Coming Down From a Vacation High

A friend recently told me that she likes my writing: it’s very descriptive, and it always makes her glad that she’s not me. Flattering.


But last week, had I been writing, I can guarantee that anyone would have wished they’d been me. I was in Punta Cana at an all-inclusive resort with butler service. Butler. Service. I ate steak and lobster and sushi and fresh mangoes and pineapples and drank strong coffee and pina coladas and champagne.


I’m not bragging. I just want you to get a sense of the high I was experiencing for five and a half days. But every high ends with a low: a deep, depressing crevasse when reality hits. Or bites. Or kicks. Or punches. Or at least, cries and screams and demands a new toy.


First, I woke up with a zit on my lip. On my lip. How does that even happen? It hurt and it was ugly. I looked more like a domestic violence victim or a herpes patient than gorgeous old me.


Next, Sam wanted gum for breakfast. Gum, really? I don’t know where this request came from. I’ve never given him gum for breakfast, and I can guarantee my parents—who had been staying with Nate and Sam while we were gone—didn’t either because, according to my mom, gum is “common.”


The request for gum eventually progressed to a full-blown tantrum: wailing and collapsing to the floor in a pathetic, teary heap, while Tighe and I fumbled around the kitchen, trying to recall where the bowls and cereal and frozen waffles are kept. Were we really only gone five days?


And yes, after about a half hour, I gave him a piece of Trident. I’m weak.


Tighe went to work since it was a Monday and because he could. Meanwhile, my two sidekicks and I had three errands to run: the grocery store, Trader Joe’s, and CVS because somehow my hairdryer broke while we were gone. I’m not blaming my mom because I know she’s not careless or vindictive, but it is suspicious.


Anyway, three errands is a lot for Nate and Sam, especially when one of them is not a playground or a sewer to search for Ninja Turtles, but I was confident we could do it. So were Nate and Sam. They were excited, thrilled that we were reunited—the three amigos, back together again!


The grocery store went well—aside from Sam’s creepy attempts to flirt with a female toddler in a competing shopping cart. We passed them in every aisle, even when I circled back to grab a loaf of bread. It was as if Sam had mapped out our inefficient route.


Next stop: CVS. As we pulled in the parking lot, Nate started to get anxious. “I’ve never been to this store before. Is it boring? Do they have toys here? Is this a grown-up store?”


First of all, I have no idea where he learned about grown-up stores. Personally, I’ve only ever been to one such establishment and that was in Boulder, Colorado on a morning when I accompanied a friend to get a tattoo. Second, he’s definitely been to CVS before. In fact, we were there about a month ago to stock up on cold and flu remedies.


As we walked up the sidewalk—I skipped over the fact that the weather was freezing and flurrying in KC while it was 85 degrees and sunny in Punta Cana; this in itself was a major mood killer—Nate tripped and skinned his knee through his sweatpants. Immediate tears and wailing: “Ow! Owie! Ow, ow, owieee!”


While I gathered up Nate and tried to console him, Sam continued to stroll through the automatic doors and into the store. Still teary—Nate from the pain and me from the cold—we trailed after him.


My eyes scanned the signs that dropped down from the ceiling as I denied the requests for candy coming from my pint-sized friends. After another circuitous route through the store, I found a selection of about half a dozen hair dryers.


“Mom! Mom! Where are you? Mom! Come back!”


I ignored Sam’s shouts because I was several yards away, and he could still see me. Regardless, he began to cry. Then Nate, squatting on the floor alongside me, began to cry because I hadn’t selected the red hair dryer.


A jumbled entanglement of limbs, my bag, and one boxed hair dryer, we moved in the direction of the register. The dirty look from the woman in front of me in line was like a challenge. It jolted me from my exasperated state—frustrated with Nate and Sam for their neediness, embarrassed by both sets of tears, and humbled by my inability to corral two small children through a store—and strengthened my resolve to smile and conquer my three simple errands.


