What I did on my Winter Vacation

Day One: December 23rd is not a good day to fly, unless you enjoy flat-out sprinting through crowded airports with your carryons and watching your child almost get brained by an aged party with a three-pronged cane and an I BELIEVE IN SANTA CLAUS sweatshirt.

Day One: Welcome to Mexico! We join my brother and sister-in-law and their two kids, my husband’s brother and his wife of three months, my sister Molly, my Mom, her special ladyfriend, and her ladyfriend’s son. Got that? If you do, you’re three steps ahead of everyone else we met in Mexico.

My Mom and my husband both speak a little Spanish. My Mom’s special ladyfriend Clair is a nurse practitioner specializing in gynecological matters, so her command of the language is largely limited to “Que colore es su discarga?” (Me, guessing: “What color is your car?” Clair: “What color is your discharge.”)

I don’t think I know a word of Spanish. I have failed to take into account the half-hour per day of Dora the Explorer I’ve been watching for the last six months or so. Lo hicimos!

Day Two: Molly insists on doing a photo shoot poolside, in a bikini and high heels, with a “banana. Why? “I need pictures for my Myspace page.” Why? “I just do.” With a banana? “Jenny, just get the camera!”

Molly peels the banana and strikes a pose. My Mom, in a red terrycloth visor and sensible skirted swimsuit, jogs slowly into the deep end. “Mom, MOVE!” The rest of the party enjoys an enthralling twenty minutes watching Molly trying to simultaneously look kittenish and glare at my mother, and at her nieces whenever they accidentally swim into the frame. (“Children, when the banana is out, that means swim elsewhere!”)


Day Three: Rented house comes with books. After we’ve exhausted our discussion of made-for-TV biopics we have known and loved (Molly puts in for Her Final Fury: Betty Broderick, The Last Chapter; I lobby for Too Legit: The MC Hammer Story), we raid the shelves. I am delighted to find, and re-read, Peter Straub’s MYSTERY. One sister-in-law is reading Sarah Dunant, the other has Antonia Fraser’s latest. Clair is reading Gish Jen; my husband packed THE UNITED STATES OF ARUGULA. My Mom is the hands-down winner for Least Appropriate Vacation Read: Daniel Mendelson’s THE LOST. Because nothing says “Hey, I’m on vacation!” like the Big Book of Holocaust.

Day Four: Mexican beaches are the best thing going. You pay a fee ranging from twenty pesos for parking to a hundred pesos to rent an umbrella and two chairs for the day. Then you sit back, and vendors bring you things to buy: silver bracelets. Pareos. Grilled shrimp on skewers. Temporary tattoos. Fresh papaya and jicama sprinkled with salt and chili powder. Coconuts with the tops hacked off and a straw stuck inside. Pineapples with the tops cut off and rum dumped inside. Ice cream. Ice cream with sweetened condensed milk drizzled on top and sprinkles on top of that. I am very happy with my rummed-up pineapple. Lucy is in heaven with her ice cream. Molly buys bananas.

Day Five: Road trip! Three cars set out for the forty-five minute trip to the marina for whale-watching. Car One, with Clair and Fran, has the map. After an hour, it becomes apparent that we have missed a crucial turn somewhere past Bucerias. Clair pulls over to confer with a man at a gas station, then pulls away, leaving him with a puzzled look. “What do you think just happened?” I ask. “I think,” says Molly, “that she asked him what color his discharge was.”

Day Six: Nine times out of ten, when my husband calls, “Jen, you’ve got to see this!” the thing I have to see will be a whale swimming grandly past out in the distance.
The tenth time, it will be my Mom and her special ladyfriend making out in the swimming pool.

Day Seven: Every once in a while, out of the blue, my husband will say, “We should try out for the Amazing Race,” and I will outline the many reasons why this is a very bad idea (Reason One: I hate airports. Reason Two: I hate crowds. Reason Three: I have no sense of direction. Reason Four: I hate losing. Reason Five: Our on-screen tag would read ‘Married Nerds.’) Today we decide to attempt an Amazing-Race style feat and go ziplining through the jungle canopy. PARTICIPANTS MUST BE ABLE TO STAND ON A PLATFORM FIVE STORIES HIGH WITHOUT FAINTING OR NAUSEA, reads the waiver. I sign without a second thought. I mean, I don’t think I’m afraid of heights (although when have I ever stood on a platform five stories high?)

Day six (fifteen minutes later): As it quickly emerges, I am desperately, knee-knockingly, please-God-get-me-down-from-here afraid of heights. While prying my fingers from their death grip on the zipline, Adam whispers in my ear that our onscreen tag would not actually be “Married Nerds.” It would be “Married Chickens.”

Day six (an eternity and nine ziplines later): To get off the zipline course, you have to rappel down seventy feet. I do the entire thing with my eyes shut, concentrating as hard as I can on the rum-filled pineapple I will be enjoying after I'm done kissing the ground. Molly cannot stop laughing.

Day seven: In addition to rest, relaxation, and memories to last a lifetime, our Mexican vacation gives us the bonus of avoiding the Mummers, as they make their drunken, loutish, earsplitting, pissing-in-the-flowerboxes-and-scaring-little-dogs way back down Two Street after the parade. The Mummers traditionally strut on New Year’s Day. This year? It rained in Philadelphia on New Year’s Day. Which means the Mummers have been rescheduled. Which means they’ll be making their drunken, loutish, etc. way back down Two Street a week later, and we’ll have to be there to bear witness.

The good news? In between sun, surf, and many margaritas, I finished a draft of the novel I’ve been working on since June. It is the sequel to GOOD IN BED that picks up Cannie, Joy and Peter’s story twelve years after GOOD IN BED ends and deals with, among other things, over-the-top bat mitzvahs, ungraceful aging, blended families, and what it’s like to go from being a writer to being written about. It’s called CERTAIN GIRLS.

Jen