I Didn’t Know

Referring back to a topic I’ve touched on before… meh!…those moments of parenting when you realize a milestone has slipped by you right when you didn’t ask for it. I didn’t know – a common start to the statement applied to a coming end to a piece of the parenting pie. I didn’t know it’d be the last time she asked me to pick her up or I didn’t know he wouldn’t want me to be the room parent again or I didn’t know that was the last time I’d be invited for to ‘tuck me in‘. In the midst of one child turning 18 and losing my access to most of her life and decisions, the other sneaks previews of future years in when I’m not expecting it. And once another round of those I didn’t knows begin, well, just brace yourself as they come in packs and on the daily.

I didn’t know that last family vacation would be the final Traveling With My family Is Cool trip – that trip back in August, before the approach of Grumpy McGee.

Maybe that’s my fault, a little, for not recognizing just how many layers of moody teen attitude were being packed into travel bags. Recognizing? Anticipating? Acknowledging? Not sure which is the right predictive verb there. And I’m not sure, in the end, that I care – black wardrobe, shaggy hair, sullenness aside… there will always be family vacations.

Oh, yes, we are still on vacation.

Because, according to that teen among us, it is never (bleeeeeeeep) ending. Please note the use of my curtailed words there… not stated nearly as dramatically as the eons of miserable travel that was reported back to the high school set. Sorry, pal. Though your father and I did briefly discuss just today whether we should put you on a plane back to the Ville, your time in this nightmare will go on as planned. I do have to throw out a tip of the cap to whichever friend of yours responded back with a quick stop complaining. Thank you, Underground Mom Network for sharing that one – and please give your child an extra scoop of ice cream for me.

The truth is, we’re all going through stuff. I was shocked to realize how old I’d become as we cruised down Highway 1, somewhere between Miami and Key West. Before I could stop it, I heard a voice saying why don’t you put down your phone and look at this beautiful drive? It was met with a huh? Earbuds removed… repeat of request with an added I think five straight hours of anime are enough for emphasis. Was that my mother’s voice I was hearing? Want to know how that was received? I thought back to the same drive decades before (and by ‘before,’ I mean before cell phones, laptops, and gaming devices) and how I’d scoot all the way up as close as I could to my parents’ RV seats to oooh and aaah at the crystal water and azure sky. There was no scooting happening behind me. There was a mop of hair face down on the dinette table taking a nap that reeked of protest and gloom.

Oh, okay then – I immediately canceled my Super Mom plans of giving up the good, front row seat so he could observe the stunning water and islands panoramically while tucked into a less bouncy captain’s chair. Or co-captain, I suppose.

Perhaps part of the bah humbugs came from having no sibling in attendance. Or perhaps the lack of an invited friend. Or that we’re just not that hip. Just kidding. We are. Who else pulls their kid from school for two and a half weeks in order to hit all of the non-iced-over southern spots? We’re very hip. Friend invites are reserved for more local trips – trips that aren’t so long that we’d get annoyed watching the teen plus one spend the bulk of their time side-by-side on in various states of slouch starting at their electronics. I’m relatively sure if I had a double dose on this trip, I’d have lost my Key Lime Cookies by now.

Disney is behind us, and we sit parked and relaxed within smelling distance of Conch Fritters. The top speed portion of our trip followed by a firm hitting of the brakes. As I write, I am steps away from either the ocean or the gulf, sea breeze wafting by, wine by my side. Rich has joined me on the patio – and that should tell you enough of how delightful it is – he being a firm indoor person. Moody teen has retreated to his bunk, three hours earlier than he would at home. Cue the violins.

I didn’t know that sitting outside under dancing palm trees would now be considered a no-teen-fly-zone. I didn’t know that hiding in a bunk, no windows, would be the preferred way to spend vacation. I didn’t know there would be no asks to get some sand in our toes or explore beyond the surf at night, flashlights picking out the active night creatures.

Having been on this hormonal merry go round before, I have to say, it’s like sea water off a duck’s back. Well, almost. We hardly acknowledge the change save for Rich occasionally stopping the ride in its tracks with firm statements of oh, you can stay in the RV if you want, said with a clear tone of shape up or ship out. I just carry on, mostly. Whatevs. This year has offered a glorious opportunity, being able to work/school remote and create an extended trip. I will not let my child’s mood dictate my own. That’s a hard pass. In fairness, the boy is just now beginning to verbalize his snarky attitude. It comes in statements to my husband of is Jyl drunk? No. Why can’t she just walk in a straight line? Because as a woman, she’s programmed to walk towards pretty things. Eye roll. Then there’s a rebound of sweetness. Zack, are you ready for dinner? Fiiiiine. You don’t have to come, you can stay here and make a sandwich. Noooooo, I’ll cooooome. Rebound to sweetness. Which disappears upon being seated at a non-chain restaurant.

Eye roll.

I’m thinking of starting a twitter page called “Places Teens Can Find Misery.” The first upload will be a picture from our Sunset Schooner Sail around Key West. It was glorious. Amazing. Stunning. Salty air styling my hair, the sound of waves lapping the boat, watching the crew manipulate four sails while thinking I could definitely do that. Rich and I turned our ongoing retirement conversation to what if we just bought a boat and went up and down the coasts of our choice? All of this happening in sync with a 15-year-old trying to control a twitching phone hand. Which he mostly did. He only brought it out once in an effort to play a game – lasting four seconds before his father delivered a look of I’ll throw that thing overboard. The rest of the two hour tour was spent hunched over, staring at his size eleven feet, oblivious to the parade of colors drifting towards to the horizon. I tell myself that the story will be different in the retelling to his own child – that it will be relayed with excitement and wonder and with the privilege that he was able to take this magical trip to a tropical paradise smack dab in the middle of his school year and, perhaps, at the end of a pandemic.

We’ve already begun to chatter about our next Barlow Break and where that might lead us. Rich and I have tossed around the idea of going ahead and reserving a spot at Sugarloaf Key (we’ve decided we liked that one better) just in case a cruise is still not an option as the industry continues to play catch up with now over a year’s worth of rescheduled trips. Except we now see the big benefit of a cruise that was only suspected prior – that the kids really, really, really have to check out of online life as miles into the ocean, there is a clearly defined no text or wifi zone. Forced time with your parents camp. That option slipped our mind before heading out on this trip. Hindsight (my best friend) tells us we should have laid down some plugged in guidelines before leaving. Sure, yes, we could have laid down those guidelines as at point in this 17 day span – but have you ever tried to eliminate a kid’s perceived lifeline midstream? It’s hardly worth the ensuing argument. Better to just step away from your view of the hole they’re hiding in.

And no, this isn’t a whiny entry by any means. Rich and I are having an awesome trip with four days to go. Zack probably is as well – accolades have never been the strong part of his (or any child’s) vocabulary. He likely won’t realize the joys until he’s back with his posse relaying the What Did You Do On Break? report. I’m sure he’ll get at least one you’re sooooo lucky and then perhaps he will know, we are sooooo lucky. Perhaps he will even locate feelings of bliss – through tales of shrimp boils and schooners and space exploration and stormy nights and skylines. I’m sure he’ll use his tanned arms and lightened hair for emphasis. It is hard to tell with the dang mask if he feels it now. I like to assume he’s been smiling underneath it the entire time.

The mask. Maybe that’s the issue – we can’t get a true gauge on his abundance of joy as it is truly masking his thrilled to be here emotions.

Yes. That sounds better. It’s not the teen presenting the mood. It’s the mask.

Who knew?

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