Children of DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley Hale in the ocean
Family & Friends

Let’s Make Light As a Family

The kids cried when we told them we were moving to Colombia.

They didn’t want to leave their friends, their rooms, their toys and their extended family. They didn’t know Spanish and they didn’t know the culture of Colombia. They didn’t want to live in an apartment and they didn’t want to eat arepas for the next year. (They now love arepas.)

But we had made a decision, and slowly, they all came around to it. We did offer one carrot – we promised them that once we got to Colombia and had been there for a month, we would all take a trip to the beach.

A few weeks ago, that’s what we did. It was just a long weekend with no big plans other than to swim in the waves and enjoy a big of downtime.

Things started out rocky. A tropical storm was nearby, threatening to ruin the whole trip, so we figured we should do as much as we could that first day. It was very hot and instantly the kids started to complain. They felt so hot they were nauseous and it was too far to walk and couldn’t we all just stay in the air conditioning? Even when we went to a restaurant, they all just laid their heads on the table and whined audibly. Once we were finally at the beach it was lovely, but after a few hours, everyone was so sunburned that it hurt just to move, which of course was totally my fault because I know to reapply sunscreen and I forgot and wow….things were not exactly turning out how I had planned.

(Someone should tattoo that phrase on my arm.)

In any case, Chris decided that we should all do a boat trip that night, out to a place where we could see a display of bioluminescence – which is a place in the water where tiny organisms emit light. (This is really hard to describe, but click here for images.) I’d done it once before, with my friends Paige and Kelly, but no one else in the family had been. So, that night, tired and hungry because we were missing our regular dinnertime, we all boarded the boat.

Chris translated, and as we drove through the mangroves and out into the dark ocean, a hush fell over the dozen people on the boat. It’s odd to take a boat into total darkness, away from the few lights on shore, and sail using a flashlight held by the driver. I reminded the kids about 10 times to keep on their lifejackets.

Eventually, it was time to stop. “You can jump in,” the driver told us, and Claire was the first in our family to volunteer. And when she did – well, it was pretty incredible watching the water light up below her. She yelped, and so did the rest of us, as we followed her in. The kids were lit up by the ocean, full of light as we moved through it. Tommy’s face glowed, and he held onto Claire and Austin as he laughed. “It’s like real-life Encanto!” he chirped, and he wasn’t wrong.

The trip got better after that. The tropical storm didn’t hit land, and we only got rain at night. The beach was fun the next day and Claire danced on stage that night. There was a lot of hugging and there was not enough sleeping because we were having fun, and when we left, all three kids fell asleep on me in the backseat of the cab.

Chris smiled at me from the front seat, and snapped a photo. “Guess it was a great trip,” he said, and then he squeezed my leg and I felt so happy, our little family in that cab.

It reminded me of three years prior, when I’d been in Europe with the kids. It had been a lot of the same – it was too hot, and kids fell asleep in the Sistine Chapel (!) and everyone complained so much. But the horrible parts somehow bonded us, made us whole, made us into Team Brimley.

Yes, now we are team Brimley-Hale, which as a hyphenated name doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as easily but there were still so many moments that felt really special – like we were truly a team – when we were together on that trip. One of them was that sweaty moment in the back of the cab.

Another was that night at the bioluminescence.

It was there that we all gathered together in the water as Claire showed us how to move our hands back and forth to make the most amount of light. The boys each tried it and were amazed. It looked like magic, and I almost cried, watching the three of them. It felt like magic.

“Mom, dad!” Austin said, motioning for all of us to come closer, which we did. When we were all together he said, “Let’s make light as a family!”