It’s Holiday Time — Time to Relax! (A light holiday rant I wrote a while ago)

It’s that time again! The bags are packed. The kids are excited. It’s holiday time — happy times, right? Why wouldn’t I welcome a chance to spend a few days in a beautiful resort near the beach with an aquatic-sized pool at my disposal, a buffet breakfast and restaurants on hand, that require me to not be anywhere near the vicinity of a kitchen? A handsome waiter asks me if I would like another latte, as I sit idly taking in the views, while perusing the newspaper, knowing that my kids are eating an abundant supply of fruit and protein. As I walk back to my apartment — eager to start the first of a long list of leisurely activities, which include sitting on white sand, sipping exotic, fruity beverages — I admire my kids in the water and think proudly: “Those swimming lessons sure paid off”.

At dinner time, we all sit in the up-market restaurant, reminiscing and sharing tales from the past as we make a toast to bring in the New Year. Then we dance the night away, kids and adults, young and old, have the time of our lives — together.

Well, that would be a wonderful holiday had by all the family, if that’s how it usually turns out. But, we all know that reality can sometimes bite, especially, when it doesn’t involve any of the above in my long-awaited summer holiday; a holiday that had been planned and talked about for most of the year.

Eagerly spending days shopping to feed my fantasy of looking like Marisa Tomei in the 1990’s romantic comedy, Only You, I imagine making my way into the foyer, smiling at the concierge with my designer bag and Greek goddess-like sandals, as he offers assistance to carry — my hat! Part of my fantasy comes true, sadly not for the beautiful clothes Marisa wears in that above-mentioned movie, but rather for the clumsy and flustered state she finds herself in, as Faith, searching for the “love of her life”.

My last holiday started with those ideas in mind: relaxation, glamour, going with the flow, breathing in the sea, having time to ponder — to appreciate.

Waking up sleepy-eyed and hazy from the kids keeping us awake for most of the night, asking for the zillionth time if we packed their goggles, boogie boards, and questions such as: “What if I can’t wake up and we miss the plane?” Here’s where the eyes start rolling while trying to keep them open at the same time — at two o’clock in the morning. Through gritted teeth I say: “How about you get some sleep and then there will be a better chance that you will wake up on time… OK… dear.”

A few hours later that morning, after hastily getting dressed we all finally come to a family consensus and agree that there is no time for breakfast. My son’s fears nearly do come true, and we are in fact nearly late. We search frantically for keys, last minute necessities, sunglasses, and more sunglasses — can’t get salt or sand on the designer ones — headache pills (because suddenly I feel like my blood pressure is plummeting) and then there is the final look in the mirror to see if I fulfil the glamorous vision I imagined: “not half as stylish as I thought I would look”, was what I did think before jetting off to my so-called holiday!

Then the realisation hits me and leaves me feeling like someone just conducted an ice bucket challenge on me. If the summer dress that I chose to wear, which was supposed to be my go-to dress for most of the holiday, didn’t leave me feeling exotic or even the least bit stylish, then how would the rest of my clothes that were thrown in hastily, in the over-filled suitcases make me feel? Yes, packing is never half as fun as I always think it will be. Making decisions about what shoes one should pack and if they will match with each dress or pair of pants is really, really hard. What if it gets cold or rains? So many decisions. I never really wanted to suddenly be a fashion stylist — after all, I am supposed to be on holidays. If that isn’t difficult enough, deciding what everyone else is going to wear for every place that they ‘might’ go to, is guaranteed to make it a lot more difficult.

The plane trip was one I’d care to forget. The children bicker and complain about the food. Suddenly, I feel the need to have a glass of wine but I abstain as parent duty always calls, and I know that the image I had of myself listening to music while sipping wine will remain just that — an image. With the lingering thought that I could really do with a drink, and it suddenly needs to be stronger than wine — we’re almost there.

Self-doubt begins to plague my mind as I build my case that raising boys is a lot harder than raising girls, as I gaze at the quiet couple across the isle from us, with their delightful daughters sitting ever-so-quietly, colouring in and looking at their iPads. “Yes! iPads!” I finally remember and my husband and I manage to snatch half an hour of peace, thanks to managing to pack all my boys’ tech devices. My husband and I manage to get our dignity back for a while because suddenly our children listen too! The gender card becomes our defence for the duration of the holiday, when they are not near any tech devices, or if they are bored, tired, or hungry — hopefully, not all at the same time.

The plane lands very roughly. Of course, I don’t mind because it’s nothing compared to the fires I had to put out. Flying with kids, very relaxing! With one rough halt on the runway, we’re there. Sun, surf, sea, here we come!

After a mix-up at reception about the ocean view apartment we had booked, we finally sit at the freshly cleaned blue sofa, staring at the art prints that depict a tranquility that comes from living by the sea. The sitting only lasts a minute, however, as we realise that the bedroom arrangements are not at all arranged — there are only two beds. Using our mathematical skills, we come to the conclusion that ‘two’ is one less than we need.

A knock at the door reveals an impatient and unapologetic resort manager, who seems more flustered than me, as he begins to inform us that we are, in fact, staying in an apartment that needs to undergo repairs, and the mix-up we thought had been fixed has been mixed up even further. There seems to be no room for compromise in his eyes, and as I begin to protest, passive-aggressive suddenly becomes my new dress code.

