Friday, July 17, 2009

What's it worth?

On Tuesday of this week, I went with my girls on a little outing. Actually, it was a pretty big outing for me, one that involved a hotel reservation and a dinner reservation. The occasion? Simply that Yo-Yo went to camp and I wanted to do something special with the girls, my girls.

I never had a sister, though I wanted one desperately, and ever since Sweetsie was born I’ve reveled in the fact that I have daughters and that each of my daughters has a sister. I have girls in the plural. Life is thrilling.

They are so different, my girls. Miss Becca Boo looks like my maternal grandmother, the same hooded eyelids, but her build is just like her father’s, lean and muscle-y. Sweetsie looks more like her papa, and she has what my mother calls “Marilyn lips” (Marilyn Monroe, of course)—though Mr. Handsome’s lips do not in any way resemble Marilyn’s, capeesh?—but she is built more like me, which is to say without any notable muscle definition whatsoever. Miss Becca Boo is, for the most part, easy to please and eager to please, industrious, and the family peacemaker, which is pretty much a description of Mr. Handsome’s sister Sarah. In fact, I think of Miss Becca Boo as Little Sarah. Sweetsie is, at least right now, downright cantankerous and crotchety, which pretty much reminds me of Mr. Handsome, though she occasionally turns into a little angel, agreeable and spunky, with the ability to charm the socks off the most thickly-heeled, black-buttoned, boot-wearin’ women in all of New England (don't even try to tell me that New England women don't still wear corsets and bustles 'cause I won't believe you), and then she reminds me of myself.

So a couple months ago when I signed Yo-Yo up for camp, I started making plans for our mother-daughter outing. And then Tuesday swung around and we went.

You must understand, this is most unusual for me because I don’t go places. More specifically, I don’t go to new places without Mr. Handsome, places that require me to read maps and find parking and pretend to know what I’m doing when I really haven’t a clue. When I go to new places with Mr. Handsome I take the role of detached observer and Mr. Handsome takes the role of frazzled, impatient, stressed father, crashing into curbs and blowing out his front tire when executing high-speed u-turns (a spiffy stunt he pulled while on DC’s back streets on July 4, 2009). While he fumes and fumbles and frets, I stay cool as a cucumber in my comfy passenger seat, generously pointing out his failings and my golden halo (“you do realize, don’t you, honey, that I have never blown out the car’s tires, ever. Hmm?) Going somewhere on my own would mean that I would be in charge and any finger-pointing could only be aimed at myself.

I was a little stressed and slightly addled, but I kept telling myself it was An Adventure and that helped me to feel a little better. I also vaguely recalled a certain college spring break when I led a work team to San Antonio. Fourteen other students and I crammed into the fifteen-passenger van, we attached a large trailer to the hitch, and then we drove fifty hours, round trip. Once we arrived, we divided into four groups and I chauffeured them around the city, dropping them off at their respective work sites. (The rest of my time, when I wasn’t unflinchingly maneuvering the one-way streets or doing the food planning, was spent missing Mr. Handsome, my then-boyfriend who was, at that same time, on a Catholic pilgrimage to Bosnia. I wasn’t crying because he was in Bosnia though, I was crying because I was back in the sultry city where he and I had met on that fated June day, and I could hardly stand being there without him. Every time I thought of him, I dissolved in a theatrical bundle of snot. I was pathetic.)

In comparison to that spring break trip, my little excursion to a medium-sized town with only two little girls was peanuts, but still... However, it all turned out fine. I only got lost several times, but then I got unlost by asking questions, studying the map, and talking out loud, loudly. We got everywhere we needed to go. We even had fun.

I intentionally did not bring any reading or writing material for myself on the trip. I wanted to be fully present to the girls—the purpose of the outing was to be with them. In case you haven’t figured it out yet from reading this blog, this plan was totally out of character for me as I am forever seeking ways to snatch some alone time, those infamous five minutes of peace. To plan to spend extended time with my children, without getting some of my work done, was not like me at all. But I decided it was the right thing to do—thirty hours without my own agenda wouldn’t kill me, I reasoned. (I only regretted my decision once, when I found myself lying on my hotel bed watching yet another inane “educational” cartoon: Can you help keep the prairie dogs safe? When you see the wolf, yell “hide.” Ready? Yell “HIDE!” Good for YOU! YOU helped the prairie dogs!... Now let’s count the prairie dogs in Spanish: uno, dos, tres,... OH NO! There are only EIGHT and we are supposed to have TEN . How many are missing? That’s RIGHT, we’re missing TWO...! At that point I was seriously lamenting my noble plan.)

