Here’s something you should know about me: I can be pretty spur-of-the-moment. It’s an attribute that helped get me invited recently on an amazing Caribbean getaway, but also may or may not be the reason why I ended up with so many kids.
It seems I prefer to let things happen organically.
Now, this type of life-strategy can be fraught with uncertainty. It can leave you wondering what you have in the pantry to feed your four children for dinner at 6 p.m. or whether you’ll be spending your golden years living in you daughter’s basement eating cat food.
But when it comes to vacationing, the what-the-hell approach really seems to be working out for me.
Don’t get me wrong: I’d love to be one of those people who can tell you where she’s spending her holidays through 2019. I have a girlfriend who’s already booked her all-inclusive stay in Mexico for spring break next year and Disney World the following summer.
I’d also love to be one of those people who has traditional annual getaways marked on her calendar. The Presidents Weekend ski trip you’ve been doing with a bunch of families since the kids were small or the end-of-summer beach house your extended family has been renting for years.
Sadly, I am none of those things. It’s expensive taking four kids on vacation. Throw in all their different schedules and the ten-year disparity in the children’s ages, and we haven’t all gone away together in years. I would also like to add that coming off a decade of having at least one teenager in the house might also be a contributing factor. Sometimes it’s hard enough sitting down to eat dinner together, much less paying to share a hotel room.
And since my divorce six years ago, the few traditional trips we did enjoy as a family have become a thing of the past (well, for me anyway). I loved our annual ski weekend at the Scooby Doo House – so named because the place was so dated it looked as if the Mystery Machine could pull up at any moment –with friends and cousins. While the house was pretty creepy, like I’d arrive bearing my own sheets and blankets, it was ski-on/ski-off and slept a ton of people and the mountain was manageable enough that the kids could go off on their own and feel like they owned the place.
For a few years towards the end of my marriage, I would accompany my husband to London for a long weekend in February. Say what you will about the man, but my ex can be super fun and for some reason, we were always able to push aside whatever strife was disrupting our stateside life and just enjoy those U.K. trips.
Nowadays when I travel it’s generally on the coattails of somebody else’s planning and often, arrives last minute. Which is where the benefits of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants-life come in.
I just returned from one of those trips.
A few weeks ago, a friend texted and asked if I wanted to jump on her 50th birthday jaunt to St. Barth’s. Her husband had rented a villa so pretty much I just needed to get myself there. I knew that the trip had been planned for couples and tried to weigh the potential fabulousness of an island getaway with, once again, playing the part of the fifth wheel.
“We are so NOT couply,” my pal texted and when we spoke later, she explained that two of the couples had dropped out and she was trying to fill the open spots with girlfriends instead.
“Why wouldn’t I go?” I asked her, reasoning that I was also turning 50 this summer and didn’t really have anything planned to mark the occasion.
“Exactly,” she said. “It would be wrong not to.”
And just like that, a catchphrase was born.
Throughout the five-day trip, whether the question was whether to have a rum punch at 9 a.m., eat one of the little sugar-crusted donuts filled with Nutella that were delivered in a basket each morning, or take off our swim tops (See: starting the drinking day at 9 a.m.), the answer for all eight of us was invariably, “It would be wrong not to.”
In fact, had I not applied that way of thinking to a last-minute invitation I received a few years ago, I would not have met the birthday girl in the first place. Two friends from town were flying to one of their places in Florida for the weekend and they asked me to join them. We were going down on a Thursday night and would be joined the following day by the homeowner’s college roommate. But I was more than satisfied with the company of my hometown girls and didn’t really give much thought to the college roommate’s arrival.
Early the next morning, in walks the college roommate. We eyed either up and down. “I love your shorts,” she told me. “I love your shoes,” I gushed. And the rest, as they say, was history. It was love at first sight and we’ve stayed in touch well after that fateful trip.
Maybe another way of framing “It would be wrong not to,” would be: “When opportunity knocks, open the damn door.”
For my daughter, a recent college graduate, that meant saying “yes” to her first job offer following her very first interview. She came down from her bedroom to share the good news she had just received in an email while I was sitting outside on our deck drinking a bottle of rose with a pal. My daughter’s initial reaction was to reject the offer. It was so soon after graduation and she didn’t know if this is what she wanted to do with her life. And then my friend gently suggested, as only someone who is not the mother in that situation might do, that my girl had nothing to lose and so much to gain. A salary. Life experience. The opportunity to start figuring out what she really does want to do with her sweet, wild life. And before I knew it, I had a child with a Big Girl Job.
For my younger daughter, saying “Hi” to opportunity means juggling all-manner of odd jobs this summer, and it seems one gig has led to the next. She’s got a group of families for whom she babysits, taking kids to the beach or hanging out with them after a day at camp. She’s been helping a local caterer do some food prep as well as deliver dinners she prepares for customers. And someone in town hired her a few weeks ago to put together IKEA bedroom furniture. For someone who started the summer with not many job prospects, the girl is always working.
Last fall, my mom asked if my 13yo son and me wanted to join her for a November trip to Disney World. One of my sisters had dropped out and the villa she’d rented had enough room for us to tag along. Now, at the time, I was undergoing a financial downturn as I waited for the sale of my house to go through. I knew the villa was paid for and that my mom would probably treat us to most of our meals, but I still had to fly us there and pay for the park tickets.
But my youngest had never really been to Disney and none of us was getting any younger and, I reasoned, when would I ever have another opportunity to go with my own mother to Disney World? Or anywhere else with her, for that matter?
So I booked it. And guess what? It would have been wrong not to.
If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have gotten to watch my 13yo son happily push my 4-month-old nephew’s stroller through the throngs of people at the Magic Kingdom one morning, pausing to stick his head under the stroller’s canopy to make the baby laugh. Or I’d have missed seeing my child walk hand-in-hand with his 4yo nephew. I wouldn’t have walked with that Tiny Husband down one of the side streets of Hollywood Studios, fresh off a spin on the Rockin’ Rollercoaster, and have him grab my own hand and hold it as we strolled towards the exit, happily chatting about what to do next. And, had I not said “yes,” I would not witnessed my mother – who is the opposite of me, a planner and always in control – deliriously out-of-control one night in Epcot.
We’d gone to the park after an early dinner to walk around and see if we could jump on any of the rides. We walked past spraying fountains timed to music and watched my 4yo nephew jump up and down when Nemo swam onto the screen in a darkened theater. Later, we strolled past the thrill ride Test Track and saw that there weren’t the usual long longs waiting to get in.
And maybe because she had just dipped and swooped over the majestic state of California on a ride called Soarin’, or maybe it was just being out of New Jersey and in Florida on a balmy November night, but my usually reticent mother seemed to be feeling a little more adventurous and before we knew it, six of us were on the line and moving towards the ride.
The last time I’d been on Test Track was when it first opened years ago and my only recollection was that it kept breaking down throughout so I guess we never really got the ride’s full effect. It’s pretty much like you’re pretending to test a race car – its brakes and steering, stuff like that – and in the end you kind of open it up and test its speed capabilities, but I didn’t remember it being particularly thrilling.
So we all climbed into our vehicle – my brother, 4yo nephew and his dad in the front and me, my mom and the 13yo in the back – and set off on our journey. The car jerked around the track as it went through its various tests and we were all laughing and pretending the 4yo was driving the car and yelling at him to stop being a crazy driver.
We twisted and turned through the course, dipping down sudden hills that gave our stomachs little jolts that made us whoop with delight, and about 3.5 minutes in were alerted that we’d arrived at the Barrier Test Area. The vehicle began flying down the track towards a wall that pulled apart at the last second and we sped outside into the warm Florida night. A light rain was falling as we whipped around the track and I turned to see my mom sitting next to me laughing harder than I’d ever seen her laugh – like, from deep within her belly – and her usually perfectly arranged hair flying in every direction. I’d never seen her so raw. So free. I sat next to her and tried to take it all in, imprint all the details of that moment – the rain, the force of the six of us hurtling down the track, my mom’s laughter – in my mental hard drive. I savored the sweetness of that moment like I do when I bite into that one perfect peach each summer. I know from experience that there will be plenty more peaches to come, but few –if any – will measure up to that one exceptionally juicy bite.
When I returned home I wrote about it in my journal, placing that moment at the top of my highlights from the trip. Seeing my mother from a new angle. Watching her let go.
Man, it so would have been wrong not to.
Planning a vacation and have room for one more? Obviously, it would be wrong not to ask me. In the meantime, you can sign up to get all of my latest posts sent right to your inbox by typing your email into the box below. You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter.