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  • Writer's pictureDrew Dotson

Woe to the child (birthday edition)

You know that ol’ medieval European saying, "Woe to the child who tastes salty from a kiss on the brow, for he is cursed and soon will die”?

No? Nobody?

Parents have been cautioned about salty babies since at least the 15th century. Salty skin was “known to herald an unavoidable death preceded by rasping agony.” Though it was once attributed to witchcraft, we’ve since learned the salty skin was caused by cystic fibrosis (CF).

I played sports growing up, and no matter how hard I ran or how steamy the weather, sweat was nowhere to be found. Instead, I’d notice lines of salt glistening in the crooks of my elbows after a soccer game or swim meet.

As I got older, my no-sweating trick came in handy. Even on the swampiest Georgia days, I could wear what I wanted without risk of soaking through clothing. I didn’t understand the fuss about “breaking a sweat just walking out to my car.” I was just minding my own witchy business.


On my birthday last Wednesday, my boyfriend John and I went on a speedboating adventure along Kauai’s Nāpali Coast in Hawaii. (Hopefully that’s the most obnoxious-sounding thing I’ll say in this post — maybe in my lifetime.)

The selfie version

At one point, the captain stopped the boat in the middle of the rich blue waters.

“Anyone wanna go for a swim? Use the restroom?”

By default, my mind began to cycle through all the rational reasons (and, for me, “rational” often means “rooted in worry”) I shouldn’t jump in the ocean — downright terrible things like having to climb back into the boat, dry off, and reapply sunscreen.

Instead, to my surprise, I turned to John and said, “Let’s do it.”

I removed a layer of clothing, and, after a playful nudge, I was in the actual middle (or close to it) of the Pacific Ocean. I was invigorated — happy to be in the water.

After ungracefully climbing back into the vessel, I dried off. As I began to reapply sunscreen, I felt a familiar grit — one of dried salt. Only this time, it wasn’t mine. It belonged to the sea. In that moment on my 37th birthday, I realized it’d been almost two years since I felt that recognizable texture — once a reminder that something’s not quite right. Woe to the child.

Following another wild boat ride, the captain anchored us in a location where we could snorkel. I’ve heard CF likened to breathing through a straw, an assessment I can’t validate since my perspective is somewhat skewed. Yet when the captain handed out snorkeling masks, I wasn’t afraid. I didn’t feel the fear I’d come to know intimately — the terror that I wouldn’t be able to get air into my lungs fast enough. Instead, I secured my snorkeling mask, shimmied into my flippers, and hopped back into the big blue sea.

I felt so buoyant as I moseyed through the water, absorbing the beauty beneath me. Face down in the water, I heard a commotion and lifted my head.

“Turtles!” some folks yelled from the boat.

I hurried in that direction and saw John gesturing beneath him. Suddenly I realized I was merely feet above a sea turtle as it glided through the water. I drifted along with it, trying to synchronize our strokes.

My heart was full. And I felt fiercely connected to this world.

It’s tough to admit, but at times it didn’t seem the world wanted me here. It felt like I was being thrown one obstacle after another, testing me until I’d finally break.

But in that moment with the sea turtle, everything made perfect sense.

The non-selfie version

I felt Ramón’s presence throughout the entire trip, even when partaking in activities that wouldn’t have been compatible with his motion sickness or inability to swim.

John and I went on a doors-off helicopter tour that I can only describe as miraculous. (Okay, that sounds obnoxious, too.) While on our boating trip, two guys from Utah asked how it was. They were disappointed because they hadn’t been able to get a flight reservation on short notice.

Flying high

For their sakes, I wanted to say they didn’t miss much, but I’m not deft at holding back.

“It was life-changing. We were both brought to tears.”

“Geez. You’re supposed to minimize it,” the Utahan joked.

“No, no, no,” I backtracked. “Today was a lot of fun, for sure.” I affirmed the thrill of the boat ride.

But I continued…

“The helicopter ride was a different experience entirely. It’s the closest thing to a miracle I’ve ever witnessed.”

Sorry, Utahans. But for real.

We flew through Waimea Canyon (“the Grand Canyon of the Pacific”), taking in waterfall after waterfall. At one point, John saw a rainbow below us as the sun flashed through the mist. (Hi, Ramón!)

I took this photo
And this one, too

And as we exited the canyon and got our first glimpse of the Nāpali Coast, “Paradise” by Coldplay (one of Ramón’s favorite bands) blasted in our headsets.

It was as though I was hearing the song for the first time.

When she was just a girl, she expected the world But it flew away from her reach And the bullets catch in her teeth Life goes on, it gets so heavy The wheel breaks the butterfly Every tear a waterfall In the night, the stormy night, she'll close her eyes In the night, the stormy night, away she'd fly

Dream of para-para-paradise Para-para-paradise Para-para-paradise

And, oh the tears. They flowed. But in the most beautiful way. I never understood the concept of happy tears until that moment. I pray I don’t hear that song in a public place anytime soon or I’ll be on the Hot Mess Express.

Woe to the child no more. “WHOA!” exclaims the adult who has been blessed to see such beauty.

Thank you to everyone who helped make my birthday special. Paradise distracted me from my usual birthday plea, but here’s the best way to help me celebrate:


May 06, 2023

I am so glad you cried happy tears! You’ve had your fill of sad ones. You look so happy in the pictures. 😊


May 05, 2023

Looks like a beautiful trip:) happy 37th💜


Florence Molinaro
Florence Molinaro
May 04, 2023

Happy to hear of your birthday in the paradise that is HI. Thank you for sharing the trip & photos.


May 04, 2023



May 04, 2023

I am so happy for you both.

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