The rush and pandemonium of changing apartments begins. We enter the room down the hall, which smells like it has been cleaned with chemicals that could eradicate an entire species of insects, and we open windows to air out the stench, and begin the laborious task of unpacking, followed by arranging another bed as the apartment we’re forced to move in to is still one bed short. At the same time we realise that, shock horror, the promised internet connection isn’t connecting: “Oh, no”. Thoughts of bored kids plague my mind and when that is all sorted, I try to fit into what has to be the most complicated swim-suit ever created. It should really carry a label warning the consumer that they might pull a muscle while figuring out where each strap goes. We are then summonsed to meet at the pool, at once, by the designated leader of our “sudden” entourage, thanks to my husband running into a long-lost friend from his old neighbourhood. Instantly we are included in their plans, because it apparently must have happened for a reason; that they were reunited in the most unforeseen circumstances. We would apparently be spending the rest of the holiday with them. “Breathe,” I remind myself once more, even stretching my arms out in a yoga-style fashion, to ease the sudden panic-attack that threatens to take over.

Lying on a reclined beach chair by the pool we all try to look relaxed, but the truth is I can never sit comfortably on those chairs. In fact, I don’t even think I like sitting and doing nothing. It can be really boring! I don’t get a chance to be bored though because surprise, surprise, the kids are in need of something again. Parent duty puts a halt to any reading plans I have, causing me to abruptly end my search for the book I had surprisingly managed to pack that rushed morning.

An hour later, I’m at the beach, knee-deep in sand, trying to help my child build a sand castle, again, because another child had wrecked the previous one that had taken half an hour to build. As I attempt to re-build it, matching every detail, panicking that I will miss out on my swim, I’m suddenly looking at a pair of familiar, self-assured blue eyes and a perfectly snooty smile: a woman looking ever-so-flawless and relaxed, with a perfect, well-behaved little boy by her side. It’s the golden girl of my high school year. The girl who tormented me for most of my high school days, endlessly competing with me for the top grades, for the cutest boy, for everything — and the downside is, that she succeeded. I find myself smiling at her, giving the best acting performance I can muster with a strand of hair that is fully covered in sand and sea water plastered across my face, and the taste of sea salt in my mouth. My son begins to throw sand as she smiles back. I keep the smile plastered on my face, together with my sand-covered wet hair, as I turn to my son and ever-so-gently try to calm him as I feel her victorious stare on my back, evoking feelings of defeat. Memories of watching “Miss Golden Girl” accept yet another award in the school assembly hall come flooding back.

A swim in the ocean suddenly feels sublime as my tense shoulders begin to relax and I look around and think, “This truly is paradise”. There are a few moments of bliss, until half of our sudden entourage decides, without a unified vote, that they feel like coffee. It dawns upon me that they expect us to come along — us, the family that is still in the water and needs some time to dry or even get changed. I motion to them that they can go ahead: the passive-aggressive inner me is so close to losing it! I veto their decision in my mind and refuse to try to join them, knowing that it’s not humanly possible.

My kids decide that they want to dry off and not change so I walk in the hot sun. My back is burning because the sun-screen I had put on three hours ago is no longer effective, as I spent most of the time making sure my kids had sun-screen protection. We arrive at our hire car. Sand is everywhere in my hair: buckets and boogie boards need loading, kids need changing, my husband looks like he’s walked a marathon as he tries to carry most of the things that my kids don’t carry because they are exhausted, bless their souls! Just when we’re ready to leave my five-year-old realises that he has forgotten, wait for it — his favourite orange spade — in the sand.

Back at the apartment we are ready to commence showers, and prepare pre-dinner snacks for the kids, which does require being in the vicinity of a kitchen as my kids suddenly like home-cooked everything. The phone interrupts my planning and the rest of our “sudden” entourage who are clean, shampooed, and caffeine-happy, inform us that the only time for the downstairs restaurant is in 15 minutes, and that we should have booked our table much earlier. My thoughts cause a civil war in my head — bathing kids, blow dry hair, makeup, no time for planning what to wear. No chance of looking like Marisa Tomei in a red or white dress. Do they realise making sure kids are showered, dressed and ready in 15 minutes is close to impossible?

Finally, I’m seated at the restaurant, passive-aggressive dress code and all, faking pleasantries, headache ensuing, salt and sand still in hair. As usual I have no time because I was on personal fashion-stylist duty for the rest of the family. I tell myself to relax and I do because I can either laugh or cry, and of course, there is wine. I finally get to pour myself a glass and I dance and allow myself to be free and young for at least an hour. My kids are suddenly on their best behaviour. I see my high school friend who seems flustered. Her child is not happy and is throwing straws on the table. She sees me looking. I smile at her, sympathetically, knowingly. She smiles back and everything feels good. I have a moment of human compassion that makes my heart feel warm and I realise that this is what truly matters in life — compassion — feeling that we are not alone.

A few more days of the same and suddenly the flow of holiday resort living begins to agree with me, and seemingly the kids and rest of the entourage, because we have no choice, and suddenly the “sudden” entourage is really quite lovely. We are on holidays, and we can either learn to enjoy each other’s company in a place that looks like paradise, and that we have all paid dearly to appreciate, or we can dwell on the negative.

We finally come home, after an okay plane trip because everyone is tired — really tired. I enter the house feeling relieved. Finally, I can relax, until I see the lounge room full of suitcases, unwashed clothes and swimsuits, and sand, everywhere. “Mum, I’m hungry,” is loudly announced by my eldest.

Hours later, I finally get a chance to sit and look at some photos and I already begin reminiscing. I see smiles, laughter, family bonding, good times; my kids looking happy!

A few weeks later, I browse through some brochures and realise that if we want to go to Hawaii, we should book early. We all agree. We start making plans to do it all again next summer. This time, it will definitely be better, and I will get to wear a stylish red or white dress, just like Marisa Tomei.