After a best-laid plan of ‘BFF wedding + surprise babymoon = holiday of a lifetime’ goes awry, Emma Clifton learns to find the magic anyway with a surprise plus one.
In a way, it was charmingly old-fashioned that what derailed our first overseas trip in three years wasn’t the pandemic, or a war, or any of the other spin-the-wheel-of-doom events of 2022. It was something far more long-term: governmental red tape.
When my best friend announced that she and her glorious fiancé were going to get married in Hawai’i, dream holiday destination, we couldn’t think of a better reason to brave the pandemic and leave the country. Luckily (!) between the time they were engaged and the actual wedding, Aotearoa had grown leaps and bounds in terms of having its own absolutely rampant Covid-19 problem, and with Hawai’i being one of the few sensible states of the US to have kept some semblance of restrictions, the pandemic risk was relatively low. And so, we were able to do one of the best and luckiest things a human gets to do: plan an overseas holiday.
My husband Shahab had never been to America before and boy, did I go to town describing all of the good things we would see in Waikiki and the delicious things we would eat. We even decided to throw caution to the wind and add a week in New York on afterwards. We watched every single food-orientated show about these two locations we could get our hands on, made a pinned Google maps of 53 places to eat and started saving our money as fast as possible.
Then two things happened: 1) I got pregnant. 2) When we told our friend Amin, who, like Shahab, is also on an Iranian passport, that we had applied for a US visa, he quite literally laughed out loud at us. “Oh, that’s never going to happen,” he said. “They don’t give Iranians visas.”
Long story short – and one very pleasant interaction with the US consulate where they ‘temporarily’ failed Shahab on the spot – it became increasingly clear our ‘best friend wedding + surprise babymoon = dream holiday of a lifetime’ was going to become me leaving the country solo and Shahab never getting to try the IHOP holiday pancake menu that I had bookmarked in excitement.
But when one door shuts, a window of opportunity opens or whatever the saying is. Because I couldn’t take my husband to Hawai’i, but I could take our unborn son.
Baby On Board
One of the few round-in-circles disagreements I have with my mum is the fact that I say I hadn’t been to Queenstown until the first year of the pandemic, whereas she maintains I went as a child because my parents went there while she was pregnant with me. Despite the flaws in this theory – ‘I couldn’t see out!’ as my main argument – I must now bow to the wisdom of my mother because you can damn well bet that I will be telling our son that he once accompanied me to Waikiki.
When I knew I would be travelling solo, I decided that I would treat the post-wedding days as something of a babymoon for myself, in that I would lean into the concept that was going to allude me for the next decade of my life (minimum): The concept of alone time.
As you would imagine, when I would tell parent friends this plan, they would all get the same fervent yet wistful look in their eyes when they told me to ENJOY EVERY MINUTE.
And for the most part, I did. Sure, I also cried at the airport three times and cursed immigration visas under my breath, railed against Trump and his Muslim Ban, Bush and his Axis of Evil, and the litany of other horrors that happen when you blame an entire people for the actions of their government. But there was comfort in knowing I was travelling to see loved ones, with another loved one tucked on board with me. And what IS parenting if not making the most out of tricky situations, 24/7, anyway? I was just getting a preview.
I hoarded alone time like a doomsday prepper might hoard supplies for the apocalypse to come (not to compare the early days of parenthood to the end of the world… but it is certainly the end of A world). I went for early beach swims in the sunshine, with a chocolate croissant (for the baby) and a mug of coffee (for me). If I had to sum-up one of the biggest joys of Waikiki, it is that the weather is always 27 degrees and the water is always warm. Even at 7am.
I spoke to my baby while we were floating in the water together, the kind of actually-quite-mental behaviour you can really only get away with in a foreign country. When my friend’s wonderful wedding took place, in the lush scenic grounds where the movie Jurassic Park was filmed, I took great delight in the thought of telling my future son, during a movie night, that we had gone there together (and that I had tastefully thrown up in the bushes during the reception).
I fed him virgin coconut mojitos and fresh pineapple and watermelon and fish tacos and we walked along beach at sunset. I napped and read five books and bought baby onesies for him, giant Uniqlo linens for me and FaceTimed Shahab from the hotel every night to describe the day and highlight the bump’s progress. Mostly, I just felt lucky that any of this was possible at all.
My previous trip to Hawai’i had been a stopover for 20 hours, where I had landed at 9pm, stayed overnight, rising at 6am for a sunrise swim. That stopover had cost me around $400 for the night and at the time, it was about ¼ of my entire bank account. I had the guilty-stomach-pit-of-dread that ‘this is a reckless use of your limited money’. But that perspective would soon change.
That stopover took place on the 3 January 2020, and during my early morning swim, I looked up into the sky and made two specific wishes: that this would be the year I would be brave enough to try going freelance, and this would be the year where I got engaged to my then boyfriend, Shahab. Hawai’i at first light is one of the most magical places; it really does feel like you slip beneath the veil of one world into the next. Everything feels possible.
By the end of that same week, China would identify the cases of pneumonia that had locked down Wuhan as Coronavirus. Three weeks later, WHO would declare a global emergency and three months later, myself and all my colleagues would lose our jobs in a Zoom meeting during the first of many lockdowns, the week after my boyfriend moved in with me. We would get married one year later; we are still yet to reunite with his family in Iran. At the time of that stopover, I didn’t know any of this, or that international travel would be off the radar for over two years, and the kind of effortless travel that previously existed might have disappeared forever.
That $400 ended up being some of the most important money I would ever spend and it felt like a surreal full circle moment to be back there, sunrise swimming my baby and I around those same warm Waikiki waters. Life in this pandemic world is as uncertain as ever but, maybe for the first time in our lives, we are aware of the fact that things can change on a dime. And so the importance then lies in not waiting for the perfect plan to unfold, but of finding the magic whenever we can, even when it veers away from our carefully laid-out expectations.
Part of Emma’s stay at Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club was sponsored by Booking.com