I always laugh to myself when I hear people mention that they’re going on vacation. Only spouses and children go on vacation. Mothers go out of town.
As a family, we have a “travel bucket list” of places we want to visit with the girls. One of those destinations included a good ol’ retro Spring Break along the Grand Strand of Myrtle Beach. This idea was helped along by a call from a reservation specialist at Hilton, who told me that my husband had accumulated enough VIP membership points to earn six days at a resort in Kingston Plantation. And, since he was such a loyal customer, we qualified for a preview of fractional ownership opportunities at one of Hilton’s newest, most talked about properties.
Could he schedule a showing of an oceanfront condo that might better suit our needs on a future trip?
Oh, all right. What’s an hour?
But life is never that accommodating. Shortly after securing this throwback week at Myrtle Beach, school board members decided to add a day and a half of classes back into the calendar. Now the girls would miss makeup time and have additional homework before we could drive out of the zip code.
Oh, well. What’s a few extra worksheets?
My husband had been traveling on business for the two weeks leading up to our family trip, so I was largely on my own when it came to servicing the vehicle, shopping for the house sitter, washing and packing clothes for four people, and picking up supplies for all of our pets. I bought 25-pound sacks of dog and cat food to make sure their meals lasted while we were away, but our greedy Beagle decided he’d rather eat a sock. Instead of passing it one way or bringing it up another, the “foreign object” got stuck in the lower stomach and top half of the intestine. He was taken into surgery immediately, and we were left knowing that the next five days would be critical in case the two incisions leaked, or he suffered reactions to anesthesia. Copper would also need intensive care for the first night, so we’d have to transport him to the emergency clinic for constant observation and pain relief treatment.
The beach was the farthest thing from my mind. Rather, Ava’s final honors music performance was that evening, and she had a snare drum part that I didn’t want to miss. The concert started at 7:00, which was the exact time I had to transport Copper to the emergency clinic. I promised I would drop and run — that I wouldn’t miss more than one or two numbers — and I’d see her rat-a-tat-tat her way into The Battle Hymn of the Republic.
I missed every song but the last one.
After getting Copper settled and signing my life away (including my dog if I didn’t come back to get him by 7:15 a.m.), I drove with my flashers on to make it to Ava’s show. I climbed the steps of the Cultural Center in pairs, a difficult task in muck boots worn to search the woods for our missing cat, which darted out of the house when tree trimmers started cutting down an oak in our yard. Wearing a dirty shirt stained with my dog’s blood after he bit his tongue, I burst into the packed auditorium to watch Ava and her musician friends sing Sara Bareilles’ hit song, Brave. Ava happened to look stage left, where I was propped up against the marble wall trying to forget that my back was throbbing from a sciatic nerve flare up. She flashed a forgiving smile and returned to the hand-clapping tune that brought an entire crowd to its feet. When the show was over, she made her way through other kids’ parents to me. I hugged her as tightly as I could and repeated how sorry I was for being late. Ava told me that I could buy the DVD and watch it as many times as I wanted. After the checks I’d been writing, what’s another $10?
The next morning, I ran into the school counselor who seemed to know I needed a hug of my own. How’s it going, she asked. I burst into tears.
“I missed Ava’s performance,” I cried.
After explaining what had caused this lapse in parenting, the counselor put her expertise to good use.
“Did you save the dog?” she asked.
I nodded pathetically.
“Then you saved the day.”
But the day wasn’t over. I had exactly 12 hours to make a decision about the beach. It would be incredibly insensitive to leave a sick dog behind, but it would be a guilty shame to cancel a trip that two girls (and their dad) deserved. I’d already missed a concert and class presentation that Ava had worked hard on, and I’d ignored everything at home (including our younger daughter) worrying about the dog. Fortunately, the veterinary hospital agreed that Copper needed extra care for several days, so he could be boarded while we were out of town. My house sitter agreed to visit him every day, and to manage things in case his situation changed. What’s so bad about that?
I felt miserable for most of the drive down, which was oddly smooth given the time of year. My back ached and my mind raced, and I fought a sour stomach that was churned by the stress of the last few days. When we reached the resort, the thick scent of sea water seemed to loosen me up better than any muscle relaxer could, and I settled into “Salt Life” promising to trust that everything would be all right.
That next afternoon, tension returned as we listened to a loud, eager sales associate preach the benefits of vacation timeshare. With rock music piped into the room full of exhausted-looking couples, we reluctantly watched a flashy PowerPoint presentation advertising the luxuries of 63 Hilton properties that could be ours for approximately 20 days a year after putting $11,500 down and paying $734 a month at 11.9% interest until the $36,000 debt was paid off. Much to the sales associate’s frustration, we declined all opportunities to “own a piece of the beach” by way of a deed to a “unit in Las Vegas” that could be transferred with the purchase of “at least 5,000 points” for a resort closer to home.
The rest of our time was spent dodging college students and seeking shelter from bone-chilling ocean winds. We seemed to invest the same timeshare expense inland, riding the SkyWheel, racing go carts, eating overpriced, underwhelming seafood, and buying souvenir tee-shirts that marked our discounted trip to Myrtle Beach. While it was nice to order a grande vanilla latte every morning, return from the outlet malls to a room freshened with fluffy towels and crisp bed sheets, and read Southern magazines from a striped cabana, I didn’t want to be there. Clearly, the timing was off. Sick dogs, missing cats, work deadlines, homework assignments, school performances, and wayward tree trimmers (that’s another story and another sizable check) were calling me back. Simply put, I missed my mess.
Despite coral-colored shrimp and cheddar cheese grits baked in a cast iron skillet, pitchers of tea sweet enough to rot teeth, and being called ma’am more than Mom, I was actually homesick for the problems I tried to escape. And that’s a funny thing about mothers: We like to tell anyone who will listen that we desperately need to get away. But the truth is, we don’t always want to make a run for it. We’re fixers. We don’t know how to leave our troubles behind. Contrary to how we act, we secretly love these dirty parts of life, because it reminds us that we play a vital role with a special purpose. We are important to other people, projects…and yes, pets. Sun and surf can be good for the soul, but it doesn’t always provide rejuvenation. Sometimes, it provides a reminder.