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.

5 Steps To Being The Perfect Houseguest

The holidays are just around the corner, and for many of us, they involve traveling. Will you be bunking at someone’s home? Are you wondering if you need a refresher course on houseguest etiquette? Well, today’s your lucky day! Not only do I travel quite a bit, I’m also an innkeeper of sorts, since my house happens to be a popular lodging spot for out-of-town family and friends. With the benefit of all this knowledge, I’ve put together a room-by-room, 5-step guide on how to be the perfect houseguest. No need to thank me. I consider it a public service. Now, pack your bags and let’s begin our journey…

#5. The Front Door (Don’t be cheap)

We all know you should never show up empty-handed to a dinner party. But did you know that when you’re a houseguest, your arms should be so loaded that you have to ring the doorbell with your nose? Its true!

What should you bring? Well, if your hosts don’t have small children, then it’s appropriate to bring something for the house such as a bottle of wine, fine chocolates, a gourmet food basket, a Vitamix Professional Series 750… Sometimes people bring a more personal gift, strictly for the hostess, something like a bath set consisting of expensive shower gel, body scrub, body lotion, perfume and body oil in the Bobbi Brown Beach fragrance, or anything from the Fresh brand of products (available at Sephora), or jewels. You know…stuff like that will surely be appreciated. And no, I am not hinting here at all. I swear!

If your hosts have children, you must, must, must bring something for them! It’s important to be on the children’s good side if you have any hopes of enjoying your stay. For children in the baby/toddler stages, you can bring a cute outfit. If they’re older, nothing but toys will do. A five-year-old welcomes a sensible sweater only slightly more than a poke in the eye. And choose that toy wisely, or you might end up with mashed potatoes in your shoes or “short sheets” on the bed. Which brings us to…

#4. The Bedroom (Don’t be a slob)

Whether your hosts give you a spacious annex with a king-size bed (a/k/a The Presidential Bungalow) or stick you on an air mattress in the basement next to the washing machine (a/k/a The Bob Cratchit Suite), know that:
a. it’s the best they have to offer
b. they’re saving you a bundle on hotels
c. beggars can’t be choosers

Regardless of where you end up, you will coo, “This is perfect! Thank you so much!”

While occupying that space, you should make the bed every morning. Yup, you heard me. Show some respect for your host by keeping your room tidy. And put your clothes away. If you don’t have a closet or dresser in which to put your garments, then contain everything to your suitcase. You wouldn’t want your host tripping over your stuff if she needs to go into your room for some totally innocent reason…not for snooping, naturally.

And for god’s sake do not put your wet towels on the furniture!!!! Moisture and wood go together like pancakes and nail polish remover, while wet towels and mattresses make for musty bedfellows. Hang them in the bathroom.

At the end of your stay, ask for clean sheets so you can strip and remake the bed. You should then deposit your used linens and towels in the laundry room. Make your mother proud by taking this added work off your hosts’ shoulders. Assuming they are hospitable, they’ve probably done enough for you already. And if you’ve been under their roof for more than three days, you might already be pushing your luck. So this small gesture will be warmly welcomed.

#3. The Bathroom (Don’t be disgusting)

The potential for grossness resides no place more intensely than in the bathroom. If you have the luxury of a private bath, you have a little more latitude, but don’t get carried away. This is not carte blanche to leave globs of hair gel all over the floor or neglect to flush (I’ve seen it all.). At some point, someone will have to clean that bathroom. Don’t make them hate you. I’m serious!

If you have to share the bathroom with your host’s family or other guests, you must be even more diligent. Vanities and countertops should not be littered with your junk. Pack a toiletries kit and take it with you when you enter and exit. Capice?

If something has “happened” and the “situation” requires you to scrub the toilet, please do so – including under the rim and seat. Not kidding. I see no need to plunge any deeper into this subject. I’m sure you get the picture, and I will spare you by not posting one as an example. You’re welcome.

The best way to be sure you’re doing the bathroom thing correctly is to make a game out of it. Think of it as a crime scene and you are the perp. Before making your getaway, remove any DNA evidence that could place you in that room – rinse your toothpaste out of the sink, wipe off the counters, look for stray hairs…

And while we’re on the subject of hair, let’s get something straight: unless a hair is attached to a human body, it is gag-worthy. Following your daily ablutions, look around. Ladies, are your lush locks adorning the shower walls? Gents, did you leave the bar of soap looking like a Chia Pet? Are your follicles in the sink or on the floor? They are? Excuse me for a moment while I retch.

