Lessons from an Unlikable Suspect

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My mom’s done it. My mother-in-law is still doing it. And Pukey Pukerson’s mom showed us how the real pros do it. What is it exactly? That would be resourceful outsourcing, all in the name of a successful vacation. This year after an epiphany on the slopes I joined the ranks.

I entered parenthood thinking that I was going to be the cool mom. Among the many activities I enjoy, I’d swim, bike, ski, play tennis, horseback ride– you name it– with my kids. I’d even teach them myself. Bring on the bonding opportunities!  (And of course they would appreciate them all.) The strategy seemed to work with my daughter, whose athleticism and risk-seeking tendencies favor such endeavors. At seven, with only a handful of “real” ski lessons under her belt, she not only keeps up but often leads the way down the hill. We’ll be chasing her in a season or two.

Then we put skis on my son. He’s a whole other animal– cautious, reserved and a little bit less than agile. My moment of defeat came on the first run. Half-way down the bunny hill I extricated him from between my knees and encouraged him to slide down just a few yards to where I would catch him. With that, he slumped to the snow– melting like the Wicked Witch when doused with water. Having duck-walked back up to him, I struggled to bring him upright. From that angle I just couldn’t lift 52 pounds of wet noodle. That’s when I knew: I would have to outsource to ski school.

Heartbroken (yes, both of us) we made our way to ski school the next day. That’s where we met Pukey Pukerson. This poor kid was waiting for his mom to purchase his ticket when his semi-digested breakfast reappeared all over the floor, his jacket and chin. His mom, completely unfazed, took some tissue from the counter, swabbed his coat, dabbed his face, then made a light attempt to remove the evidence. The result was a sizable and stinky stain on the carpet where the barf residue mixed with tissue filaments had seeped in. With that Pukey Pukerson was off to ski school.

There I was– the horrified and now nauseated witness– left to wonder doesn’t she know the universal rule that requires children be fever and vomit free for 24 hours before returning to school, camp, day care and so forth? Not 24 seconds, lady.

I mean really, what kind of mother sends her barfing child off to ski school for the day? The really hardcore, resourceful outsourcing kind. Nothing, especially not a little puke, was going to keep her from big plans for herself that day. Suddenly I didn’t feel like the worst parent ever, sending my own son through the rainbow arches of the ski school entrance with quivering lower lip. Now I just hoped for the sake of his very sensitive nose that he wouldn’t be in Pukey Pukerson’s group.

This incident was life altering for me. Not because of the trauma I suffered watching the kid vomit nor the aftermath. Rather, from Pukey Pukerson’s mom I gained invaluable perspective. It’s OK to take care of the self sometimes, even if it seems that in the moment it’s not in the best interest of the child. It just might be what he needs for long-term success. As a parent I do need to outsource from time to time. (Fortunately finances prevent us from doing it all the time because I can see how it could be completely addictive.)

I now see how outsourcing the family during vacation actually promotes successful family time. At long last it makes sense why my own ski-adverse mother agreed on and even looked forward to a family ski week. What fun was that for her, sitting around waiting for us all to return from the slopes? Therein lies the answer. She had time for her– and sitting by the fire alone, reading the paper alone, sipping coffee alone, enjoying a book alone, was vacation in and of itself.  She is the unsung genius of successful family vacations.

To that end, my mother-in-law is no slouch either. She still outsources– her retired, stay-at-home husband that is. Many a winter day she is asked to drive not just my father-in-law but also his cronies both to and from the slopes for an afternoon of skiing, burger-eating and beer-drinking. What?! Why on earth would she, a self-respecting woman, agree to this?! I silently pitied her for years, questioning doesn’t she have anything better to do with her time? Again, therein lies the answer. This alone time is the precious commodity, and being master of the car pool is the no-brainer trade-off.

We should all thank Pukey Pukerson’s mom. Not only has she schooled us in the art of effective and relentless outsourcing, but she has also made us look pretty darn good as parents!

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Tattoos and Piercing

This past weekend was bliss for my family: thirty-one uninterrupted nag-free hours. That’s right, while mom’s away the dad and kids play.  Though they sent adorable and quirky photos of their antics and adventures, while claiming to miss me, I think secretly they cast not one thought in my direction. They love the rare occasions when I take myself out of the equation probably even more than I do.

Those hours, meanwhile, are precious few for me. I hopped the train to LA, a beautiful journey along the coast. However, I didn’t take in much of the scenery as I was engrossed in my latest book The Shoemaker’s Wife— a recommended read for anyone lucky enough to take a long plane trip, sit quietly on a beach or have a few spare moments in the evening. So, probably not applicable to many of you in this busy and hectic life!

I was retrieved at the station by one of my dearest friends from summer camp days (yes, a witness to the haircut). I’ll never forget the day we met– she already a veteran of this eight-week sleep-away camp and I a complete newbie to this east coast tradition.  Confident, sprightly  and engaging, she captivated me immediately and took me under her wing. Fortunately she was able to look beyond the haircut to establish a  friendship that even today slides right back into that comfort of our 8-year-old selves.

The wonderful afternoon rolled into a pleasant evening in Santa Monica with my mother, brother and some special dinner guests. Even more special was the guy at the bar, who apparently forgot to put on jeans that would actually cover his extremely unattractive and completely exposed rear. I did try to capture a photo, but alas, my phone-photo skills failed me at this critical juncture. I invite you to conjure up your own visual.

Early Sunday morning my electric blue shoes took me along the beach to the canals of Venice.  I did contemplate stopping here to revamp my image, but I neither had the money nor the time to wait until it opened:

I sauntered slogged back along the “colorful” Venice Beach as a birthday brunch awaited in downtown LA. There my brother took us to a swanky eatery, and then introduced us to his surrounding neighborhoods. I definitely don’t miss city life, but it’s always nice to be able to picture your friends and families in their habitats once you see how and where they live.

My respite from reality was not complete without a Chinese foot reflexology session. These poorly paid, highly competent people are geniuses at their craft! It’s a good thing I don’t have access to such venues as I would escape much more often, justifying that I’m helping their personal economy.

Back to the Amtrak I went, this time accompanied by my mother. A short two hours later I returned myself to my family, trained to welcome me with enormous enthusiasm. It was brief of course, but lovely while the love lasted.

How quickly we settle back into the routine tasks as chores themselves never go on vacation. As I thought about that phenomenon, I was grateful for having had one night when no one peed in the bed– or if someone did, I wasn’t there to find it.

Oh, and that tattoo? Perhaps next time.