Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Roamin' Holidays

When I was much younger - oh, don't look that way; it could've been worse. I came this close to adding another "much," and then we would've been here for who knows how long?

Anyway, when I was much younger, all I wanted from a vacation was a deep, dark, George Hamilton-esque tan, the kind of tan that said, I was sunbathing in some tropical locale during Spring Break and you weren't. The kind of tan you could wear to school in September (these were the days when school started in September) and admire in the reflection of your locker (remember lockers?), where you'd loiter a bit too long the first week (the better to answer all the "wow, where'd you go's?" that the kids whose tans had already faded or who'd spent Labor Day weekend shopping for school clothes would stop to ask.)

In my college days, a period lasting, oh, fourteen years or so - and, no, I'm not a doctor - I wanted a little more from my vacations. A tan, melanoma and wrinkle scares notwithstanding, was still part of the criteria, but now I wanted to get them in places that offered a pretty stamp on the old passport. I figured that, what with tanning beds available at every hair salon or quickie mart, a rained out trip to Jamaica or the Portuguese Algarve wouldn't be so much of a vacation sourer.

With the birth of my first child, I got even more demanding. Though I'd crossed tans off my list (you would, too, if you'd ever mistaken yourself for Ethel Kennedy in the bathroom mirror one early summer morning), I now insisted on ground level lodging and significant child discounts at area attractions. Extra points for any chain of hotels or airline that employed the kind of staff who stopped to coo or say, "aw, isn't he darling" at my little darling.

Child number two grew in direct proportion to my list of vacation needs. Woe betide anyone who wouldn't honor an advertised two-for-one tour of the French Quarter by pack mule coupon; knocked on the door and said, "checkout was fifteen minutes ago, ma'am;" or asked for the five-dollar-a-pop headphones back. ("These are OURS, thank you very much. And just where do you sanitize those rental sets, anyway?") By the time child Number Three came along, my list had become downright unmanageable. No rooms with a view of any people who actually looked good in a string bikini. No cabin stewards who can't fold the towel into a cute little bat for the baby. No elevator attendants who asked, "what floor?" with their palms out. And absolutely no visits to Graceland - where, if you can believe it, the King's artifacts are set behind thicker Plexiglas than that which guards the Mona Lisa, yet still aren't allowed to be photographed - despite how much Child Number Two wanted to go.

Vacationing a'la me got a bit easier when casinos got kid-friendlier. Now I didn't mind button pushers asking for tips as much, and would, in fact, tip just about anyone who'd point me in the direction of the casino's nearest video arcade. "Have fun, lovebugs!" I began trilling with a cheer I'm not known for. "Mommy will see you at dinner!" During this period, I visited more Indian reservations than Custer, and many a good, educational vacation was had by all.

I look back on these as my vacation honeymoon years, years when everyone in the family could find something to please them in one locale. A so-called "golfing vacation" in St. Andrews, for example, meant castles in Edinburgh for me, men in kilts for the youngest to laugh at, haggis for the oldest to gag at, the liberal telly for the middle kid to marvel at. But ever so slowly, things changed. It got so one of us was always out of sorts, then two, and so on. Finally, I gave up my list entirely, spending a few days of a few vacations snarling, "next trip I take, you're staying with Granny."

Though I think everyone pretty much knew that this was an idle threat (Granny spends nearly every weekend in Las Vegas), it seemed to keep the snarling from getting out of hand. And, at some point, the family came up with its own list of what it wanted out of a vacation, then proceeded to shoot for just that. As for me, I'm just happy to finish the book I invariably pack on these junkets. And guess what? This summer, I finished two. I'll worry about all the UV rays I inadvertently caught while finishing them next vacation.

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