Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Off the rails

Last week I did not see much of my family. We were hosting a meeting for Indigenus, our global agency network. They are a warm and wonderful group of people, who love to Go Out. So go out we did, night after night after night.

I warned the boys I would be "working late" every night, so it would be best to pretend mummy is traveling. Mr Berman obligingly agreed to manage the morning bus routine, as long as I promised not to wake everyone up by stumbling round the house singing Disco Inferno at 2am.

Although it was just a week, I missed them terribly.

Every morning, they were ushered into my bedroom for an audience, before they went out for the bus. My husband would issue instructions as they trooped up the stairs."Don't speak to mummy or make any noise. Hug her very gently. And for god's sake don't smell her breath."

They tiptoed in. I opened an eye and managed a hug. They were reverent and respectful, as if I was an ailing monarch lying in state, as opposed to a toxic sponge.

"If nothing else," I pointed out to Mr Berman, 'I am providing a lesson in how one suffers if one overdoes things."

He rolled his eyes.

While he was kind enough to relieve me of my parental responsibilities for a week, it's not a long-term strategy for success. Mr Berman was totally over having to feign sympathy and bring me endless glasses of water by the week's end.

Our lives are now back to normal (if there really is such a thing), and I realize what a positive influence the boys have on my life.

Let's face it, if I didn't have to behave like a grown up, I totally wouldn't. But as I discovered morning after morning after morning, (wo)man cannot live by Alka Seltzer alone. It was those quiet, reverential little hugs that kept me going.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Face your fears

I have always tried to raise brave young men.

You cut your knee honey? You’ll live. Spilt your milk? Get over it. Afraid you’ll fail? Failure lies in not trying.

I want them to have perspective on their woes, and courage in the face of adversity. 

Of course, this requires me to lead by example. If I want them to face their fears, I have to face mine. Which is how I found myself in a mask and flippers, hyperventilating my way through a dark underground river in Mexico a few weeks ago.

My husband had already faced his fears on the trip. God bless him, he rappelled off an 85-foot platform in the rainforest. This is the man who cannot stand on a ladder without having a turn. He has many great strengths, but a head for heights is not one of them.

So when the boys thought it would be fun to swim through a cave, along a mile-long underground river, I felt forced to acquiesce.

I should point out here that I am not OK with fish. I have worked hard to overcome this phobia, and have made great strides. Bright tropical water with colorful Finding Nemo-type fish 10 feet below me I can do. Brown murky water with brown murky fish 10 inches from my face I cannot.

However, I was determined to set a good example. I snapped on my mask, donned my flippers, and kicked off in a nonchalant fashion. Fifty feet in, I put my head underwater, and immediately came back up, choking in horror. I was surrounded by catfish. And thousands upon thousands of teeny tiny black sprats. 

I clutched Mr Berman’s arm.
"I can't do it."
"Just keep moving"
"There are fish. They're all over me."
"Of course there are fish. It's a bloody river."

I paddled on in a panicky fashion, looking for a suitable exit point. Eventually I spotted a pinpoint of light in the distance, so I dragged myself onto the rocky bank, divested myself of flippers, and started to scale a trail leading upwards, checking my bathing suit obsessively for tiny black sprats.

I emerged, blinking, into the light, and forged a path towards what I hoped would be the cave exit. After a few hundred yards, a sharp piece of gravel embedded itself in my foot. I swore heartily, and stepped back into the only footwear I had available.

I waddled on in my mask and flippers, groping about in my bikini bottoms, in what I knew would become a lifelong search for leftover sprats. A group of passing travelers stared at me in disbelief. I smiled faintly and waved (with the hand that wasn't down my bikini), only to trip over a flipper. 

I staggered to my feet shouting "Backwards! I forgot to walk backwards! You should always walk backwards in flippers!" The passing travelers moved on quickly.

Heeding my own advice, I walked the remaining half mile backwards, bleeding profusely from my left knee, swearing loudly as I fumbled for sprats.

"Where the hell have you been?" yelled Mr Berman. 'We were worried."

"I faced my fears and I don't like them." I yelled back. "That's why they're called fears. I want a margarita."

Not exactly the lesson I had intended to impart, but a valuable one, nevertheless.

When courage fails, there is always tequila.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Car sick

We took a family vacation in Mexico last week. As part of the trip, we were planning to drive around to various points of interest in the Yucatan. The last time we attempted this kind of excursion in Costa Rica, there was -- naturally -- a considerable amount of drama.

We were starting to make our way back to the airport, which involved a long and winding road downhill from the Arenal volcano area. The kids were playing DS in the back seat, looking up at the scenery and grunting appreciatively whenever I pointed something out.

“Look guys! Coati mundis!”
“Wow! The volcano is smoking!”
“Up there! Quick! A toucan!”

This went on for some time, until suddenly, there was an extra loud “Hrmp” from the back seat.

“Is everything OK?”
“Mummy, my tummy hurts…”

Mr Berman and I looked at each other in panic. For my youngest son Ted, this is code for “I am going to vomit, just about now…”

There was no time to react. There never is. A hose of spew came roaring from the back seat. The jaws of satan couldn’t have done a better job. We were covered.

I turned around in horror. Ted was ashen, swaying, and sobbing. “I’m going to be sick agai….nrpaaarrrrrgghhhh.”

I blinked away the carrots.

“Pull over! Pull over!”
“I can’t pull over!”
“There is no ‘over’! It’s a (insert expletive) precipice!”

We careened around the corner, and spotted a little town in the distance. When we reached its lone store, we screeched to a halt. Mr Berman tore inside.

“Agua por favor – mucho agua!”

So far, so good. But his Spanglish was about to be put to the test.

“Kitchen rollio?”

Blank stares from the locals.

“Papier de cucina? Por vomitio?”

After much miming, Mr Berman stomped back to the car and we commenced clean up operations.

“The car still stinks. Can you go see if they have any Pine Sol?”

Cursing heartily, Mr Berman braced himself and headed back into the store. Several minutes later he emerged, sweating profusely, clutching a bottle of el bleachio. Apparently, his Spanglish had failed him, so he had been forced to mime out the scene to the entire town, who were gathering in the store to see what the commotion was about.

Of course, by this point, we were late, so late, for our flight. We drove like bats out of hellio, retching all the way from the smell. When we eventually got to the airport, we discovered that Ted’s passport had expired, so we would be unable to re-enter the US. But that’s another story.

I have learned that "relaxing" and "family vacation" just don't belong in the same sentence. You work your ass off all year to pay for adventure, and you get it, in bloody spades.

So I steeled myself for Mexico. This time, I packed my own kitchen rollio.