I got to travel a lot this year. Back in March, my sister and I escaped to Florida, tearing around Disney and Harry Potter World like two sugared-up kids. When my children asked why they couldn’t come see Hogwarts, I told them I was going to make sure it was safe before I took them there.
In June, Husband and I went to Los Angeles for my sister-in-law’s wedding, getting all glammed up and dancing our butts off, then drinking up the views in Malibu, walking around Santa Monica, sleeping late and sitting by the pool, and eating really good food at the many kosher restaurants around the city. When my kids asked why they didn’t get to go on vacation with us, I told them that if they came with us, it wouldn’t be a vacation anymore.
They didn’t get it.
It’s not that I don’t like traveling with my kids. Actually, that’s a lie. Hitting the road with my spawn is like a holding pattern in the seventh circle of hell.
It serves me right, though, considering what my parents went through with us. I need only think back on my own family trips to convince me that taking my children on vacation is a terrible, terrible idea.
When I was sixteen, my family went to Mexico. We stayed at a shmancy hotel in Cancun with a room that overlooked the pool and a balcony from which you could spy on other guests. On the ground floor was a convenience store where I bought $200 worth of gummy candy, and a restaurant where I demanded quesadillas con queso, SOLAMENTE. I was very firm on this. I had a fear of vegetables – and of being anywhere beyond a two-mile radius of my house.
During the day, I would lay about by the pool with my parents and siblings, sipping from an unlimited supply of (virgin) tropical drinks while trying to find a comfortable position for my newly-cornrowed head. At least once a day, my father joked about how Spanish is just like English, except with an “O” at the end: “Get me a towel-o. See? I can speak Spanish. They’re over there on the left-o…”
I pretended not to know him.
Naturally, there were family outings beyond the hotel, all of which triggered an adorable cocktail of agoraphobia and free-floating anxiety. At Xcaret Park, I watched from the bleachers as my family swam with dolphins, imagining one of them, possibly a dolphin, would end up getting eaten. Abril, one of the sleek aquatic mammals, found my brother, Noah, especially attractive, and followed him around the pool like a stalker, nosing his butt suggestively. Noah made a break for it before Abril started humping his leg.
Then it was on to Chichen Itza, the Mayan ruins where tourists can climb a massive stone pyramid called El Castillo. Obviously, when he booked the trip, my father had not considered that one of us could plunge to our death – or worse, get laughed off El Castillo for trying to huff and puff their rotund adolescent body to the apex. So up my family went, while I spent three hours sweltering in our rental van (because apparently my parents didn’t care if I got kidnapped and sold into the sex trade). At one point, my father, red-faced and sweaty, came back to check on me.
“You sure you don’t want to come, Beez? This is a once-in-a-liftime thing. You might regret it one day.”
“I might,” I said, “and I might not.”
I got out only to watch a game of jai-alai, in which lean young men, limber as string cheeses, scaled walls and bumped a ball through a vertical hoop with their hips. They seemed to defy gravity. I imagined them waking up at sunrise to do handsprings up the stairs of El Castillo.
Blessedly, we returned to the hotel and our perches poolside. One afternoon, my parents and brothers napped in their rooms while my sister and I stayed at the pool to brown ourselves. After hitting the bar for another round of umbrella drinks, I noticed some of the male staff glancing my way. Because in Mexico, I thought smugly, the fat girls are caliente. As I walked back to our chairs, my hips swayed like wheat stalks under my leopard-print sarong.
My sister eyed me. “Why are you walking like that?”
“Yeah, you are. Like you’re on a catwalk or something.”
“I am not. Shut up.”
“Look, this is you…” My sister rose from her seat and strolled alongside the pool, vigorously swinging her hips in an exaggerated imitation of my strut. But before I could say a word, her leg shot out from under her, and in half a second, she was on the ground, writhing in pain.
I’m basically a decent person, but I was born with pathological schadenfreude. When people fall down, I laugh – and I don’t mean a cute little chuckle. I guffaw, loudly, until I’m crying out of every hole in my face. Once, when my husband and I were engaged, I almost hyperventilated from laughing after he fell down some icy steps and almost broke his back. He said it made him think twice about marrying me.
So as my sister lay injured and sobbing by the pool, I rolled around on my lounge chair in hysterics. On the exhales, I asked, “Are…you…okay…?”
“No!” she cried. “I can’t get up!”
This made me laugh harder.
The scene attracted a few members of the hotel staff, who slowly surrounded my sister. Curled over her ankle, she had no idea they were there.
“Señorita…” one of them said.
Her head shot up, terrified, and they all jumped back. She wailed harder.
“Can you really not get up?” I called to her.
“What do you think, idiot?!?”
“Okay, I’m getting Mom and Dad.” Holding the stitch in my side, I told the men in shitty high school Spanish that I would be right back, then ran into the hotel to bang on my parents’ door.
“Yeah?” said a sleepy male voice on the other side.
“It’s me. Dena fell.”
“What?” I heard my father shift from his bed and walk to the door. When it swung open, he looked rumpled and flushed, while my mother, who never slept, sat up against the headboard with a romance novel.
“Dena fell outside,” I said, breathless. “By the pool. She’s down there right now. She needs help.”
They both stared at me.
Mom moved her glasses onto the top of her head, which pulled her hair back like a headband. “Come on, Rea. Don’t screw around.”
I suddenly remembered the summer I was seven, when Mom got a call from my camp counselor to congratulate her on the new addition to our family.
“What?” my mother said.
“Rea told us you had a baby last night. A girl named Rebecca?”
“That’s interesting,” she said, “because I gave birth to my last child three years ago – and then I had my tubes tied.”
Since then, we’d had some trust issues.
“I swear!” I exclaimed. “Dena slipped next to the pool and she can’t get up and these guys are trying to help her and she’s CRYING!”
My parents exchanged a glance.
“Just LOOK!” I cried, pointing at the balcony.
“Fine,” my father said, “but if you’re screwing with us…”
He pushed past the sheer curtain and stepped onto the balcony. A second later, his shoulders went stiff. “Oh, shit,” he said, then whirled around and darted out of the room.
“I told you,” I crowed to my mother, then followed him.
Down at the pool, my sister was still hysterical as the staff attempted to speak to her in Spanish, which she didn’t understand. My father made his way through them, then crouched down to check on her. When he touched her ankle, she yelped.
“We have to go to the hospital,” he said, resigned, as if this was the inevitable disaster he’d expected to ruin his vacation. He looked up at the staff. “Do you know where the closest hospital is? Hospital-o?”
I buried my face in my hands.
Eventually, Dad and company got my sister to her feet, and off they went to the hospital, where she had her ankle wrapped and was given crutches. She was forced to use them for the rest of the vacation.
Karma is a bitch.
Soon after my sister’s injury, we got news that Hurricane Mitch was descending upon us. Dad took it as a good excuse to extend our trip. (As a pilot, nasty weather didn’t scare him; he liked to steer into jet-black clouds, then wondered why we puked all over each other.) When the storm hit, we watched from our balcony with morbid curiosity as the ocean churned and writhed against itself like it was brewing up a monster.
Finally, we flew home, boarding a party bus at the airport to drive us back to our house.
“So,” said my parents, looking back at us, “did you have a great time?”
Dena looked down at her crutches and glared at them.
“It was alright,” I said. “Kinda boring.”
And that, my children, is why I go on vacation without you.