The two older women behind me smiled at me kindly and gave me some “I remember those days” and “we’re all in this together” small talk while I paid and picked up some gum that I had knocked over. Graceful as always.


I replied with some witty remark to make them both chuckle. I was feeling on top of the world again, and was prepared to exit on a high note, but instead, I tripped over Nate at the same moment that Sam knocked over the packs of gum I had just struggled to pick up.


We hung our heads and rolled out.


As I buckled them into their car seats, I asked them whether they had it in them to grab a few things from Trader Joe’s.


“Mmm-hmm, lollipops!” Sam shouted.


“Yeah, Mom, let’s do Trader Joe’s,” Nate concurred.


But, as we pulled into the parking lot of Trader Joe’s about three minutes later, Nate bunked.


“Hey! What are we doing here?”


“I just said we need to stop at Trader Joe’s.”


“What? Why?”


“Nate, tell me now! Are you guys prepared to go through Trader Joe’s or should we just head home?”


I strongly believe that errands shouldn’t be forced on kids. I’d much rather sit at home without fresh fruits and vegetables than push their limits and be humiliated in public by a tantrum.


“Uh…head home,” he replied.


I swung the car around through the parking lot and back toward the exit.


“No! Lollipops!” Sam wailed.


“Where are we going?” Nate asked innocently.


“Home,” I said.


“Why? What about the free sample?”


I swung the car around the other way and pulled into a random parking spot. I was craving some of their fresh salmon for dinner.


“Trader Joe’s or home?” I asked one last time, becoming increasingly dizzy.


“Trader Joe’s!” Nate yelled emphatically.


“Lollipops!” repeated his sidekick.


We trudged through the store quickly while they sucked on their lollipops, forgetting only three or four items and without major incident. Until Nate saw the free samples: tuna burgers with wasabi sauce and green vegetable juice. Not exactly fare for small children.


Nate gladly turned up his nose and began to make his way toward the checkout counters, our usual route. Sam, on the other hand, from his spot in the shopping cart, began to pout his lower lip and large tears began to fall down his cheeks.


“Wait! Wait! Juice! Juice!” he wept.


He had already handed me his yellow lollipop in anticipation of the sample, and though I’m sure he would have loved the dark green vegetable juice, I was not in the mood to stand there and alternatingly mop it up off the floor and off his shirt while it dribbled down his chin.


“No, we’re going,” I said firmly. I started to doubt that we could emerge from the store without causing a scene, but I could not let my insecurity show on my face.


Sam threw back his head in helpless anger as I pushed the cart away from the sample counter, following Nate who had began to jog. I offered Sam his sticky lollipop, but he refused, on principle, so I pitched it in the trash. More tears. I picked him up and let him walk alongside the cart as a flimsy compromise.


We caught up to Nate. He had collided with a large metal pole, causing him to drop his lollipop, and it shattered on the floor beneath him. Immediate tears.


On cue, Sam dropped to the ground and began scavenging the red lollipop remnants, shoveling them into his mouth like a true sugar junkie.


Above him, Nate’s head was thrown back in anguish, and I could see his tonsils rattling in the back of his mouth. Just then, one of the super helpful TJ employees, grabbed our cart and pulled it into his lane, already starting to scan our merchandise. Trying to remember if I had gotten everything on our list, I raced after him and called out to Nate and Sam: “Go get another lollipop!”


The tears stopped, their faces lit up, and they scampered to the lollipop bin. I reached into my bag for my wallet and instead pulled out a slice of Colby jack cheese, a souvenir from the grocery store earlier, and it hit me: I was no longer on vacation.


My week of sophisticated conversations—American politics, euthanasia, the best cut of a steak, and the Dominican infatuation with Lebron James—had ended, and I was thrown back into the black hole of toddler messes and irrationality. I mourned the vacation for a while longer especially the next day when Nate got sent home from school because he “wasn’t himself” and the day after that when he stayed home so we could visit the pediatrician. By Friday morning, I had fallen back into step with my young cohorts, and we sat on the steps, chewing gum, and squabbling over Lego pieces. Like I had never left.