I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Tag: Vacation

The Pause


Before What Is Next

Well. Here we are. Already. August. End of Summer. End of his childhood. The pause after the exhale before the inhale. Before September, the new school year. 12th grade. Before he begins whatever he will be beginning a year from now. Because we don’t know.

Our vacation this summer was a quiet week in Vermont, just the three of us. I missed my daughter, but it felt important to have this time with him. It was sweet to be away from our routine and entwined together, synchronizing our lives to be focused on each other, if only for the week. We listened to music together, impressed that he had such eclectic taste and appreciation for “our” music of the 1970’s. (Thank you, Guardians of the Galaxy.) We adventured together, zip lining down Mt Mansfield and rock climbing a wall. We walked in the woods, read by the pool, and found restaurants with wings for him, pasta for my husband, and vegetables for me. It was a delicious, restorative break, nothing fancy, and I am trying not to be too sad that it is over.

17 years. Over.

I stare at him. Often. He hates it. He thinks I am judging or noticing something he wished I wouldn’t notice. He is self-conscious. Embarrassed. My gaze is really more about wanting to connect. Wanting him to know, to really know deep down in his soul, that I love him and want him to be happy and to know that he is enough just as he is. I want him to know that I am sorry for all the times I do judge and nag and wish for something to be other than it is.

I spend a lot of time judging and nagging and wishing for something to be other than it is. Like the end of August. The end of summer, the end of vacation, the end of childhood. I don’t want it to be over! Hell, I’m just figuring out how to do it … and it’s over?

So. Instead of clinging and resisting, I am trying – trying! – to be patient with the pause. Open to possibility. Open to change. With not knowing what is next. With not rushing to the inhale, but fully and completely exhaling all the air out and pausing. Appreciating the breath. Appreciating the boy who is becoming a man. Gazing at his graceful shape, searching for eye contact with his soul that is embarrassed to be seen. Trying not to be frantic about the college application process. Trying not to grieve for the time that is gone. Trying not to regret all that I could have done differently. Trying not to regret that I’m not a different mother, but to accept that I am the mother I am. Just as he is enough, I am enough.

We are here. Abiding in the pause. Open to what is next. Because we don’t know. Now is enough. We are enough.

Paradise Revisited


What is Vacation?

For me, vacation is when I have time. Time away from daily routines. Time to listen to the people I love. Time to speak to the people I love. Time to do something different and new. Time to do something familiar and comforting, but with a fresh approach.

With limited time and money for vacations, we have worked hard to make vacations a priority, planning meaningful family vacations that are an opportunity to nurture and connect, a time to take a break from our overscheduled daily lives and have fun together, and a source of memories, especially for our children’s memories of their years with us. Our vacations fall into a few categories. The visit to family and friends. The annual ski trip. And lately, our sailing trips, with my children and I learning to sail to find out if we share my husband’s passion.

For Spring Break, we traveled to the British Virgin Islands, chartering a 35’ sailboat for a week.  (We’re pretty sure it was the smallest boat in the Caribbean that week.)  We lived on the boat and crewed it ourselves for the week in what I expect will be the last official family vacation before our daughter goes away to college. My husband planned the trip. I was calm and cool (or pretended to be). After all, it was the third time we’d done this trip. But let’s face it, I have to work hard at being calm and cool and having fun is not something that comes easily to me.

What am I Going To Wear?!

Two days before vacation, I spied the cutest pair of white shorts in the store window of a local boutique. I had to have them! They were perfect. I suddenly realized that the vacation wardrobe I had decided would be fine was completely lacking in the perfect pair of white shorts and that I could not possibly have a good vacation without these shorts, not to mention the elegant gray tunic that would look perfect with my white pants. I should probably get that too. This panic over what to wear was vestigial anxiety, left over from old patterns that I’ve outgrown, but which rears up when I am under stress. For every special occasion of my life, I have dealt with my anxiety by shopping for the perfect outfit. If I had the perfect outfit, then I would: fit in; be liked; be admired; be confident; hide my flaws; mask my anxiety. I would impulsively buy whatever specific item was going to solve all my problems this time, only to regret the purchase later and still feel anxious and dissatisfied. Recognizing the old familiar anxious pattern, I did not buy the white shorts nor the elegant tunic.

What If We Die?

One day before vacation, my daughter whispered that she had a sore throat. I groaned. A cold. But then I panicked. What if it’s not just a cold? What if it’s strep and we can’t get to a doctor for antibiotics? Should we run around like lunatics the day before vacation and get a prescription? What if she dies? (I had a childhood friend who died of strep while on a family vacation when she was the age of my daughter. It Could Happen.) Recognizing the old familiar anxious pattern, I breathed, and told myself to STOP.  I was overreacting and being illogical. (I did watch the safety video on the airplane, identifying the exits and locating the flotation devices.)

