In the spirit of a long standing tradition, I accepted an invitation to join my family for a two-week vacation over Christmas and New Year’s. Though I anticipated, somewhat anxiously, multiple days’ worth of travel, I sensed it was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up; after all, it had been more than one year since I’d seen my parents and sisters. Sometimes, you just don’t want to go looking for excuses when it simply feels like the right thing to do.
Thank goodness for memory lapses where close relatives are concerned. Because, what I hadn’t fully taken into account were the challenges of spending two weeks in close quarters with my family. Then again, how do you actually prepare to spend time with your own family? Some long-forgotten memories are conjured up when you least expect them to – yes, even when you think you’ve put them behind you, when you imagine you’ve accepted, let go, moved on.
Oh, the buttons that get pushed – as if each one of were a mobile jukebox, with songs that get replayed over and over again, even when they already sound scratchy. Ancient sibling rivalries rise and outshine, niblings squabble amongst themselves, elbowing each other for a slice of the attention-pie, replaying only slightly modified scenes of our own rollercoaster journeys through childhood and tween angst.
In-laws, cousins, and friends from distant points around the globe are thrown into the mix, descending on our quarters, congregating for hours at a time (or more). I wonder: Do they notice and blend into our familial cacophony, our attempts to remain grounded, graceful and adult-ish despite the occasional regression into childlike behavior patterns – or do they merely provide a distraction?
The weeks are wallpapered with fun and activities: swimming in pools and the ocean, soaking in a Jacuzzi, mini-golf, jet-skiing, spotting manatees, visits to a leatherback turtle sanctuary and alligator rest area; dinners out, walks on the beach, TV, movies, shopping and catching up.
I took my first bath in over a year, my body delighting in the underwater bubblicious massage. I got buried in the sand (up to my neck). OJ and I were treated to a pedicure while watching YouTube videos, and I did yoga stretches to a soundtrack of morning cartoons. I bought a bottle of Aussie wine for $5 – because I had to – the same bottle costing upward of $30 in Bali!
But one of the most unexpected highlights (for me) was getting back up on a… two-wheeled; not quite a bicycle, but close enough to qualify (at least in my books): It’s called a WindFlyer, and absent a bicycle seat, it appeared like an elliptical trainer on wheels. What a thrill to ride around and around, powering the vehicle by a forward climbing motion!
Servers at a restaurant we frequented hailed from countries around the world – such as Turkey, the Philippines, India, Zimbabwe… and (Sumatra) Indonesia; a prime opportunity to practice my Bahasa (Indonesian) – and to empty my stash of durian candies into the palms of Raja’s homesick and happy hands.
But devise too many plans and they will likely go awry from time to time: Unexpected visits to a car dealership and urgent care medical clinic took a bite out of the little down-time we actually had left. Unexpected also were the beached fish that showed up all along the coastline and weather that turned so chilly that heaters were plugged in and plants covered up to ward off impending frost. Unexpected (or, perhaps not), were the occasional bouts of pain that followed me to the other side of the world – could they not take a vacation too?!
In the end, the significance of reuniting with my family reminded me (rather oddly, I know!) of the Soviet-style vans that roar through the Mongolian Gobi (desert): They are durable, not all that pretty but can last for years; and they hold not one, but TWO fuel tanks, both of which have to be filled up to ensure a complete and safe journey. One tank may get you to where you want to go, but it’s the second that provides back-up, on which you can rely if the first fails, for which you will be grateful if your driver has taken a wrong turn when the regular signposts have gone missing.
There are other parallels too: Exhaust. Sputtering. Getting overheated, requiring a cooling down period. Tires that go flat or punctured. Seats that are somewhat comfortable at the outset, then start to feel hard and require cushioning. Plus you simply must step out and stretch your legs whenever possible. Refresh. Reinvigorate.
The thing is this: If you can hang on during the trip, if you can trust that the second tank will kick in when anyone in the vehicle really needs it, if you manage to sometimes ignore the dents and bruises , and you’re willing to get back in despite the approaching bumps, potholes and detours, even when darkness sets in with silence and uncertainty about the next day; if you realize that other vans careen down paths equally fraught with risks and uncertainty, then you’ll breathe in deeply once in awhile, stare out (or inside, all around) in wonder and admit to yourself that, sometimes for inexplicable reasons, you still gotta love these people.