The other thing I didn’t take along (intentionally) was my camera. But I did manage to take some pretty spiffy mental snapshots that I will now attempt to convert into words.

At the deserted hotel pool:
*Racing each other, back and forth and back again. After a couple laps I thought I would die; swimming is hard work.
*Both girls lying face down on the hot, white pavement to warm up, then flipping onto their backs for even toasting.
*Sweetsie discovering the cooler of water and the cone cups that are so fun to pull out, one by one by one.

A three-course meal at The Melting Pot, a high-end fondue restaurant:
*Sweetsie lets her displeasure be known, most emphatically, when the main course consists of little piles of raw meat, whole mushrooms, broccoli and wedges of potato.
*Sweetsie accidently knocks over her glass of water.
*The tired-looking middle-aged waitress (with as much personality as a toad) forgets to turn on the heat under the pot of bouillon and I signal to a passing waitress to help us out. “Who is your waitress?” she asks cheerfully, and then we get a chatty visit from the manager herself, and then another waitress gets a head start on our dessert, and then the original waitress brings out the dessert and tells us that the manager is giving us a two-for-one deal on the dessert because “she’s a generous woman.”
*The chocolate-marshmallow fondue is lit on fire and the girls are enthralled. Or maybe it’s me that’s enthralled. Anyway, the chocolate is to die for and I scrape clean the pots and every single pewter plate.
*We are handed fancy mints sealed in black wrapping, and as we cross the street on our way back to the van, Sweetsie’s falls out of her mouth and into some grating. I say, “Yeah, it’s important to keep your mouth closed when you’re eating.” Amazingly enough, there are no tears.

Back at the hotel:
*We go directly to the 24-hour coffee station and I fix the girls small cups of decaf coffee with a cream and a sugar each. Then I fix my large decaf coffee (two creams, no sugar) and we head upstairs where we change into pajamas and then drape ourselves across the beds and watch the food network.
*I turn the TV off and we all climb into bed together. Once the girls are asleep, I move to the other bed and watch “Chopped” (a cooking show, nothing gory) before falling asleep myself.
*The girls are up at 6:30, wanting to watch TV. We pad downstairs, still in our pjs and with bed-head hair, fix more coffee, toast a bagel and get a Danish, and go back to our room where we climb into bed and stay there for three hours of the afore-mentioned inane TV viewing.
*They store clothing and papers in the mini-refrigerator, bounce on the beds (just a little), fiddle with the air-conditioner, kiss the full-length mirror, press their noses to the big window, and splash in the tub. My tongue gets sore from biting it so much.

Breakfast in the hotel lobby:
*Miss Becca Boo eats three yogurts, Fruit Loops, a banana, an orange, a cup of apple juice.
*Sweetsie eats a yogurt, Fruit Loops, an apple (I finish it), a banana (I finish it), an orange (I finish it), a Danish, and apple juice.
*Miss Becca Boo tries to suck her yogurt out of the container like the woman in the TV commercial. She smiles sexily, coyly darting her eyes off to the side and licking her lips. She gets yogurt all over her face.

Self-revelation:
I have two young girls and no wedding band on my finger (my fingers swell in the summer, so I take it off for the hot months)—how do strangers perceive me? Not that it matters, of course, but I’m in a different world with a new role, half my family missing, throwing away money like it grows on trees. It’s fun to see myself through strangers’ eyes. Makes me want to write a novel.

At the ice park:
*After one time around the rink and a couple gentle spills, Miss Becca Boo takes off. She skates with her arms out, her right leg extended behind her. I’m impressed.
*Sweetsie slowly pushes around the upside-down five-gallon buckets they pass out to beginners, her fingers gradually turning purple. She stumbles, the buckets flip over and she lands on top of them, straddling them helplessly.
*We watch, slack-jawed, as the figure skaters (real ones!) do their spins and leaps. We listen in on the private lessons being taught in the center of the rink and then we clumsily practice the moves.

