S.O.S. From St. Thomas! A mom’s journey in “paradise.”

If your husband told you you could quit your job, stay at home with the kids, and do it all on an island in the Caribbean, you’d probably think you just matched all six numbers of the marriage Powerball. Right? Well, that’s what happened to me in April 2012. My guy told me he landed his dream job, and it just happened to be in St. Thomas, USVI. I still think I won the lotto in the husband category, but the images in my head of Sandals Resorts, cocktails on the beach, sunbathing while my kids played in the sand all day long didn’t really play out as I had envisioned. Turns out my two year old thinks sand is terrifying, my oldest has to go to school, and my middle child just wants someone to play with (not including mom). Island living is not for the faint of heart. It is brutally hot. It is the definition of inconvenient. It is astronomically expensive. It’s quirky. It’s strange. It’s beautiful and ugly and challenging and privileged all rolled into one. Here’s a recap of what it’s like shopping on the island. You’ll want to drive to Target immediately after reading this and kiss the bullseye.


I have a shopping list written down with ten items on it. It’s 9:15 a.m. and I realize now this day is going to be a special kind of hell. I round up Henry (age 4) and Gabby (age 2) and strap them in their car seats. This task alone begins the daily struggle with dripping sweat uncontrollably. It’s 97°. I’d think about skipping the safety routine, since our max speed while driving on island is roughly 27 mph, but the driving around here is risky at best. Tourists drinking while driving (it’s legal), on the left side of the road, while sticking their selfie stick out the window with a Go Pro camera attached all while consulting a GPS is enough to recognize the importance of that whole “Buckle Up” thing. Ok, back to shopping.
My list involves household items, food, notebooks, pants for the boys and a shirt for my husband. I will have to visit no less than seven stores to make this shit happen successfully. First stop: Kmart. Need Halloween buckets for the kids because it’s October 30th and I suck. Kmart has no more buckets, nor pants for the boys. It does have peanut butter ($7.39) and Frosted Mini Wheats ($6.19). Score.
Second stop: Walgreens. Still need Halloween buckets, makeup, and safety pins. I find three of the last four buckets on the shelf. The fourth bucket is broken. Two of the three I buy need new batteries for the light up handles. I also locate safety pins with the help of a very nice manager. Found some inexpensive Cover Girl foundation. Things are looking up. I nearly skip to the jeep basking in my good luck.
Drive across the street to my third stop: Plaza Extra. I prefer Plaza Extra because they play the same music over the speakers every day, all day. It’s Michael Franti. Look him up if you’re not familiar. I grab a couple of things and move on.
Gabby and Henry are close to a breaking point, but we are going to push through with Starburst and the new Hot Wheels they negotiated for at Walgreens.
Stop four: Cash ‘n’ Carry. This is the only store that carries the “3rd Primary Penmanship” notebook my kid needs for second grade. Since he can fit about four words on a page, he’s run out of pages and needs a new notebook already. It’s October. I find the notebooks and pay quickly so I can get the kids out of there ASAP. Cash ‘n’ Carry is about as glamorous and clean as you imagine it to be.
Now is the time we need to buck up. We drive across the island to a clothing store for men, stop five. The store is in the shopping area where the cruise ships dock. There is a ship in port today. This is BAD. I drag the kids into the store with a promise of a new Lego set and more Starburst. I walk in, look at six different size and colors of men’s linen shirts. We are having family pictures taken in two days (also why I needed makeup) and my husband needs to color coordinate with the rest of us. He gets a fuchsia button down in size L.
We head over to my husband Aaron’s office because it’s close, we all need to pee, and he needs to try on this shirt. It doesn’t fit. Of course. He’ll take it back after work and find something else. Mama tried.
Photo Credit: Sage Hammond of Crown Images www.sagehammond.com
After lunch with daddy, we head to stop six, a kids clothing store. It’s one I haven’t been in before. After working past the school uniform section, the gang related section, and women’s fluorescent nightclub wear, I found a rack of boys pants (also needed for the photos). And, HOLY SHIT, I found two pair, in the correct size and style, for only $10 each (marked down from $56)! The store is a wreck, but the two women behind the counter were very kind and enjoyed listening to Gabby sing a song about underwear while Henry made introductions.
Now I have to make good on the Lego promise from earlier. Stop seven. I knew it! I’m running out of time before I have to pick up Cam, my oldest, at school. We head to the other Kmart, we have two Kmarts in our 30 square miles of mountain, and find the one and only Lego set in the store, which is thankfully small and receives Henry’s approval. It costs $21.99. I’m positive the same set stateside is about $9.99, but whatever. While waiting in line to checkout, I have a nice chat with a homeless man who reeks of alcohol and calls me “mami”. He’s lecturing me on my posture. He’s soon kicked out of the store. Now I’ve struck up a conversation with the young guy behind me in line. Henry has introduced himself to him and started discussing possible names for the new stray cat the man has just adopted. (By the way, all of this is perfectly normal interpersonal interactions on the island). The conversation turns to professions and he tells me he is opening the first ever vodka distillery in the Caribbean. Hold. The. Phone. Vodka? In St. Thomas? Sweet baby Jesus, everything I’ve done today has led me to this moment of heaven shining upon me. On an island where my two year old recognizes Captain Morgan because his face is everywhere, this mama wants vodka. My new friend informs me they are opening at the end of November. Fist bump. I’ll be there.
We get checked out and got into the car. I asses the situation. I have mostly completed my list, my daughter has missed her nap, but she’s high on Starburst and happy, Henry is stoked about his Lego set, and we are off to pick up Cam. I drive by a view of the harbor of Charlotte Amalie, boats bobbing in the most amazing color water you will ever see, and do a double take. I can’t help it. No matter my complaints about this island we currently call home, I will never disparage the water, it is beyond belief.
I get Cam, get home, get unpacked. It is 2:40 pm. Put Gabby down for a very late nap and feel like maybe I won today. Then I take a look at the foundation I purchased at Walgreens. It expired in June of 2014. Alright, it’s a tie.
Cover Girl foundation, 1.5 years past expiration. $13.49.
Erin Morrissette has been married to Aaron for eight years.  She is mommy to Cam (age 7), Henry (age 4) and Gabby (age 2). She holds a bachelors degree from Central Michigan University and a master’s degree in public health from Ball State University. She left her job in the health field three years ago to earn a paycheck made up of hugs, kisses and dirty diapers. She and her family currently reside in St. Thomas, VI.
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