Judgment Day

After my overt anxiety dissipated, I transitioned to a mixture of envy and judgment of my fellow tourists, who I deemed either fabulously wealthy, which made me jealous and feel inferior, or crass, loud and obnoxious drunks who didn’t respect the local culture nor the natural beauty, which made me scornful and feel superior. Neither feeling of inferiority or superiority, of measuring and comparison, allows for much social connection. Either way, on this third trip to the BVI, I was more acutely aware of how the tourists and the locals rubbed up against each other.  Paradise?

After the long travel day with 15 hours of taxis, planes, a ferry and customs; after our first day adjusting to cooking, sleeping, bathing and peeing on the boat (I try to poop only on land), oh and not to mention sailing; after our first quiet morning with coffee on the boat and our first evening watching the moon rise and looking for shooting stars, I began to settle. It usually takes me until Tuesday. To get out of my head. To focus on someone other than me, myself, and I. That is the antidote to anxiety. Focus on other people. Finally, with time to observe and listen to the people I love, I saw what was really going on.

My daughter was grappling with where to go to college. Not just where, but what kind of curriculum she should undertake. If she pragmatically decides to take the path of Science, Technology, Engineering, Math – underrepresented with women – what happens to her love of popular music, fashion, and pop culture? Can she be both a girly girl and a wicked smart engineer? Excited to leave home, scared to leave home, how does our relationship shift and evolve as she becomes an adult child?

My son was grappling with the hormones of puberty. Exhausted, he wanted to sleep all the time. Eager to please but afraid of making a mistake and inciting a scolding, he withdrew a bit. What does it mean to not be a little boy any more? How does he separate from us and become more independent, his own self, while still living with us, a teen child?

My husband was grappling with the responsibility of captaining the boat with us as crew, a not-very-skilled crew at that. Does he do everything himself? Does he delegate, with less than ideal results? When does he have fun? Perhaps the best day was when I said, “I am the Captain now!” I made him take a break and forced my son to take more responsibility as my first mate. Or perhaps the best day was our day off from sailing.  We just sat on the beach reading our books and taking walks and staring at the amazing clear turquoise water.

We were all grappling with the impending shift in our family. How will it be when my daughter is at college and my son is not so far behind? How will my husband and I connect when we have time for the two of us instead of pouring our energy into our children? When and what will our next family vacation be?

Jason Mraz sings “You don’t need a vacation if there is nothing to escape from.” I disagree, dear Jason. Everyone needs time and space away to reflect and reconnect. To experience the shift.

It happened, the shift. My daughter has made her decision and is behaving with a new maturity. My son is considering some options for the summer that will require some separation and independence, with awareness of his mixed feelings about this awkward, in-between state transitioning from childhood to manhood. My husband and I are talking about what our hopes and fears are as we get older and prepare for our next phase together.

Our week in the BVI was not always perfect, but it was paradise – a special and momentous vacation, with many memories.

To Do: Be Here Now


 My List

  1. Yearbooks
  2. Old Navy
  3. Haircut
  4. Key
  5. College prep
  6. Black bean chili
  7. Aspirin

Scrounging for a scrap of paper to write down a few things we need at our vacation house this week, I found this list crumpled in the corner of the purse I brought.  Normally, in my frantic rush to get things done, I would have glossed over this list and just started my new one.  I reuse paper for list-writing with the absurd notion that my attempt to be frugal with bits of paper will help the planet.  But, right now, I am on vacation and I am trying to live in the present moment and to pay attention.  To hear the end of summer crickets, to feel the temperature in the air and the wind on my face, to smell the road-kill on my morning walk, to see – really see – what my eyes are looking at, as Rodney Yee instructed us in the serendipitous yoga class he taught on Tuesday.  It’s just about impossible for me to stay in the present moment.  This week, as my friends with children one year older than mine are dropping them off at college, I am already jumping to a year from now when we will be taking my daughter to college.  I look at the list.  It brings me to a moment in time in my recent past.  When did I write this list?  What was going on?

1.  Yearbooks.  That was a note to myself to order yearbooks for the kids before the deadline.  The year before, when my daughter was in 10th grade, I missed the deadline.  I push everything to the deadline and even then assume I can eek past the deadline and still get by.  Not this time.  There were no yearbooks left.  My daughter’s face crashed with disappointment.  I apologized with shame at my carelessness.  “It’s okay Mom,” she gently but sadly reassured me.  What kind of mom neglects to order yearbooks for their kid?  As usual, I was self-absorbed.  As usual, she pretended not to mind.  I was not going to make that mistake again.

