Vacay Days Haze

How to refine relaxing


By Susan S. Kelly

But deep down, though, aren’t you glad it’s over? Not summer, no — the temps, the tomatoes, the twilights. The rum drinks and rose slushes. I’m talking about The Vacation, that week or two at the beach or lake or mountains or wherever. The one you made a list of what to take to wear, what to take to read, what meals to cook, what food to take from home, what food to buy once you got there, which bedroom for which child/baby/sister-in-law, so that you were exhausted before you even packed the car? The empty bedroom I have to dedicate to vacation staging requires more space than Christmas staging.

C’mon. Aren’t you secretly happy to be back to your old selfish self?  Because, fact: Vacations are all about compromise. I’d use the term go-with-the-flow, but it’s something beyond that. Routines are compromised, sleep is compromised. Understand that there will be blood. And if not blood, then certainly there will be meltdowns. Over getting stuck with the Old Maid or the queen of spades or the last spoon during games. That the air conditioning is too cold/not cold enough. You just have to yield to the inevitable, and accept the fact that you will, inevitably, walk in on someone in the bathroom. That the rental house does not have a Cuisinart and so, yes, you’re going to have to chop all that cabbage by hand. That it does not have a (zester/garlic press/whisk/celery seed, or even a particularly sharp knife. That someone doesn’t like coleslaw/store-bought barbecue sauce/prefers Neese’s to Jimmy Dean’s sausage, and will be vocal about it. That there will be a grit-embedded soap bar or Suave gel in the outdoor shower instead of your elegant (stolen) hotel products at home.

Like death, taxes and colonoscopies, just accept. Accept that you will not get the book(s) you’ve brought read. That you will not be first at the crossword puzzle because there’s only one newspaper and 13 people. Accept the mirror that makes you look fat. Curse yourself for not having brought bathroom deodorizer, your own pillow, a sleep machine, and a sleep mask to block the sunlight coming in from the permanently bent mini-blinds every morning at 5 a.m.

How nice, now that it’s over, to reflect fondly on vacay’s memory-making moments, which (almost) blot out the memory of my father’s knuckles whitening around his glass of Scotch during his sacrosanct daily cocktail hour, coincidentally during my children’s dinnertime arsenic hour. (“Do you like seafood?” Open mouth and let whatever’s in it fall out and gleefully proclaim, “See food!”) Or, at the other end of the clock spectrum, driving around nowhere at 6 a.m. with a baby in the car seat so as not to wake the rest of the house. Reflect upon the not-so-well-known adage that it’s better to know someone who owns a boat or a tent than to own one yourself. And isn’t it grand that you have 12 months before you have to go through the vacation food dregs again, that morning of rent-house departure? The mustard jar with an inch in it, the hummus barely dipped into, the half-sleeve of saltines, the two lemons, three hot dogs, four club sodas, and five eggs? Before guilt again requires you to bring home the tired food and unpack it from a cooler with a grainy layer of sand, from grocery bags used and reused and crinkled with recycled protest.

With a year to plan, make a few resolutions. First up, rethink the rest period dictate. You know, the required downtime after lunch. Why did I think that idea would ever work when I hated it as a child — watching the clock, not tired of anything except reading The Bobbsey Twins and scratching chigger bites till they bled? Child-wise, the only thing worse than a rest period is waiting to go in swimming after lunch because you’ll get a cramp and drown. (Is that even still a thing? Or just another empty childhood threat like watching out for rusty nails and barbed wire because you’ll get lockjaw? We used to run around with our teeth clamped together to see what that graphic euphemism for tetanus felt like.) Instead of a mandated rest period, just claim an hour alone in your bedroom and not give a damn what the children are doing as long as they don’t do it to you. Mine once managed to find fly swatters in a broom closet, and while they had zero idea what a fly swatter actually was intended for, they entertained themselves for a good hour running around and slapping each other. On a related topic, resolve to just hand the kid a Popsicle or a doughnut and keep going. Just close the door to the bunk room where wet bathing suits and towels, 14 changes of clothes, and other detritus (sticky Popsicle sticks, see above) so clutter the floor that you can’t even see the floor.

Next year, resolve to go ahead and pay the exorbitant entrance fee to Jungle Rapids, get your hand indelibly stamped, claim your concrete patch, and become a redneck for the day. It’s absolutely thrillingly liberating. One: You will not see anyone you know, so you can revel in anonymity, act like an idiot, and look even worse. Two: You can finally, finally, over and over, slide down all those blue chutes that look so enticing from the road (refer to “act like an idiot,” above). Three: Because there’s nothing remotely healthy on offer at the food counter, you have permission to stuff yourself with deliciously vile, greasy, sugary and salty stuff like French fries that, as my daughter noted when she was about 4, “don’t have any potato left in them,” because they’ve been fried so hard and so long. Go ahead and laugh, but I’ve done this with my sister and our children, and after finally coming home to our gated, manicured, perfect-and-pristine beach community for supper, we looked at each other, guessed what the other was thinking, and said, “Let’s go back.” What the heck? Our hand stamps were good until 10 p.m.

Resolve, next year, to just sleep on top of the beds you’ve already made up the night before check-out, so you don’t have to do any laundry or make any beds on departure day. Yes, I have done this.

Finally, rethink the return to reality. Next year, go to a different grocery store for that first run.  That way, you won’t run into anyone you know who has been doing their daily things — wedding, exercising, etc. — that make you feel guilty, or puzzle or enrage you. Remember, you’ve been out of orbit, and re-entry to the atmosphere of home is deadly if it happens too fast. NASA makes sure the astronauts have a re-entry heat shield on their space capsule. Put on yours and avoid frying: zzziiipppp!  OH

Susan S. Kelly is a blithe spirit, author of several novels, and a proud grandmother.

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