Forgive me, Self, for I have sinned. It has been six years since our last vacation.
Husband and I have had moments, dates, and a couple of overnights where either we were out of the house or the kids were — thank you for making that happen,
duct tape Grandma and Grandpa — but no “pack your fancy underpants and sunscreen/leave the blacklight at home because you’re about to sleep in DNA hell” vacation.
Husband and I have also had separate vacations. His involved week-long poker games or fishing trips or work/play jaunts to Costa Rica. Mine was one two-night stay in Chicago, a whopping 10 minutes away from my house. And I worked through most of it.
Speaking of DNA, It’s possible that we’ve avoided travelling together because the last major vacation we took I came home pregnant with the twins. Which was cool and all, until my mother-in-law did some complicated math and figured out I got pregnant in her vacation home. For six years she has jokingly asked us which bed her grandchildren were conceived in so she could ostensibly wash the sheets (speaking of black lights). I don’t have the heart to answer that she has no reason to worry, they were conceived in the shower. See, Mother-in-Law? I have your best interests in mind.
It was at one of our few-and-far-between overnights that I got pregnant again.
All of our Priceline searches come with convenient maps to local pharmacies, with family planning sections highlighted. Our Expedia searches map out routes to the closest Barry White Tribute shows and oyster bars.
So three babies, ten thousand band-aids, eight million diapers, countless expletives, and infinity hugs and smiles later, I looked over to the other side of the couch and saw a vaguely familiar, terribly handsome (and tired) man and realized it was time to get away together.
Since my 40th birthday was celebrated with a cupcake, and since we don’t vacation but once every six years, and have I mentioned the three kids? I thought I’d throw out the suggestion of my once-in-a-lifetime, the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. Three days of sampling and learning from some of the best chefs and winemakers in the world. I figured I’d open with this and then negotiate down to maybe a night or two in nearby Chicago with a leisurely dinner over some shabu shabu. Or brats. Whatever.
Husband called my bluff, called for tickets, and called for smelling salts because I nearly passed out from the excitement.
I spent the next six months squeeing (on the inside) and planning (on Pinterest). That, my friends, was half the fun of this vacation. The anticipation. The wonder. The attempt to lose three pounds (which I didn’t…N.B. I took this as my first sign of perimenopause that increased exercise and super-healthy diet did not budge my mini-bulge one iota. Let me tell you how perimenopause can really mess with you, especially when you have a toddler. But let me tell you that another time. Unless I forget. That happens. I’m just hoping I can forget I’m in perimenopause.)
Much of the joy of the planning phases was wondering what stories I’d live and perhaps relate. For some reason, Elsewhere seems to beget Story. It’s why I’m constantly trying to
run away from my children find Newness in familiar places.
This joy was, of course, tempered by two things: One, the worry that I would put on ten immovable pounds in four days of gluttony. I put some stylish muumuus on my Pinterest Fashion board just in case. Two, having everything here on the homefront in enough of a controlled tailspin that I could leave with minimal worry. Also, there is no such thing as a stylish muumuu.
“Aspen” was my mantra, my dreamy reason for self-denial, anticipation, what-are-you-saving-it-for, delayed gratification. Yes, Food and Wine Festivals sound self-indulgent; but we’d paid for it in years of exhaustion, permanence, roots-building, time-outs, and tired smiles as we gazed at each other’s bed heads and under-eye circles as our kids all talked at us simultaneously for 15 hours a day.
Oh, five-year-old L. worked hard to keep us from fully enjoying the anticipation. Outwitting me at every turn. “What if Grandma and Grandpa forget to come? What if the sitter doesn’t show up? What if they don’t know the schedule? What if I want to talk to you!” I worked through this with him, even letting him help me write up the notes for Grandma, Grandpa and the sitter (we broke up the child care responsibilities.) I realized of course he did this with one eye on the tv and ended up staying up an extra 60 minutes, finding new and interesting possible situations. “What if Grandma doesn’t know where the spatula is? What if Grandpa doesn’t know to give us water at night?” But when he saw these mines weren’t keeping me from crossing the fields, he pulled a rather masterful, “What will I do because I’m just going to be so sad because I will miss you too much to be happy.” Tears and everything. Ooh, a gut-full of guilt. (Guilt that quickly turned like most of the cheese in my “sta-fresh” drawer once my parents showed up for the first leg of the staying. 5-year-old L. didn’t look up as he managed to mumble out a goodbye while cramming some “Only Grandma Will Buy These Cookies For You” in his food-hole.
Husband and I finally left, my hair still wet from taking Baby K. to her swim class, by which I mean MY water workout and her treating me like an inflatable pool toy. We weren’t just hungry for some of the best food of our lives, we craved quiet mornings, soul satisfaction, and romance…none of which we found during the day-of travels.
I’m not one of those calm travelers in the best of circumstances. I like flying. I hate airports, by which I mean I hate crowds of people lugging around big bags and cutting in line and I hate having to worry that my underwire will set off a cascade of alarms and events that will lead to my being strip-searched by a security guard named “Karen” who will be both unimpressed by my humor and also burly.
I also am aware that anytime anyone in the history of travel has had a connecting flight, they’ve NEVER MADE IT. We had a connecting flight in Denver. I was prepared to miss the flight, lose our luggage, or somehow end up promised to a Sheik in the process. (I packed extra clothes, cell phone chargers, and bartering cattle in my carry-on.) Still nervous, though.
As of one hour before take-off, there was fog in Chicago and storms in Denver. Our flight was booked solid, there were about four dozen people on stand-by, and everyone was lining up to board already. WHY? WHY?!!! I’ll tell you why — it’s to make the rest of us nervous. We see one person line up and think they are somehow going to get on board in a faster, better, less stressful method. And I fall for it every goddamned time. Husband humored me as we stood, ready to board…
Our flight was delayed. We stood some more. There were apologies squawked over the PA system. We got on board just about ten minutes after the latest time we’d be able to make our connection.
But the Food and Wine gods are good. Our connecting flight was also delayed, so we ended up having a relaxing 80 minute layover in Denver. We spent most of that time lining up to board the next flight (thanks again for humoring me, hon!) We mostly looked straight up at the flight status display screen, for sanity’s sake. To one side was an egg salad sandwich display that I was afraid to look at directly, and to the other side, a woman lying flat-out on the floor, drinking a smoothie, blocking the path to the Starbucks kiosk. She was rather belligerant as people were giving her dirty looks. Most of the not-passersby didn’t realize she was nursing under her many layers of t-shirts and army jackets. She thought they were giving her nonverbal grief over her publicly feeding her baby. I would venture a guess they just wanted their lattes without having to trip over her Chuck Taylors.
Personally, I was just grossed out by the concept of full-body contact with an airport floor.
Glory be, we got on the second flight without incident. The flight attendants were on the PA every three minutes or so to let us know that the flight was short.
I was pretty damned frazzled when we deplaned.
Then I breathed and looked. Panoramic stories, in sharp relief against an impossibly blue sky.
What story to tell? It’s not of food or of celebrity or of travel. It never is. Travelogues and tales of safari and trekking, sailing and soaring are always the backdrop of stories of the Self. After flipping through various lenses through which to tell my little story like some sort of literary phoropter checking to see if each new angle was better or worse, it soon became clear. Reduce the story to the common denominator. This is a story of Love. They all are, really.