Back when Haley was 11, we had some stand-by plane tickets fall into our lap. Kendell and I discussed and debated where to go; we wanted to do something together, just him and me, but Kaleb was still just a baby, barely one, and our options for leaving him with someone else were pretty limited. Instead, we decided that Haley and I would take a trip together, and thus the idea for the 11-year-old trip was born. Each kid, we decided, would get to take a trip with just me sometime during the year they were eleven. Haley got to go to Niagara Falls. This summer, Jake is eleven, and his 11-year-old trip sort of fell into our lap, too.
Only: Haley, who is perhaps part mermaid or siren or fish—she loves the beach so much she must be part sea-creature—would have never forgiven me for Jake getting nine days on the beach. And Jake didn't even hesitate, but agreed that she could come along on the trip. He wasn't getting me all to himself anyway; we went with my mom and my sister, plus her four daughters, one son-in-law, two granddaughters and her brother- and sister-in-law, their children and one son-in-law. It was a big group, not too conducive for only one-on-one time, but we couldn't have done something so fabulous as a week on a beach in Mexico any other way.
I'm still pondering how to write about the way our trip benefited my relationship with Jake. As that thread of narrative works its way out in my head, another one is more clear. Of the 19 people in our group, seven were between the ages of 11 and 20. Being around so many adolescent types brought back quite a few memories of things I'd forgotten from when I was an adolescent type. Well, that and my mom, who brought up the time my friend Jennifer and I stole her credit card and headed off to Lake Powell for Spring Break. I had to correct her on one point: it wasn't a credit card but a gas card I stole, and the punishment was that we had to live on convenience store food for five days. (I still feel a little twinge of relief mixed with annoyance—"I can eat! Doritos again!"—at the sight of a Phillips 66 gas station.) She also brought up the fact that I once stole an entire book of checks, no doubt to fund nefarious projects. (Probably quite a few, but I know I used the majority of them to buy music.)
Obviously my horrible teenage years have not yet been forgotten by my mother. And who could blame her? I'm just glad that things like fruity drinks and walks on the beach were able to distract her from telling all the stories. And that, thankfully, she doesn't have a clue about the truly terrible tales I could tell.
I wasn't really crazy about Haley and Jake hearing my wilder stories, especially since I'd forgotten the details and so would've never brought them up on my own. My nieces listened, a little wide-eyed, to the tales of Amy's Dark Years (seriously what my mom calls them) and my children looked astounded. Almost as shocked as when they first saw me walk out of the bathroom with curly hair. I used to wear my hair scrunched and curly, but I changed to straight after I got married. I realized, seeing the look on their faces, that they'd never seen me go curly, but in the heat and humidity, not to mention my general vacation laziness, straightening was just not going to happen.
(A blurry shot of me + curly hair + Jake at dinner.) Plus, I was vacationing with my mom and sister, without my husband, and with no work or laundry or yard or really any responsibilities. I felt a little bit more connected to the Amy I used to be, the braver one, the freer one. The one with curly hair. And it wasn't only the curly hair and the crazy stories showing my kids a side of me they've not seen. It was my devil-may-care attitude. You want another pinata or mango smoothy? It's happy hour, get one for me too! You want to see the ocean at night? Let's go right now! Want to try to speak in Spanish to the jewelery-store vendors? Well, even if you won't, I will! I tried mole (ehhhh), went body surfing in my swimsuit bottoms and sports bra (best-ever way to cool off from a long, hot, humid run, even if I did finish with a compact lining of sand between my skin and my dubious outfit), succumbed to a free foot massage from a complete stranger. And, you know: I laughed. I talked to my mom like I haven't in years. I forgot all about cell phones and kitchen anxiety. I relaxed into my vacation as if it were a hammock between shady trees, dropping everything that makes my stomach hurt next to my shoes and belt and work clothes.
I'm glad my children got to see me like that. Two of them, at least. I wish I could know how to be my vacationing self all the time, wish I could be the relaxed, confident, courageous person I used to be. Because, despite the obviously stupid motivations and methods, I didn't used to let anyone stop me. When I wanted things, I strode out, found a way, and got them. But now—now that what I want is much larger and more important than spring breaks at Powell or the latest music release—I let myself get stopped. All the time, I let myself get stopped. Fear of shaking the boat, of failing, of my own weakness stops me.
Maybe, though, the cat is out of the bag. Maybe by reconnecting with my curly-haired self, I've reconnected with some of the courage I used to have. Maybe I'll stop being stopped. Maybe I'll start.
Maybe tomorrow I'll scrunch my hair.