Friday, February 13, 2009

Empty Threats or How My Family and I Spent our President's Week Vacation. An Essay by Eileen Smith

My family and I have a terrible time of meeting up in places we're supposed to be when we're supposed to be there. My first memory of this involves me standing outside in 17 degree (F) weather, in steel-toed shoes (it was college, trust me, it was all the rage) in Danbury, CT waiting for my sister to pick me up. She, meanwhile was wandering around the bus station in the same town, looking for me to pick up. There were hours, there were. Frustration, and confusion, and finally multiple phone calls to our mother, in Brooklyn, whereupon we triangulated, figured out where we were and got together for a long, uninterrupted weekend of sisterly love and not a bit of fighting (we were like that, don't worry, we think it's normal).

Fast forward several years and there's me in Bogotá, Colombia pleading with the counter people to please let me miss my flight and get on a later one, the later one that will have my then six-month pregnant sister and six-year old niece on it, for a connecting flight to Cartagena, as their flight had been delayed. I was denied, and shuttled off to Cartagena, where I would wait, leaping up at every plane arrival. Peeking among the broom-toting (what was that about?) people meeting families, amid hugs, bag exchanges, taxi getting, everyone was with their people. And me? I was in the airport. Eventually I went over to the counter to find out if I could at least find out what plane they were on and what time it might arrive (to save myself all the jumping up and anticipation). Oh, easy they said, S (my niece) was on the 3:15 plane, and she's already arrived, alone. My sister would be coming later. Poco probable, I said (not bloody likely). Why's that? they said. Because a) she's six years old, and doesn't speak Spanish and b) I was on that flight, and I think I might have noticed if she had been on it. I walked away from teh counter poor in information, but rich in frustration. Eventually they arrived, sweaty and frazzled (as were we all), and we settled into our hotel rooms, and went out to seek food. All was well. But the stressometer took a while to calm.

Then we have last year's Smith family vacation. The first ever with three generations! We were all due to meet in Tamarindo, Costa Rica for a week of gringo festivities. Me, my sister, my niece and now 11-month-old nephew (the one that was in utero in Colombia), and Nyeamah, as my niece used to affectionately call my mother, her grandmother. Two days before the trip, I was in a little beachside town cantina in Costa Rica (on bike, another story here entirely) and I thought to check my email. Trip cancelled. J (nephew) in hospital. AGH! What should have been a relaxing week on the sand and in the surf with my family turned into an emergency trip to the hospital to spend time with the now sullen niece S, limp nephew J (bacterial meningitis, fun for everyone!), and the rest of my catatonic family. As my brother-in-law smartly put it, after J was released from the hospital, pale, weak but still our little trooper, "This is something he will never remember. And the rest of us will never forget." To this day, we make jokes about Costa Rica. Remember when we were in Costa Rica? It's how we refer to my nephew's 14-day hospital stay. The beds weren't very comfortable in Costa Rica. Remember those families (it was a four-bed room after he was out of the PICU) we met in Costa Rica? My niece (now 8) sat me down one day and said seriously, "Aunt Eileen, you know we didn't really go to Costa Rica, right?" Yeah S, I know. We all know.

And why do I mention this now? This FAIL-athon of family vacations, missed connections, frozen toes, sleepless nights, sick babies and freaked out mes? Because we're at it again. This time it's the Dominican Republic. I leave tonight for a spaghetti-bowl of flights, from Santiago to Miami to San Juan to Punta Cana, describing a shape I like to call backwards drunken 7. My family (remember them?) is leaving from New York tomorrow afternoon, and we have plans to rendezvous at the hotel (since I arrive 3.5 hours before them after 3 flights and 15 hours, I decided to opt out of the marathon airport wait) after that. We've already suffered one casualty, as my sister's husband is tending to his very ailing mother, and her affairs, and won't be joining us. To be honest, though this is a huge insult to the family vacation (the fact that he can't go, and that his mother is so ill), if this is the worst that happens, we will feel like lo hemos sacado barato, or we've gotten off easy.

I've already told my family, if they aren't where they are supposed to be, when they are supposed to be there I am never going ANYWHERE with them, EVER again.
I thought about opening a poll of what might go wrong, but it seemed so defeatist. And we are such positive people!


Oh yeah, also, I'll be gone next week. If you didn't guess.

2 comments:

Katie said...

Wow...well, I've got nothing that can compare to that (thankfully!), but I do confess to having extreme difficulty in meeting up with my boyfriend at Ezeiza airport in Buenos Aires. I do hope this adventure goes more smoothly for you and your family. Enjoy your time away!

Pam said...

Not that this is really related or will remotely make the epic salad of flights you're about to take any better, but once, when I had a very bad cold, we drove three hours from our home in Austria to pick up guests in Munich.

The arrived the following day. For grins, imagine trying to pry flight info out of a German desk clerk.