Planning a family vacation becomes complicated when you have adult children. College schedules, work, life – these things can get in the way. That’s why, when the stars align and everyone has a few free days, you pounce on the chance to plan a trip.
We took advantage of just such a miraculous opportunity and booked a family getaway to Costa Rica last year. Several relaxing days in a warm rainforest would be the perfect balm for an icy cold New York January.
I had no idea there would be so much high adventure, tests of human endurance, drama and suspense…and that was before we even got on the airplane.
Let’s begin with the morning before our flight.
New York. January 9th, 4:00 am
It was T minus 24 hours before the car was to pick us up for the airport.
I don’t sleep well the day before I travel. There are so many things to think about. Did I pack the sunscreen? Were my flip-flops in my suitcase? Was my e-reader fully charged? If I forget my retainer, would I come home with buckteeth?
Tip-toeing around so as not to wake anyone, I busied myself with the final preparations for our vacation. My plan was to get everything done and grab a nap in the afternoon. Like most of my plans, that nap never materialized. But that was OK, I thought. I’d just go to bed early and get up around 3:00 to shower, put on the carefully selected traveling outfit I had chosen, style my hair, have a light breakfast, water the plants, load and run the dishwasher, clear the perishables from the refrigerator, and empty the garbage so the house wouldn’t smell like a sewer upon our return. After all that, I’d be ready for some R&R.
Apparently, I am a slow learner, because that plan didn’t pan out either. Here’s what happened instead…
New York. January 9th, 6:00 pm
With PJs on and ready for bed, I said good-night to my family, “Remember, the car is picking us up at four. So, get to bed early and make sure you all have your passports.”
When I uttered the word “passports”, my son got a strange look on his face. He quickly retreated to his room, shutting the door behind him. I heard a lot of rummaging sounds.
He emerged within moments. I would best describe his face as a combo platter of fear, nausea and guilt.
“Mom,” he said hesitantly, “I could have sworn my passport was here. But now I realize I must have left it in my dorm room. I am so sorry!”
Oh, dear god.
His college was 5 hours away (without traffic).
Deep breath. I quickly consulted my phone. According to Waze, we would get to his campus around 11:00 pm. Doing the math in my head, I was certain we could complete the round trip with enough time for me to shower and change before heading to the airport. (Side note: I am not good at doing math in my head.)
“If we leave right now, we’ll get back in time,” I said.
“Are you serious?” he asked.
“Do you have a better idea?”
“I just won’t go,” he offered. ” It’s ok. Really.”
There was no way we were taking this family vacation without him.
“Get in the car,” I said.
I threw on some old sweats and we headed to Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania. January 9th, 10:53 pm
The entire college was closed for winter break. We had to track down campus security to let my son into his dorm. While he and the officer went to his room, I programmed our home address into Waze. We would return at 3:48 am. Good-bye shower.
As I sat in the car watching the seconds slip away on the app, I also noticed we would never make it home unless we stopped for gas. Hello putrid garbage.
Tick. Tick. Tick. What could be taking so long? His room was the size of a bathmat.
Finally, I saw my son and the security officer walking toward the car. My son looked stricken.
“Mom, I am soooooooo sorry,” he said. “I just got off the phone with dad…”
“Oh my god,” I said, “is somebody dead?!”
“No, no…,” my son continued. He looked at the officer for help. The man put a supportive hand on my son’s shoulder.
“What is it?” I begged. “Out with it!”
“Dad found my passport. In my room. At home.”
For the second time that night, I told him, “Get in the car.”
As we pulled away, the officer shrugged and gave a wishy-washy wave good-bye.
“I am really, really sorry. Please don’t be mad,” my son pleaded.
“I want you to remember this moment,” I told him. “Look at me. I’m not mad at all.” And this was the truth – for three reasons. One, nobody was dead. So, that was good. Two, by this point I had been awake for 19 hours. I didn’t have the energy to get mad. But the main reason is that I love my son and I had missed him. Since he’d been away at school, we didn’t get to talk much anymore. That road trip, just the two of us in the car, was an absolute pleasure. He stayed awake with me the whole time and we talked about everything and anything. Sheer joy.
Pennsylvania. January 9th, 11:10 pm
It was time to stop for gas.
