I’d spent weeks planning a beach trip for our kids – everything from our accommodations and sleeping arrangements to packing towels and toys. I had never been to Hilton Head myself and thought I may have been more excited than the kids (I mean after all, we were staying at the Disney Beach Resort)! The morning finally came, and I woke up early to arrive at the shelter, tired yet excited. As I walked into the house, I expected the kids to be just as tired as I was. Boy was I wrong. There was nothing but excitement throughout the house, and it was evident in the huge smiles plastered across each of their faces. We loaded into the cars and were off!
Every time we changed interstates or turned on to yet another back road we heard an excited chorus of “Are we close?” and “Are we there yet?” And every time the response was, “Not yet.” As we drove over the last bridge, landing us on the island, their questions were finally answered. From the backseat, a little girl spotted the “Welcome to Hilton Head” sign and let out a shriek of excitement. “We’re here!”
We walked up to the gate at the pool, and the kids got their first glimpse of the water slide. More shrieks of excitement from our crowd (including the staff, of course). The boys barely got their shirts off before they jumped in, each one making a bigger splash than the last. As they came up out of the water they were smiling from ear to ear. At last they were just kids, untroubled and carefree, playing in the pool with their friends.
The boys are great swimmers. They loved to show off how long they could float and how far they could swim underwater. Our littlest guy – age 6 – swam like a fish for hours in the pool, determined to do everything the other boys were doing. By the end of the day, he was utterly exhausted, but just as thrilled as he was at the beginning. One of the older boys, Neil, even helped teach some of the younger kids how to swim! “Just take a deep breath and you’ll float,” he instructed. “The most important part is to always kick your feet.”
One little girl, Ivy, determined that the water slide was by far the greatest thing in the world, and she proceeded to spend the next several hours going down that slide, keeping count each time. When the day was coming to a close she said proudly, “I did the slide 65 times!” Another little girl wasn’t tall enough to ride the slide, but that didn’t stop her from enjoying “the bubbles” at the bottom. She would ask to be taken to the middle, where the current was strongest, and would float back to the wall on her own.
I really thought the day couldn’t get any better. The kids were totally exhausted, but never let their smiles fade. Little did I know that dinner was going to be an adventure of its own. We arrived at the restaurant and the kids picked their tables. The older teens, who had been helping the younger kids at the pool all day, got to sit by themselves. I am continually surprised by the respect and manners our kids show: “Hello, my name is T and I’d like to have a cheeseburger and fries for dinner, please.” Entrees started coming out of the kitchen and eyes grew wide. “What’s that? Can I try some? That hamburger has avocado on it!”
Two young men chatted with our hosts and said “Thank you.” The same two young men got to meet golf pros and even shook hands with one of them. The golf pro commented, “Wow, that’s a great handshake!” as they chatted all about his golf game. Our houseparents deserve so much credit for teaching our kids how to introduce themselves, to say “please” and “thank you,” and to shake hands.
The day was coming to an end, but when we got back to the resort they had a special treat waiting for us – Mickey Mouse ice cream! We finished our ice cream and walked down the channel, looking at boats and picking sea shells out of the sidewalk; a perfect end to a perfect day. As we were getting into bed one little girl whispered that she couldn’t believe we had moved to Disney World!
The next morning the kids were ready for the beach! For one special girl, this was the first time at the beach. After carefully setting foot on beach sand and playing in the salty water, she asked what else one does at the beach. She wanted to make sure she did EVERYTHING. So that’s what we did – everything. We picked up shells along the beach, we played in the tidal pools, we flew kites, and we covered her in sand, temporarily turning her into a mermaid.
Our littlest one wore her swim wings the entire time, regardless of how close she was to the water. She helped build a sand castle, gave one of our new friends a “sand manicure,” and hosted a boat race in the tidal pool.
It had been a great trip. We were all kissed by the sun and covered in sand. All the film was used on their disposable cameras, leaving memories that will last a lifetime. We packed back into the cars and headed back to the shelter. The ride back was quiet; the kids were asleep in the back dreaming of their adventures. A small voice broke the silence “I miss the shelter, it feels like we’ve been gone forever.”
Grace Bennett, Project Coordinator