On the pedestrian mall:
*We stop by a table filled with rows of sunglasses. The Asian saleswoman gives us a hand mirror. “For the girls, these glasses they can have for one dollar off,” she says. Miss Becca Boo chooses green ones, Sweetsie some silver-sparkly, cat-eyed ones (regular price because they aren’t children’s glasses), and I get a pair of regular glasses. We traipse down the brick walkway. Heads turn; people smile.
*Pizza by the slice, gumballs from a machine, café Cubano, a quiet, wood-floored, second-hand bookstore, a carousel merry-go-round.
*The girls want to go home; they are tired, and they miss the male half of the family. Miss Becca Boo misses her guinea pig. We head home.


So, was it worth it? It’s hard for me to answer questions like that, pitting an experience against a dollar sign. Did we have to leave home and spend money in order to have that type of experience? Wouldn’t it have been better if, instead of spending money, money that Mr. Handsome has to leave home to earn, he just took a couple days off and we all hung out together, working in the garden, inviting some friends over, reading books, watching a movie?

On the other hand, there is value to be found in striking out and doing something different. Just the act of stepping out of one’s element into a different life not only gives the adventurer a little boost of self-esteem, it also encourages the person to see the world in a different way, to ponder and reevaluate life. And that’s worthwhile.

But I don’t know if it’s worthwhile enough.

Right now as I type this, Sweetsie is lying on the sofa complaining that her head hurts. She says, in a sad, gravely-voiced whimper, “It’s cause of that trip. It makes me sick to go on trips.” Really, hon? We got back two days ago! Do you mean to tell me that last night’s sleepover at your aunt and uncle’s doesn’t figure in to your tired headachy-ness?

But the child does have a point. I feel like I’m still recuperating, craving extra alone time after the concentrated together time, needing space to process, to think, to write, to sleep. Still not back in the swing of things, my house turned into a barn, living on leftovers, I’m trying to make heads and tails of the whole venture, my brief affair with Extravagance.

What do you think?

One Year Ago: The Baby Nickel living life to the fullest, and other matters.

8 comments:

  1. Hmm, sounds like fun. Sort of like the other Sunday night when my hubby and I decided to go to the beach (at 6:00 in the evening) with plans to drive back yet that night. Half way there, we decide to spend the night and rent one of the nicest rooms in OC Maryland only to get up the next morning at 7 and leave it all behind. Not much time to enjoy our luxurious private hot tub on the balcony or soft-as-down king-size bed but it was fun anyway. As frivolous as it all is, spontaneity is occasionally good!

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  2. I am envious of your adventure. It sounds like something the girls will look back on. "Remember when mom took us......that was so cool..."

    I'm a few steps shy of agoraphobia, myself. Driving new places gives me panic attacks. meh.

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  3. what about Miss Becca Boo? Did she like the trip?

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  4. On the one hand, the taste of something different can stir up discontent with what we have and on the other hand, provide just enough diversion to satisfy a need to see the 'other side of the mountain'.
    You can help chanel the direction by how you respond to the mundane home life.

    S-

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  5. Like I asked you on the phone. In a few years, can my girls and I come along? I think it was a splendid idea and an experience your girls will remember. Not because of the money spent but because you made an effort to do something special and fun. With just them.

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  6. Sounds like fun to me JJ! I think the girls will always have the great memory of you taking them off on an adventure; even Sweetsie when she recovers! And you know how I like adventures!

    Rob and I used to take the kids on little dates - to get a hot chocolate, a book at the second-hand store, roller-blading - and they loved just spending time with one of us alone. Now that we're in the county, everything closes at 6, so no more dates for now :(

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  7. My comment here comes only from personal experience.

    I cannot remember ever going on any kind of an outing or doing anything "special" with my mom . . . just the two of us.

    And, looking back, I feel I engineered all too few of these occasions with my daughter. (All kinds of excuses. No money, too much work to do, blah, blah, blah.) Now I wish so much I had done it differently.

    I think the "uncomfortableness" for both you and/or the girls is probably outweighed by experience, stimulation, and education gained. Even if you encounter some less than wonderful happenings, the exposure for you all is enriching because it reinforces your healthy home environment, if nothing else. And I sincerely feel we all need to be shaken out of our little self-induced ruts now and then to remain fresh and alert.

    Even if the girls grump and groan some now, trust me, there will be a lot of fond memories of "our special time with Mom" in years to come.

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  8. Dr. P, Becca Boo loved the trip. The ice skating was her favorite part with the fondue and TV-viewing coming in 2nd and 3rd places (not sure in which order).

    The rest of you, you make good points. I think you're right, the girls will remember the trip fondly, even with the ups and downs and dull moments.

    Maybe we'll do it again next year....

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