of our South Island tour, Ayla and I flew to California to complete her next operation, expecting to follow John and Braca a month later to Malaysia. Our post op recommendation was that we extend our stay an additional month, and with that extra time we jumped in the car four days after surgery for an epic coastal tour of the Californian seaside. Rather than moaning the extended time away from John and Braca or the delay to our cruising season, we had a fantastic girls trip with the company of some of my closest and dearest friends from my high school and college days. Again, lemons to lemonade; friends that I met and loved in the eighties and nineties opened their arms and their doors with a warm welcome a decade or two later. I have not had the opportunity in years to revisit these long-time friendships and it was rejuvenating to be surrounded by these golden friends again.
For those who don’t understand my ingredients, or the context to this story, I’d like to simplify: I believe hardship is a process to get through, and it is important not to forget the small moments along the way. What drives me to make a sweet drink from bitter fruit is the determination I have always had to see something through to the end, regardless of the hardships that present along the way. I have never been one to stop when the path gets rough or the road gets swept away by tsunami. In fact, I believe my biggest successes have come by way of failure first. Through this, I have learned that the hard times are to be navigated rather than run from, and I feel learning this has allowed us as a family to embrace some very special moments through some incredibly difficult times. The tough times always come; it is how we deal with it that allows us to stand tall or crumble, laugh or cry, take things head on or run from them.
Whether you see it coming or it finds you hiding behind the bushes, change is an inevitable part of life – and when hardship comes with it, I believe it is best to find your way rather than turn away. By taking events head on and embracing the change that comes with it I believe a person is best able to cope with the situation and move forward. For those friends who advised us to give up or redefine our goals and ambitions, I believe we can find a new reality in the context of our current passion. Philippe Petit once said in an interview “passion should be your motto” (in a very sexy French voice). I couldn’t agree with this sentiment more – life is too short not to live it on the edge of your seat and challenges need to taken as they come. I believe you should pursue your dreams the moment you have them, and change them when they fade into something different. Cruising is that part of “living the dream” for us at the present moment and I believe the obstacles we’ve been presented with lately can be navigated safely whilst still in pursuit of our passions.
Each of us must find our own way to make lemonade from our lemon tree, and this post shares the ways we have sought to make ours. I hope the conclusion of this year equips us with enough citrus to last the years ahead without any more fallen fruit and may this be the start of a new consciousness of travel as we forge forward as a family to pursue our lifestyle choice. May the misadventures of this past year lead us towards the adventures of the year ahead and let’s hope third time lucky as we begin our next attempt to set sail for the Indian Ocean!