2.  Old Navy.  I needed to order jeans for my son.  Old Navy has the only pair that fits him.  Regular Style Husky.  He is growing but is not tall yet.  He is at that awkward stage where he is stoking up for his big growth spurt.  Most brands are too long and too tight in the waist.  He will be big.  He’s grown a lot this summer, stretching out a bit.  Like a puppy, his feet are now enormous, but his body hasn’t caught up yet.  He’s already outgrown the jeans I ordered for him from that to-do reminder.

3.  Haircut.  The only item on the list that’s about me.  It must have been time for my every 7 weeks trim – my personal hygiene errand.  I can’t even remember to make a haircut appointment any more.  I have to write everything down.  Otherwise I get closed out of the Saturday timeslots at the salon.

4.  Key.  Key?  What was this?  Had we used the spare key and not put it back in its hiding place?  Was it when we replaced the front door and needed to get new keys made?  Were we taking care of my sister-in-law’s dog?  Why did I need a key?  Key to my heart?  Key to my soul?  What mystery was locked away?  Why can’t I remember anything anymore?

5.  College Prep.  Phew, this is a loaded item.  Like I could just check this off as another item on my to-do list.  Get her ready for college.  Check.  No problem!  Her friend’s mother found an SAT/ACT prep class and I jumped on it.  I was grateful that another mom had done the research and found the perfect thing:  5 Sunday afternoons that would focus her productively with test preparation skills, with a friend.  Done!  If only it were that easy.

6.  Black Bean Chili.  This pinpoints the time for me.  The weekend prior to Monday January 14th.  I had signed up on the neighborhood meal train to make dinner for my friend Agnes who lost her husband, suddenly, so sadly, on November 6th.  She was eating more vegetarian choices and so was I.  This was the perfect meal.  Easy, keeps well, and I could make enough for both her family and my family.  I was struggling with how to be a good friend to her.  This was the least I could do.

7.  Aspirin.  My husband does not like to talk about his health.  Whenever I come up with my latest and greatest thought about being healthy, he is quite interested if it is abstract, mildly interested if it is an initiative I am undertaking for my health (Yoga!  Meatless!), and aggressively disinterested if it is an initiative I demand he should undertake for his health.  I haven’t completely cracked this code.  If I can present the concept lightly as something he can opt in to, as opposed to a didactic “You need to do X” he is more amenable.  And so it has been with aspirin.  He has read the evidence that aspirin is an anti-inflammatory that may prevent heart attacks, stroke, and even cancer.  So, we started taking baby aspirin this year.

Funny how this arrangement of seven words sums up so much.  Update this list to now – the present moment – and my list becomes:

1a. Take care of business before the deadline is upon me.  Procrastination cultivates stress and is selfish when other people are affected.

1b. Pay attention to my daughter.  Just because she says it’s okay doesn’t mean it is.  Value what is important to her and try to make it happen when possible.  Don’t be careless.

2.   Buy clothes for my son that fit him properly.  Just because he doesn’t care what he wears doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t help him find clothes that make him feel good about his body and how he looks, especially as he enters high school with some anxiety and curiosity about girls.

3.  Take care of me.  No need to be a martyr.  It’s okay to develop a personal style that doesn’t require a fortune and a lot of professional help.  Enjoy my longer, softer, less edgy hair.

4.  Trust my children with their own key.  Be proud of their increasing independence as they take bigger steps away from me.  Welcome them home with a good night kiss when they come back safe and sound.

5.  Be there for my daughter as she dives into this exciting time, trying on who she might want to be when she grows up.  May she have fun with her friends, enjoy her senior year as a leader in the school, and explore her many options for college next year.

6.  Sustain my friendships.  When I am busy busy busy, I am not good at doing the everyday things that keep a friendship going.  Make time to care.

7.  Tell my husband that the reason I care about his health is because I love him.  I want him around to enjoy our life together as we launch our wonderful children further and further into their own lives.

As for the rest of the list, created at different times on this mini time capsule, the middle set of ingredients (with the exception of shrimp, which was for another dinner) is for my husband’s Veal Bolognese Sauce (adapted from a recipe of Mario Batali’s).  It is delicious.  My husband makes it regularly.  (On the weekends, I go grocery shopping and he cooks at least one sauce that provides leftovers.)  It just so happens that we have leftover Bolognese Sauce waiting for us for when we return from vacation.  But I am getting ahead of myself, as usual.  Right now, I need to buy some coffee for the vacation house and some udder cream (a wonderful moisturizer for sensitive skin) for my husband’s skin which is taking a beating away from home.  After I pause and appreciate the moment.

%d bloggers like this: