It’s About Time

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.

Uh-oh.

He emerged within moments.  I would best describe his face as a combo platter of fear, nausea and guilt. 

Oh no.

“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.

Horsing Around

And They're Off!

And They’re Off!

Summers in my heyday included weekend trips to Lake George, sunbathing in Grafton Park, and the much-anticipated Saratoga Racing Season.

Spending the afternoon at the flat track wasn’t just a day at the races; it was an event. Each year, I’d plan what I’d wear, how much money I’d bring, how much I’d be willing to bet, what I’d spend on food and drink, and, no trip to the track was complete without going dancing afterwards, late into the night.

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Let me break it down for you…

First, let’s go over proper attire. Sure, plenty of people show up in cut-offs, sneakers, baseball caps, etcetera, etcetera. Schlemiels. Well, not this girl. No, sir! For my companions and me, half the fun of going to Saratoga was in the dressing up: sundresses, big hats, heels, Jackie-O sunglasses, leather clutch, pearls…you get the picture.

Now, let’s talk about the after-party:

Before heading out to the track, my friends and I would each pack bags of evening clothes and throw them into the trunk of my car. After the last race of the day, we’d go into town for dinner. Then, at about nine o’clock, we’d get into the backseat of the car, change into our “disco clothes” and head to a club called “The Rafters.”

The Rafters was located in the middle of Kaydeross Park, on Saratoga Lake. Every time I pulled into the parking lot, I was amazed that I found my way there. “Remote” doesn’t begin to describe it.

It was a favorite hangout for all the jockeys and trainers.

At the risk of sounding “braggy,” let me just say I was a most sought-after girl at The Rafters. Why? Well it could have been because I was…

  1. …young and beautiful
  2. … an accomplished and enthusiastic dancer partner, or
  3. … the shortest woman in the room

If you guessed D (all of the above), you would be wrong.

The answer is C. At 4’11” and 92 lbs, I made every jockey feel like a colossus. I won’t name drop, but I danced with all the greats {Did somebody say Angel Cordero?}

I’d hit the dance floor and stay there until the lights came up and it was time to go home. These were some of the happiest times of my college years.

 

So, imagine my excitement when my friend Harris moved to Baltimore and invited a group of us to come down for the Preakness.

My first order of business was to buy the right outfit for such a swanky occasion. After a period of careful discernment, I settled on a pastel linen skirt –the fabric of which looked like a Monet watercolor. The blouse was a gauzy trapeze top, sheer (with the exception of two strategically placed pockets – if you know what I mean). It was sexy, but tasteful and sophisticated at the same time. For footwear, I selected a pair of gray kitten heels. At the track, there’s a lot of walking on grass and gravel, so a low heel is essential. To round out the ensemble, I chose a straw cloche hat al a Mia Farrow al a Daisy Buchanan al a The Great Gatsby.

Feathered Saratoga Hat

Fast forward to racing day. About 12 of us were camped out at Harris’s condo. I emerged from the guest room, looking like I was being presented at Buckingham Palace.

Harris asked, “Where are you going?”

“Pimlico, baby!” I cheered.

“Not like that, you’re not,” he said.

“Why? What’s wrong?”

He shook his head, “You’re gonna ruin that outfit. We’re sitting in the infield.

“Who’s gonna what now?” I asked.

“The infield,” he repeated. “That’s where we’re sitting.”

Let me put this in perspective for you: At Saratoga, we’d sit in the Clubhouse, at linen-covered tables, soaking up air-conditioning and cool Saratoga Sunrise cocktails. The Saratoga infield was a manicured oasis – lush emerald grass accented with vibrant flowers and neatly trimmed shrubbery.

Through his chuckling, Harris advised, “Go put on some shorts and sneakers. Then you can help us pack the cooler.”

“Cooler?” Really?

I retreated back to the guest room and changed into the aforementioned schlemiel costume (sans backward baseball cap), then reported to the kitchen to help make ham sandwiches for our picnic lunch.

Feathered Pimlico Infield Hat

Feathered Pimlico Infield Hat

When we arrived at Pimlico, we were directed to a tunnel that ran under the track. It was relatively short, but no less hot, humid or fragrant as the finest New York City subway station.

 

The mob scene on the other side was something like “Woodstock meets Honey Boo Boo.”

The ground was thick with mud, the kind that sucks your shoes off when you walk through it. Drunken revelers staggered all over the place and the smell of pot wafted from every direction.

To give you an idea of the infield dress code: there was a woman in a string bikini made of four seashells and leather straps. We started referring to her as “Shelley.” Some people had pitched tents and dug out privies, I swear to god! (I wondered how long they’d been there and how long they planned on staying).

I didn’t see much horseracing that day, because I was mesmerized by my surroundings. Afraid I’d get lost and end up in someone hillbilly’s encampment, I never left the infield to place a bet. While sitting on a soggy blanket, I drank lukewarm beer from a can and ate sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper.

And truth be told, I never had that much fun at a horserace before or since.

Dadgumit! Where’d Shelley git to?

 

 

 

Good Grief

Our family vacation was only three weeks away when we got the bad news.  It would change everything.

About a month earlier, we decided that our health routine could probably use some tweaking…a lot of tweaking, actually.  None of us were really feeling our best, so we had full work-ups done at a wellness center in Manhattan.   Dr. Morrison examined us, took blood tests, saliva tests, and thoroughly interviewed each of us.

The tests had come in and we assembled in his office for our results.

He went over mine first: No remarkable food sensitivities or environmental allergies.  I will say (with a bit of bravado) that I look pretty good…on paper anyway.

