Do you ever look at your family, the family that's usually really normal, the family you adore, and feel like you’re all a big mess and everyone else has it totally pulled together? Or go somewhere and everything seems to go embarrassingly wrong? (Please don’t say, “No, Jul, that’s just you.” It's a rhetorical question.) I am just returning from a quick spring break getaway where I felt like we were a walking, talking, ungraceful, disorganized disaster.
Part of this stems from the fact that I’m usually a really organized, type-A person. When I’m going on a trip, I check weather and traffic reports. I put together a daily list of clothes appropriate for the weather and activities. I list every single thing I need, never forgetting basics. I do the list a week in advance so I can add to it and check it before the trip.
Well, I’ve had a nutty month. I've been disorganized in every facet of my life. A good friend kept asking if we wanted to go somewhere with them for spring break, and other than a quick effort to see if my sister’s friend’s vacation house was available, I zoned out. I finally said, “Pick somewhere and we’ll come. We just have to able to bring the dog.” We went to their house for dinner two weeks ago and my friend pulled up two houses on her laptop (in two different states) and said to Whit, “Which one?” I was so zoned out that I didn’t even know which state was chosen. I had to keep asking, because she'd tell me and I'd forget. (This was probably very, very irritating to my friend, who has a serious full-time job and was, in addition, doing the work of an unappreciated travel agent with a moron for a client.) That set the stage for the whole trip; I remained a little off, while she (and her family) remained very calm, cool and collected. You’ll see.
Fast forward to Friday, when I was making the butterscotch, extricating dental work, coaching Girls on the Run and running around like crazy. Did I make a list? Nope. Even Caroline made lists for her and Jack, and then, being a chip off the old bossy block, Xeroxed them for the little girl and boy in the other family. Did I check the weather? Nope. It was cold and rainy here, so on some subconscious level I figured it would be cold and rainy there.
Five hours south. At the beach.
Not an intelligent assumption.
The rain at home turned into a massive system of tornadoes that followed us every mile we drove. It was like storm chasers in reverse; those damn tornadoes found us everywhere we went. Because we were going to the coast, we had to cross a lot of really scary, WINDY, high bridges that made me wish I was driving a tank. Or a Hummer. I think we almost died at least 400 times.
Once we got down there, the list of everything I forgot began to grow annoyingly long. Blankets, because I always bring my own blankets? No. Kite, since there would be good winds after the tornadic activity? No. Headphones for my iPod so I could run? You guessed it…no. Sunscreen? No way.
I hadn’t checked the weather, remember? So imagine my surprise and sweaty discomfort when I realized we were going to have sunny, eighty-degree days. Looking through my suitcase, I saw thermal running pants and jeans. No shorts at all. Not for running, not for playing. The kids were swimming in the ocean and I was in long pants. And did I bring beach towels for the beach vacation? Of course not! That would have been way too logical. They dried off with the little white scratchy bath towels provided by the linen service. It looked very classy, I can tell you.
So I’m already feeling like a big old misfit. The other family has lists and clear Lucite containers and appropriate clothes and monogrammed beach towels and all the right equipment for a beach vacation. I’m rolling yoga pants up over my so-white-they’re-almost-blue winter legs. Which then got sunburned. As did my arms, in that attractive way they get sunburned when you wear a short sleeved shirt. So yes, I looked about as uncomfortable as I felt.
Then the dog tried to eat the guinea pig. Literally. He tipped her cage over, pawed the door open, reached his furry head inside, picked her up in his mouth and ran out of the room with her. I got down there after the rescue, in time to see a red-faced, sobbing Caroline holding a dog-slobber-soaked guinea pig and screaming, “He had her in his MOUTH and was carrying her around, Mommy! HE TRIED TO KILL HER!” I had to admit that was a big party foul, and our friends were just sort of stunned at the whole chain of events. They said, "Wow, Lucy (their dog) has never gone after our guinea pigs. I hope Bo didn't teach her something." I was so embarrassed I didn't even respond as I checked Lilly for internal bleeding. (Which is not, I found, very easy to identify on a guinea pig.)
Oh, what else happened? Let’s see. I was jogging across the beach, toward the ocean, when I heard a galloping noise coming up behind me. Imagine my surprise when it was Lucy, trying to herd me. Did I delicately maneuver around the dog? No. Can you imagine how odd it looked to have this big furry animal tackle me? I went down, hard, in a really undignified heap on the beach. To make matters worse, I landed on my leg wrong, so then I limped when I stood up. My friends were standing on the beach just staring at me, trying to figure out how a puppy upended a fully grown woman. “I’m okay!” I shouted, just the way Jack does when he falls off his bike. And then I limped away.
I can’t forget the Seder dinner our friends prepared last night. We’ve had Seder dinner with them before, and my Catholic kids love the bag with the frogs and the masks and the fake blood. But this time, they unfortunately sat down very, very hungry. And, at the Seder dinner, you have matzo on your plate that you’re not allowed to eat until page 21. All the kids could have was parsley dipped in salt water, which wasn’t going to cut it. Jack kept looking at me mouthing the question, “Can I get a cheese stick??” in the totally obvious way kindergarteners have of conveying secrets. In stark contrast, our friends' kids sat very politely, read the Hebrew flawlessly and looked very pious as they studiously ignored the matzo on their plates.
Then the indoor/outdoor carpeting proved very confusing to Bo, who interrupted our serene dinner with a loud, LONG pee on the leg of the table on the porch. Their dog was too dignified to pee, ever, which led to exploding bladder conversations, but at least she didn’t gross us out during dinner.
Now I wish I could tell you that the vacation ended there, with a fun, quiet evening of conversation and laughter.
But I can’t.
Because my attempts to put my exhausted children to bed early (still later than their regular bedtime, I’d like to note) touched off a massive, door-slamming temper tantrum in my daughter…exactly the kind of tantrum I was trying to avoid by getting her to bed early. So I’m screaming at her to get in the car because I’m driving her home (not advisable after the four glasses of Seder wine), Jack is crying because he doesn’t want to leave, Caroline is shouting that I’m the worst mother in the world, and the normal family is in the kitchen, eating dessert and playing a card game, trying very hard to ignore the tsunami in the bedrooms.
So my family was almost obliterated by tornadoes, I forgot almost everything I needed for a comfortable vacation, I dressed for a climate thirty degrees colder and 100% rainier than the one we were in, the dog ate the guinea pig, Caroline had a nuclear meltdown that scared every other inhabitant of the house and I was herded by a dog.
See? There was nothing graceful about our trip. It was like the Griswalds meet the Cleavers. The more appropriate my friends were, the more of a mess we were.
In spite of it all, we had a good time. But I did drive 80 mph the whole way back today, because there truly isn’t any other place like home. Somehow we just seem more normal when we’re by ourselves.