Valley Voices

The summer family trip to Santa Cruz was hard, but well worth it

Jill Simonian’s daughters and nieces at a Santa Cruz beach.
Jill Simonian’s daughters and nieces at a Santa Cruz beach.

“Nothing worth doing is ever easy ...” Growing up, I’d rely on this cliché to get me through challenges in school and career pursuits. As a mom, I find myself spurting it out when my daughters get frustrated with homework or something they’re working on. This summer, I’m realizing it also applies to family traditions and coping after loss.

Growing up in the Central Valley, our go-to family vacation was Santa Cruz. Every summer it was the same hotel, same chocolate-dipped ice cream cones, same sea lions barking under the pier... from the time I was 1 year old until now. One of my earliest memories involves me losing red sparkly deely boppers on the boardwalk and my dad walking all the way back from our hotel to get it. Granted, the trips lapsed when my sister and I got older, with college and work days during our 20s, but the last few years saw a resurrection as we started taking our own kids (alongside our parents) to re-live childhood traditions.

We knew this year would be different – this year would be hard. After my mom’s passing, the big question came: “Should we still go?” Hotel reservations were made months ahead as usual, but leading up to the dates brought conversations like “Are we doing the right thing? Maybe this is going to be too hard? Maybe we should skip this year,” between my sister and I. No, we’d go with our dad ... because we’re still a family and our kids were excited for this vacation again.

Jill Simonian 2016 Special to The Bee

Being in Santa Cruz without our mom (who was often the driving force for taking the trip in the first place) was mix of strange, fun, sad, precious, suffocating and liberating. As conflicting as it first felt, this year’s trip ended up feeling like our most important post-loss milestone to date. Our kids screamed like hooligans on the same beach my sister and I splashed in when we were little. We enjoyed being with our dad. My sister and I nearly peed in our pants laughing as our daughters acted out wacky skits – like only a toddler, two 6-year-olds and a 7-year-old can – the last night in our hotel rooms. It was good for us to go ... even though it hurt.

Earlier this year, my older daughter broke her arm. When she finally got her cast off, she had trouble bending her elbow and using her once-dominant hand again. “Keep trying,” I’d tell her. “Go back to holding your fork with your right hand...” (She’d gotten used to doing everything as a leftie for almost eight weeks.) “But it hurts, Mommy! It feels weird!” She try and avoid using her right arm to hold and carry things. “If you don’t start using that hand again now, it’s just going to get harder to try and use it again later. It doesn’t feel the same, but it’s still your arm and needs to be reminded how to work again.” It took time, but she’s back to using her right hand and feeling pretty proud of herself.

Because nothing worth doing is ever easy... including family vacations to Santa Cruz.

Jill Simonian was born and raised in Fresno and is the creator of She is author of the book “The FAB Mom’s Guide: How to Get Over the Bump & Bounce Back Fast After Baby” for first-time pregnancy. Connect with her on Facebook and Instagram @jillsimonian.