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 Then he went over my husband’s and my daughter’s reports.  There it was in black and white: they were both highly sensitive to gluten.

Thus began the mourning period or as I called it “The Five Stages of Gluten-Free Grief.”

 

Let's the grieving begin

Let’s the grieving begin

Denial and Isolation

My husband’s grieving process was textbook.  He kind of shrugged and said, “Well, I guess I just won’t have anymore gluten then.”    Like it would be that simple.  He had no idea where gluten was hiding.  It was in his soy sauce, his favorite chips, in pizza, in beer!   He ignored the fact that he was surrounded by gluten and could be ambushed at any moment.  Talk about denial!

Our daughter was somewhat more animated about the situation, to the surprise of no one. (New Flash: teenagers aren’t famous for suppressing their feelings).  “Are you kidding me?! What am I suppose to eat now?  Water and lettuce?  No more bagels?  No more soup dumplings?  Like I’m really never gonna have another PopTart for the rest of my life?!”

I gave Dr. Morrison a look that suggested my daughter was hallucinating, then turned to her and said, “Oh goodness.  You know I don’t let you children eat PopTarts.”  Was I in denial myself? Or was I just flat-out lying?  I’ll never tell.

She grumbled and complained on our way back to the house.  When we got there, she grabbed an entire box of PopTarts, and stormed up to her room, slamming the door.

Isolation?  Check.

In fact my daughter is so efficient, she managed to sweep through Denial and Isolation in under an hour; sailing straight into Stage 2: Anger.  The problem was, she got there quickly, but stayed a bit longer than the rest of us were really loving.  That is, until she decided to stretch her negotiating muscles.   Which brings us to…

Stage 3: Bargaining

Since our family vacation was to take place in London, our daughter was already looking for leverage, “If I don’t eat any gluten between now and London, can I have afternoon tea when we’re there?”

If you’re unfamiliar with a proper English afternoon tea, it is a late day meal between 4 and 6 o’clock, consisting of tea with scones, tartlets, pastries, cookies, gluten, gluten and gluten.

So I did some bargaining of my own, “If I find a place that serves a gluten-free afternoon tea, would you settle for that?”

“OK, but if it’s awful, can I get a real afternoon tea?”

She drove a hard bargain, but it seemed fair.  After all, she might never get back to London, afternoon tea was something she had really been looking forward to, and was it really worth ruining the vacation over one meal?   “It’s a deal!” I said.  We shook on it.

We were staying at the Langham London, known for superior service, which I was about to test.  I called and arranged for gluten-free bread at every meal and a special gluten-free afternoon tea.  Their Executive Pastry Chef, the incredibly talented Cherish Finden, prepared an amazing array of delights that would have made your eyes pop out of their sockets.  It was as glorious to look at as it was to taste.  My daughter loved it.

Gluten-free heaven!

Gluten-free heaven!

If you’re thinking we were lucky enough to skip over Stage 4: Depression, think again.  There was no way we would get off that easily.  But the depression did not come from our daughter.  It came from our son, and who could blame him?  Here he was, a foodie with a cast iron stomach, and he had to listen to countless conversations about gluten on his last vacation before going off to college.

I should probably mention at this point that he and I would be gluten-free in front of daddy and daughter, but we guilt-ridden gluten-tolerators were sneaking pizza and sandwiches when nobody was looking.  There is no Gluten-Free Grief stage for that, but if there were, it would probably be called, “The Closet Eating” stage or the “You Ought To Be Ashamed Of Yourselves” stage.

Anyway, we were dining along the Thames at a place called Founders Arms.  There, on the menu, was a burger called the “Tower 42.” If you are a burger lover, which I am not, you would probably walk through fire to get one.  It’s described on the menu as a “double prime beef burger, cheese, bacon, young’s ale onions, lettuce, mayo, ketchup, gherkins, fries.”

Daughter wanted it.

“Sure,” I said, “You can have it without the bun.”

5, 4, 3, 2, 1…

It's not your friend, girl.

It’s not your friend, girl.

The ensuing argument took place in hushed tones (we were, after all, in a restaurant), but the venom was no less potent.  After about 10 minutes of hissing, begging, pleading and general carrying on, my son had had enough.

With his phone hidden under the table,  he started texting me:  “For the love of god, LET HER HAVE THE BURGER!  I can’t take anymore.  This gluten issue is ruining my vacation and I don’t even believe its a real thing!”

I texted back: “It IS real! It will make her sick and she’ll be miserable all day tomorrow.”

He responded: “I’m miserable now.”

“Get the burger,” I told her.  My husband looked at me as if I’d lost mind. We’d come so far.  Placing my hand on his knee, I slipped him my phone so he could see the texts. “But,” I continued to our daughter, “If you don’t feel good tomorrow, you’re just going to have to deal with it without taking the rest of us down with you.”

“I promise,” she said.

Am I a bad parent?  Well, which child would you have sacrificed?

Stage 5: Acceptance

The next morning, she was like a bear, poked in her den well before spring; grizzly, grumpy and short-tempered. Prior to devouring the impressive Tower 42, she’d been a total delight; laughing, fun, adventurous, sweet…we had been having a wonderful time. Now, the evidence was staring us straight in the eye.  There was no more denying it.  Gluten was not her friend.  I pointed out that, prior to that burger, she’d been a totally adorable lambkins on the trip.  That’s when the lightbulb went on for her, and for my son, and for me.

Acceptance.

That was about three years ago.  Since that time, both she and my husband have mostly been gluten-free superstars.  But on those occasions when they fall off the wagon, my son and I make a run for it…to the nearest pizzeria.