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I recently returned from a week’s vacation. This may not seem like a big deal to most of you. People take summer vacations all the time, right?
Wrong. I haven’t had anything remotely resembling a real vacation in almost 20 years. If you were thinking that this is pretty sad and pathetic, you’d be right. Go right ahead and pity me. I’d pity me if I didn’t find self-pity even more sad and pathetic.
When you are a working single mother, vacations are rarely a day at the beach. They have to be taken during school breaks so that you can have some quality time with your children and avoid paying a boatload of money to some childcare provider you don’t fully trust. When you have time off you generally have to spend it catching up on projects around the house like fixing broken stuff and cleaning out closets that have become death traps. In other words, vacations are a lot like work. The only difference is you get to stay home and work in your pajamas. The change of venue and wardrobe is nice, but that’s about all I can say for it. If you look up the word “vacation” in Webster’s dictionary, I’m guessing it doesn’t say, “A period of time away from a job during which a person repairs the broken leg on their sofa while wearing an old, oversized T-Shirt, sweatpants, and fuzzy slippers”.
Well, wonders never cease, after 20 years and the cleaning of innumerable closets; I finally had a real vacation. My ex-husband, who works as a consultant for a major software company and has enough frequent flyer miles to circle the globe about 22,000 times, kindly donated some of them to fly my 10 year old, Chuckie, and myself down to Florida to visit our oldest son and his wife who live, work, and go to college in Panama City. We had not seen them for a year.
Panama City is one of those Florida resort towns where college kids go in the spring and act like poster children for bad behavior in the hope of getting their 15 minutes of fame on MTV. Mostly, they just annoy the natives, give the local constabulary migraine headaches, and mess up the beautiful, pristine beaches.
I went there towards the end of August. That time of year the tourists are mostly gone, the local kids are back in school already, the snowbirds have yet to arrive, and the beaches are gloriously empty. Given the fact that I hate crowds and bad behavior, it was perfect for me.
I grew up frequently on the beach in California and the first day of my vacation when I stood on that white sand and looked out on the sparkling turquoise sea, I experienced a sense of blissful nostalgia I haven’t felt in more years than I can count. It was divine.
I quickly discovered that my state of seaside euphoria could only be maintained if I kept my eyes on the ocean and didn’t turn around. When I looked behind me I had to view the miles of overpriced high-rise condominiums owned by people with way to much money that dominate the landscape like hideous monoliths to man’s self-indulgent stupidity. These architectural abortions are a blight and a Titanic-like mockery to nature. They sit a stone’s throw from the ocean and practically scream for a hurricane to come along and destroy them so that barely surviving taxpayers who could never afford one of them can foot the bill to fix them up again afterwards. I comforted myself with the knowledge that given the average rate of shoreline erosion, a few good hurricane seasons and the crabs will be having seawater cocktails on most of those ugly balconies. Hey, I can be as petty as the next guy.
Needless to say, I tried to keep my eyes seaward. No way was I going to let a bunch of nasty buildings destroy my first real vacation in two decades. I just looked out over the miles of azure sea and cerulean sky to the horizon and let the rest of the world slip away.
I spent the day I turned 50 on the beach with a good book, frequently slipping into the placid 80-degree water to gently bob or float on my back. I sat with my lovely daughter-in-law and watched my two beautiful boys, glossy heads bent close together as they built a sandcastle. As the sun began to set over the nearly deserted beach and the moon rose like a glowing jewel, casting silvery beams of diamonds on the sparkling sea, the dolphins came out to joyfully frolic less than 30 yards from where I stood on the shore. At that moment, I felt long forgotten little fingers of contentment gently squeeze my heart and life was almost unbearably sweet.
What is a real vacation? It’s a day at the beach, of course. I can only hope that I don’t have to wait another 20 years to have one.
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