Tag Archive for: family vacation

I lived in Wyoming for a year when I was a kid. The stories I’ve always told about that time come with a whiff of distaste, a prolonged eye-roll, and a disgusted shake of the head.  I talk about the dusty dryness, the near-constant 40mph winds that drove any plant over six inches tall right out of the ground and into the neighbors’ yard, and the ugliness of it all.  I know, somewhere back in the recesses of my mind, that much of my disdain had to do with the fact that I was twelve or thirteen when I moved there, the emotional turmoil I felt related to my parents’ divorce and my father’s remarriage, the guilt I had about actually liking my stepmother, but somehow the story stuck over time.
It was punctuated with examples of how out-of-place I felt moving from southern Oregon to Wyoming, making the transition from ballerina of five or six years to…nothing. There was no ballet studio in Green River, Wyoming in 1983. From the Levi’s 501 button-fly jeans that fit me perfectly to a town where Wranglers were the only option, and they were preferably worn with cowboy boots.  From my mom’s homemade lasagne to chicken-fried steak and cow tongue sandwiches. I was in an alien land and I tell people that I hated every second of it.  
But last week when Bubba and I took the kids to Jackson Hole (admittedly a great deal different than Green River) for a vacation, as soon as I stepped off of the rolling staircase from the plane, I was reminded of other things about Wyoming.  
I remembered the smell of sagebrush after a rainstorm.
I recalled chasing (and sometimes catching) horny toads on the hill at the top of our street in the blazing sunshine with the neighbor kids.
I was transported back to the clear, warm nights sleeping in the backyard under the stars – millions of stars – listening to the dry schuck-schuck of the tumbleweeds as they rolled past the fence in the empty lot behind our house.  
I spent last week doing new things like paragliding off the top of Rendezvous Mountain with Lola (abso-freaking-lutely the coolest thing I’ve ever done, hands down) and paddleboarding around String Lake, but I also spent a significant amount of time reminiscing about the things I loved about Wyoming.  
I remember the epic thunderstorms we would get in the summertime when the sky would turn absolutely black in one spot and you could smell the electricity in the air mere seconds before the lightning struck the low hills around town.  The sky would unzip and water would gush from the clouds for five or ten minutes, and sometimes hailstones the size of shooter marbles would rain down, too.  When it was over, the sun would appear hot and unperturbed and the wet streets would steam as we all wheeled our bikes out of whoever’s garage we had taken quick refuge in to chase each other through the puddles while they lasted.  
I remember the freedom of getting to reinvent myself in the sixth grade. Always before, I had been a shy, girly-girl who was not very adventurous, but when I arrived in this new town with a new family I was free to be whomever I chose – not tethered by my past and the people who had known me since Kindergarten.  I rode my bike down steep streets, a squirt bottle in one hand, weaving and cutting in the thick of a water fight among all of the kids on our block.  I went out for basketball and spoke my mind more than ever before.  I sliced my ring finger open from the nail to the first knuckle and didn’t realize it until the cute neighbor-boy pointed it out, marveling at how “tough” I was that I didn’t pass out at the sight of so much blood or scream that it hurt or shed even one tear. Never before had I been called “tough.”  
As Lola and Eve discovered the wonders of Wyoming (even getting so lucky as to witness a “gullywasher” of a rain/hail storm), I found myself doing a little more reinvention, or perhaps revision.  From now on, I will tell a different story of my time in Green River, this time complete with all of the things I had forgotten.  I feel as though I have gained an entirely new chapter of my childhood by revisiting this place and being open to the memories that were triggered by the unique smells and characteristics of this place.  

And so, despite the fact that I am seated in a cushy lounge chair near the pool at a lovely resort in Kauai, life is still upon me.  I had no illusions that time would stop or there would be a brief window of ultimate peace while I went away and, to be honest, I am relieved to be contemplating my challenges in such a glorious place.  During my younger years, I would have been honestly surprised that coming to such a place for a vacation wouldn’t instantly put on hold any angst or difficulties I was experiencing, but I know better now.

Lola, despite the sun and relaxation and pretty much 24/7 access to a body of water in which to swim, is struggling mightily with her SPD symptoms.  Transitions are hard for her and this absurd cliff-dive from regimented school days to completely structure-free summer days leaves her adrift every year.  No matter how much I try to impose predictable mealtimes or down-time in the middle of the afternoon it seems that the lack of scheduled activity pushes Lola to a place of discomfort in her own skin. She fights to put a name to what she is feeling, unsure of what it would take to make her comfortable. She doesn’t acknowledge hunger or thirst until it is far past the point of no-return, she flits from activity to activity, immersing herself in one or the other at some point in an effort to simply shut out the entire world around her.  
Yesterday she sat by the pool playing games on her iTouch until the battery died. I sat nearby chewing in the inside of my lips in an effort to leave her be, hating the glow of the screen on her face on such a glorious day. I wanted to ply her with a beach walk or a dip in the pool or a shopping adventure and couldn’t seem to discern whether it was because I thought it would be better for her to get up and do something or because I hate the notion of her sitting still playing video games on a sunny day in Hawaii.  Predictably, she melted down in the afternoon, hot, thirsty, hungry and weepy and I berated myself yet again for not knowing how to help her navigate this move from school to summer.  I feel as though it surprises me anew every year and I have yet to feel like I am surmounting a learning curve. Instead it looks like a series of dashed lines all on the same plane, interrupted by the blank space of the school year.  But the transition from summer to school is just as difficult and disruptive, the Monday mornings fraught with tears and hysterical pleadings to help get SOMEthing right – her hair, her shoes, the seam on her jeans – me knowing it isn’t those things at all but unable to convince Lola.  
And yet, the vacation is giving me some solace as well, if only in its distance from ‘home.’  My mother’s husband has been in the hospital since before we left, first fighting a severe infection and then undergoing two surgeries with prospects for a third today.  The solace is that, for me, setting boundaries with others who are struggling has never been easy but this, the fact that I am a five or six hour flight away from sitting by her side and the knowledge that both of my siblings are close by, means that I have artificially imposed boundaries.  I am learning to empathize and have compassion and hold space in my heart for her as she deals with her fear and the logistical challenges of running his business and their life without dashing in to fix things like I normally would.  
The first book I read on this trip was Anne Lamott’s “Some Assembly Required” and while I highlighted many, many astonishing bits of wisdom in it, one keeps coming back to me as I check in with my mother via phone every day.  “If it isn’t my problem, I don’t have the solution.”  While that may sound callous, the truth is that I don’t have the solution. I could run around giving advice, searching for answers, talking to doctors and nurses, holding my mom’s hand and generally making myself feel better because I have the illusion of “doing something,” but in the end, what is going to happen is going to happen regardless of whether I am there or not.  I know that offering my mother love and comfort over the phone is better for both of us – we will end up not resenting each other’s lack of boundaries – and the outcome will be the same.  
And so here I am.  In this lovely, lovely place with my family, warts and all.  And I shall rub sunscreen on those warts and go forth to enjoy the day, knowing that what happens is all part and parcel of this life of mine and I feel pretty damn lucky.