My expectations for that afternoon were simple; savoring a cup of coffee on our room’s porch overlooking the lake, before leisurely unpacking. Far more leisurely than my frenzied packing, with one child or another at my elbow; Kenny with a new magic trick, pulling a stuffed rabbit out of a black hat he’d taken to wearing. Ryan with a new spear he’d constructed out of paper. What mom doesn’t want to stop in her frenzied packing tracks to admire her children’s ingenuity?
This mom, who had a sticky post-it list of to-dos stuck to the counter. Who, if not interrupted by her children, was stalled in her packing tracks by Gramma’s phone calls because her dryer wouldn’t dry, and she couldn’t get an appliance man to fix it. While I was scheduling a repair appointment, she was on call-waiting to tell me, oh, nevermind, her tanks were just out of gas.
I got one bag packed before she called again to tell me she finally thought of what she wanted for her birthday; I finally reminded her I was packing for our mini- family-four-day vacation (to be cut short by Irate Irene). She had forgotten that we were leaving the following day, felt awful for interrupting my packing, apologized, and quickly hung up. I felt awful for getting snappy; I never did get to hear what she wanted for her birthday.
Upon arrival, while my family resort tradition is to grab quiet time alone in our room, Daddy’s tradition is to take the boys to their favorite place, the Climbing Forest.
I’d barely sat down on the porch with my coffee, when my cell phone rang. I had to get up, go back inside, to dig the obnoxious ringing electronic out of my purse.
It was Daddy. “I’m starving.”
Here’s the thing. We’d ordered lunches to go that morning to eat in the car. I got a hefty sandwich to last me. He’d ordered a tiny container of fruit salad.
“Why didn’t you order something more this morning?”
“I wasn’t hungry then.”
Huh? Logic here?
I put the phone on speaker, to unzip a suitcase. To let him know I was terribly busy.
“The boys are up in the tree,” he added.
Which meant they were somewhere climbing up a fake tree trunk with peek-a-boo windows, to scamper through tunnels where Daddy probably couldn’t even get to them.
“Can you go bring me a hotdog from the stand?” he asked.
I didn’t answer.
“Either that or come watch the boys while I go?”
If you like Chucky Cheese climbing apparatus, then you might enjoy the loud squealing of children transformed into wild monkeys in the Climbing Forest.
I opted for the sunny walk down to the lake for the hotdog.
From our room, I had to trek down a hill, then past rows and rows of vacationers sunning themselves on lounge chairs while reading Ipads or Kindles, past the lake slide so big I was even afraid of it, to the concession stand.
The line was long and winding, even though it was well past lunchtime. I wished I’d changed to shorts; I was still wearing a sweater, dressed for an air-conditioned car my husband likes to keep at freezing temps, with the boys bundled in their blankets in the backseat.
I got my ticket for the hot dog so that I could then stand on another line – in front of a wafting hot grill.
By the time I had Daddy’s order, it was 40 minutes later. I tried to remember the short cut through the main lodge to the Forest, navigating walkways, past a family arguing about what to do next, either the bumper boats, rock climbing wall or fishing, oblivious to the all-too-tame chipmunks flitting at their feet, snatching crumbs to hoard into the numerous lawn holes.
I made it to the Forest.
They weren’t there.
I whipped out the too-precious cell phone. “Where are you?”
“We’re at the bumper cars.”
I tried those once; they’re much more fun after a cocktail.
By the time I got back to our room, I managed to unpack my underwear before the crew came in – only fifteen minutes after my hotdog escapade.
“They want to go swimming now,” Daddy said.
“Where are our suits? Where? Where?” The boys chanted. Every year, they have to go through every activity the first afternoon.
I fished out their suits, ushered them all out the door.
Quiet. Finally. I gazed back out at the lake. We return to this resort year after year, because it offers us all what we want; the boys and Daddy like to be busy every second, zigzagging from one exciting activity to another. I like to sit. Read a real bound book, made from actual paper. Sometimes I like to just stare at the lake. Like from our porch. Though my coffee was long since cold.
I finally was able to get unpacked one layer of clothing before my cell rang again.
I heard splashing in the background. “Ryan now is hungry,” my husband screams over the din.
This is an issue, as he has food allergies and can’t just go to the concession stand.
Before I could an suggest they come back to get the snacks themselves, Daddy announced, “They’re already on line at the frog.”
I know this frog. Once you’re on line, squeezed up the steps to slide down its mammoth tongue, there’s no turning back.
I traipsed over to the pool with Ryan’s safe snacks.
Ryan was already getting on line to slide down the frog tongue again.
“He doesn’t look too starving,” I said.
“Well, he said he was starving,” my husband countered.
“You all look well fed to me.” I handed him a Goldfish bag.
I traipsed back to the room, marveling at the chipmunks stopped in the middle of the path to devour dropped junk food. One was so absorbed in his potato chip, I had to step over him.
Exactly fifteen minutes after my Goldfish delivery, all my boys, big and small, showed up back at the cabin.
“What are you doing here?”
“They got cold.”
Now it was getting on to dinner, so my leisurely unpacking became as frenzied as my packing, to still allow time for showering and change out of air-conditioned-car clothes.
Then dinner became another race against time because there was a ventriloquist performance that couldn’t be missed. All my “boys,” big and small, young and older (Daddy) were eager for a seat up close to the stage, especially Kenny who wants to be a magician. They wanted to get there early. I wanted to enjoy my last bit of wine. Enjoy fully, the fact that I was not serving, but being served.
I wasn’t as anxious to see a puppet with a hinged mouth, so I told them to go ahead, I’d catch up. My present “activity” was fully relishing the fact that I’d just finished a meal I hadn’t had to cook myself.
After I’d savored my last sip of wine, I took the long way to the nightclub, down a meandering lakeside path. I was able to steel that small moment I’d anticipated in the simplicity of a cup of coffee and leisurely unpacking.
This stolen moment was far better. It would turn out to be my only one, as the evening sky was serene, and I had no clue yet of the storm on our horizon. One that would turn the rest of the vacation into one of angst as everyone would be on their cell phones, leaning into them at pool sides and on line at the concession stand, trying to gauge whether or not to cut their vacations short.
But at that moment, walking out onto a dock, I turned off my ringer. I sat down to drop my feet in the water. Night, a wave of the deepest lavender, was cresting over the last of a crimson sun. I stayed until the scalloped outline of darkened trees had unfolded into its lake shadow.
When I turned my phone back on, there were numerous messages. My husband was wondering what had “happened” to me. Another to let me know their exactly location, down by the stage, to the right, by the emergency exit. I was touched then, by how my family was missing me. That I wasn’t finally there just to unpack and traipse.
Then there was just one more message. One a bit panicked. From my mother. “Have you heard about this hurricane??” Tweet