When Dom, our firstborn, was a few months old we all went to Puerto Rico. When Eve turned two months old, everyone flew to Santa Barbara. Neither trip imparted fond memories since we were certain, like many new parents, that vacation would kill our baby. We spent the duration of each trying to fend off invisible pathogens and UV rays, like Dustin Hoffman in a HazMat suit quarantining a populace from an infected monkey, a ludicrous proposition given my husband’s reluctance to use hand sanitizer. Despite numerous assertions to remain at home and useless self-persuasion that a vacation is just what everyone else needs, the instant Liv rounded that two month corner and the temperature tumbled back into the single digits, we booked a trip to Miami.
Neither G or I had ever been to Miami. I had my reservations since my preconceived notion of Miami was that it was a city built for those who hear club music pounding in their eardrums even in silence and for those who have stopped hearing anything at all. I’d always imagined the streets were paved with pastels and the cadavers of those who didn’t fare well on a plastic surgeon’s table. Nevertheless we were seduced by the reasonable flight time from New England, the temperate winter weather, and the abundance of Latinos sure to have kids screaming louder than ours.
Upon arriving – withered in a way only parents attending to three children on a plane, two still held on the lap, can appear – we were ready to make Miami our own, like much whiter and lumpier versions of the Spaniards who’d initially colonized it. It took us mere minutes to hit the beachside walkways with strollers and newly purchased discount sunglasses. It may have been the vacation-colored lenses in those aviators made of tinfoil, but suddenly our senses, deadened by winter, were awakened to everything in our surrounds.
Flowers. Palms. Ocean Breeze. Waxed Chests.
Their combined effect disarmed me and G and immediately imparted our vacation manners. We were speaking in full sentences again instead of commands – Get me a diaper! Make your own dinner! – and awaiting responses from the other. We were strolling instead of marching, laughing instead of groaning. We even held hands until that maneuver sent one of the strollers, child ensconced, into shrubbery. It was as though we were a gentler version of our typical selves. And it wasn’t just us. Everywhere I turned, I spied couples, most smart enough to travel without children, heaping affection on the other. Doors held. Appetizers shared. Apparel coordinated. I even saw one man lovingly apply sunscreen underneath the thong of his wife’s bikini. He actually lifted the lycra, and slathered sunblock in between her very ample butt cheeks. I would have to draw the line there at ‘shit I would only do on vacation’, though, since I hate nothing more than applying sunscreen, even when it’s not inside someone’s ass. G has the back blisters to prove it.
With exception to anal SPF, everything G and I find tedious or ridiculous in real time became wondrous and magical in Miami time. Aren’t $18 hamburgers delicious when there’s a sliver of avocado on them? Popped collars are so fashionable! Why don’t you wear fedoras and smoke Cubans? Even the tiresome antics of our children seemed fresh and novel in the glare off the ocean. Isn’t it funny the way Dom drags his feet upon the wood, leaving a trail of blood down the boardwalk? Isn’t it adorable the way Eve had diarrhea in swimmer diapers?
I had unexpected desire to engage in activities I’ve never had interest in. Normally I’d look upon a person on rollerblades with disdain and think who the hell rollerblades? I’d sooner pogo stick my way to the market than be seen alive on rollerblades. But in Miami – on vacation – rollerblading seemed like a completely sensible way of traversing distance, even if one is wearing nothing but a bandana. Suddenly I’m thinking that I’d like to rollerblade around town. Maybe take some lessons, but not in a rental pair. No! I’d like to actually own a pair. You know, maybe I’d get some customized with my initials and in my favorite colors to compliment my bathing suit. When my rollerblading notions begin to spiral recklessly into rollerblading my way into a Senate seat, G reminds me that I possess a terrible equilibrium and that I haven’t been seen in a bathing suit since the late 90s.
It is at the mere mention of the words bathing suit, that my vacation-inspired dreams began to sunburn. The bathing suit is the uniform of Miami, standard issue. It is the great unifier of South Florida; Be you male, female, going to work, using a walker, or still undergoing radiation for squamous cells, you are clad in a swimsuit. The only variation comes in square inches of material. This is a horrifying prospect for a woman who has experienced three back-to-back pregnancies, the most recent birth only occurring a few months ago. My stretch marks might like to take some sun in their own bikinis, but I was certainly not prepared to don one. In a city of ‘Mamis’, I was still feeling much too Mommy.
Each woman to pass by on a walk through South Beach left me lifting my chin in false confidence while adjusting the Bjorn like it’s the must-have accessory of summer. I’d mutter self-affirming statements, like “flaunt what you’ve got, not what they bought,” until G would send the stroller into a collision with my achilles due to an open-mouth stare at a set of boobs deserving of their own postal code. Crippled, I’d fall upon the sidewalk as he rolled right over me, making direct eye-cleavage contact. I may have been wrong in believing the streets of Miami are littered with the carcasses of plastic surgery victims, but there are certainly scattered bodies of women taken down by the surgery survivors.
Back at the hotel, whilst flipping through a phone book for plastic surgeons specializing in ankle reconstruction, I looked up to see G vigorously rubbing Aloe across his sunburned skin. I chuckled and said, “I guess we’re not exactly Miami material,” seeking some matrimonial commiserating.
“Speak for yourself; I went to the bar at Fontaine Bleau after you fell asleep last night.”
(Vacation manners? Real or imagined?)