And since I mentioned “time”, let me get philosophical for a moment: Time is a funny thing. It doesn’t actually “exist”, and yet it’s very real. You can have too much of it on your hands or not enough of it in a day. It can be on your side or your worst enemy. And anyone with a GPS knows you’re more likely to lose it than gain it. So don’t even try to make up time on the road. I should mention that, throughout this entire odyssey, I kept close to the speed limit. Safety first! Also, if we got stopped for speeding, we’d be totally schtupped.
Anyway, back to the gas…
We had precious few minutes to fill the tank if we were to make it home by four. Now, here is where time decided to eat us for lunch and then laugh at us while it picked its teeth – the gas pump couldn’t have chugged along more slowly if it were dispensing peanut butter. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. My son and I stared at it in amazement.
At this point, I had a sobering thought: Was the universe trying to tell us something? Did providence know something about this flight that I didn’t? Should I listen?
Screw it. I pumped enough gas to get us home and we hit the road again.
New York. January 10th, 4:02 am
As we pulled up to the house, we could see the car service parked out front. My husband, daughter, our luggage and my son’s passport all safely inside it. I ran upstairs, grabbed my retainer (priorities!) and we left for the airport.
Now, you probably think this is the end of the story. Well, it’s not.
Newark International Airport. January 10, 5:30 am
Technology can be such a time-saving blessing. We were able to use the automated kiosk to check-in and get our boarding passes.
My husband scanned his passport. Beep. It spit out his boarding pass.
I scanned my passport. Beep. It spit out my boarding pass.
My son scanned his passport. Beep. It spit out his boarding pass.
My daughter scanned her passport. BLOOP! No boarding pass. She tried it again. BLOOP! Nothing.
My husband said, “Let me try.” He scanned it again. Still no boarding pass.
Seeing we were having trouble with the kiosk, an airline representative came to our aid. She tried the scanner. Same thing. No boarding pass.
“Ohhhh,” she finally said, “I see the problem.”
What a relief. She saw the problem. She was going to fix it. Problem solved!
She handed the passport back to my husband, “This one’s expired.”
Newark International Airport. January 10, 5:31:00 am
I could not breathe.
Newark International Airport. January 10, 5:31:01 am
Everything went silent.
Newark International Airport. January 10, 5:31:02 am
The blood drained from my face.
Newark International Airport. January 10, 5:31:03 am
There was ringing in my ears.
Newark International Airport. January 10, 5:31:04 am
Time stood still. Now time stood still? THANKS FOR NOTHING, TIME!!
Newark International Airport. January 10, 5:32 am
The airline rep gave my husband a document and some instructions, “There’s a passport office in Manhattan. They open at eight. Give them this paper. They will expedite your daughter’s passport and you’ll have plenty of time to get on the next flight to Costa Rica this afternoon.”
I looked at my husband. I could have sworn, just for a split second, that his expression suggested I should take her to the passport office. Maybe it did. Maybe it didn’t. What do I know? It’s possible that being awake for over 25 hours could make a person see things. But there was nothing ambiguous about my expression…it said “Warning! Tilt! Danger!!”
My son came up to me. He gently took my hands and whispered, “It’s gonna be ok, mom.”
I looked into his sympathetic, soothing eyes and whispered back, “I feel terrible for your sister. I’m sorry that your father has to take her to the passport office. But make no mistake…I. Am. Getting. On. That. Plane.”
San Jose, Costa Rica. January 10, 11:30 am
When we stepped out of the airport, my son and I were still wearing the same ratty clothes from the day before. So much for my chic traveling ensemble. The warm moist jungle air enveloped us like a welcoming hug. Our cabbie would take us to the resort, which was three hours away. I didn’t care. I slept in the backseat. I snored. I’m sure I drooled. En route, we stopped for lunch at an outdoor restaurant which overlooked a picturesque coffee farm. The food was delicious. The view was spectacular. Our ten-hour road trip, five-and-a-half hour flight, and bumpy excursion in a taxi were all worth it. We’d reached paradise.
After checking into our rooms, we took a dip in the pool, had dinner together and hung out in the bar until my daughter and husband arrived.
The band was finally back together again. And now we all had valid passports.