If you’ve used a water glass while brushing your teeth, please return it to…

#2. The Kitchen (Get out and stay out)

The kitchen is the heart of a house, and while it may be the place where everyone gathers, remember that it is also sacrosanct to the person who owns it. I don’t know any serious cook (male or female) who is not possessive and controlling when it comes to his or her kitchen. So don’t insinuate yourself there.

If you’d like to repay your hosts by treating them to a meal, take them out to dinner or pick up some take-out. If you’re unwilling to do either, I’m wondering how you got invited in the first place. But if you are that kind of houseguest, there are other ways to repay someone for their hospitality without opening your moth-infested wallet: offer to help make the salad, set the table, fill the water glasses or take out the garbage. If you are incapable of performing any of those tasks, please lose my number.

But let’s say you’re pretty handy in the kitchen and think that your hosts will be overjoyed if you surprise them by whipping up a meal without their permission – you envision their wide-eyed gratitude when they wake up to the smell of a gruyere frittata in the oven, bacon crackling in a pan on the stove, coffee perking away…

STOP! This scenario only plays out successfully in the movies. Why? Because on a movie set, a trained chef is baking that frittata in something other than the host’s prized $300 professional-grade skillet that no one is allowed to touch (or even gaze upon), and an entire crew is busy wiping grease from the stovetop, sweeping crumbs off the floor, polishing surfaces, etc. In the movies, when the hosts glide into the kitchen (looking artfully tousled and rosy-cheeked), the table is laid with fresh-squeezed juice, a gentle curl of steam wafts off a basket of hot fluffy muffins, the pinkest of pink grapefruits gleam in the sunlight and, most importantly, there is not a dirty dish, or a crumb, nor a smear anywhere in sight.

Here's what you envisioned.

Here’s what you envisioned.

Now, here’s what happens in real life: Your hosts stumble into the kitchen, hung-over from the night before. They are visibly annoyed that someone has roused them at an ungodly hour by slamming cabinets and clanging cookware. And as they peer through their half-opened, puffy eyes, they see is that you have violated their space. You’ve used the sacred skillet. You’ve cut the grapefruit directly on their $11,000 limestone countertop (the acid of which has left an indelible scar – not to mention the deep gash from the once perfectly-honed knife that you have forever ruined), everything is covered in a layer of sticky, and to top it all off, they don’t even like frittata. Grateful? That won’t be the first word that pops into their heads.

Here's what you delivered.

Here’s what you delivered.

Think I’m exaggerating? Let me tell you a little story…

There once was a woman, from New Jersey, who had her kitchen completely remodeled (let’s call her Martha). To show it off, she decided to throw a bridal shower for her niece. During the party, one of the guests (who we’ll call Nimrod) took a metal meat mallet to a bag of ice, smashing it on the brand new granite countertops (granite which Martha personally and lovingly selected on a road trip to a quaint little quarry deep in the heart of Vermont). We all suspected something was wrong with Nimrod, as she kept announcing having “to pee” about every 10 minutes. Turns out, she was neither pregnant nor diabetic. Instead, Nimrod was sneaking off to shove cocaine up her nose – giving new meaning to “visiting the powder room.” While that might explain her moronic and potentially calamitous maneuver, it certainly does not excuse it. And that bring us to…

#1. All Remaining Rooms of the House (Don’t be a hot mess)

If you cannot control your liquor, then by all means, lay off the sauce while you’re a guest in someone else’s house. And I think it goes without saying that you should leave all your bongs, ghanja, ruffles, etc. at home as well.

5/20/2007 4:55 PM

If you keep your head on straight, chances are excellent that you will not break anything, throw up on the heirloom Oriental, cause a lot of commotion by getting arrested, or spoil everyone’s good time by requiring CPR during your stay. After all, you want to be invited back, don’t you?

That’s all there is to it, friends. Follow my 5 simple rules and you’ll be the kind of guest that everyone will be fighting over (No, I want her to stay with me!), rather than the one everyone will be fighting over (She still has not reimbursed me for that bail money!)

As Gandhi probably should have said, but didn’t, “Be the guest you want to see in your own house.” And…um…don’t forget that Vitamix.

Related article: Giving & Thanking, A Modern Guide To Thanksgiving Etiquette