What did you do for spring break?
It's a question I heard asked a few dozen times this week, and not by my son's teacher for an assignment (though my son recently brought home a creature he drew, with phalluses for nearly every body part, which leads me to wonder what assignment prompts they do have).
The moms ask each other.
We moms drop off our progeny and then line up side-by-side at the playground fence, watching, waving dutifully and conversing in varying states of wakefulness. It's like King of the Hill or South Park where they all line up and talk, only the topics are less interesting ("Really? Sale on American AND cheddar at Fry's?"), and I'm sometimes even less eloquent than Boomhauer, depending on whether the migraine fairy has visited that night/morning.
I'm already at a disadvantage here. I parked next to a fellow-mother-acquaintance-friend this morning. She opened the sliding door on her spotless, scratchless, rustless, cat-piss-on-the-tires-less, brand new van and ... wait, no. She didn't open the door; it opened its-frickin-self, like some kind of Star Trek door. Anyway, I got out, helped my son out, and walked around to reattach the passenger-side mirror, which falls off about once a trip and thereafter hangs by its cords like some kind of sad, redneck ornament. We walked our kids in and I was happy to notice that her son and mine were similarly well-groomed, though I'd be willing to bet hers hadn't weaseled out of a bath last night and wasn't secretly wearing two different socks that only matched above the sneakers.
As our kids sprinted off, she smoothed her mint-green cardigan over a pearlescent blouse, and sort of fluffed it out over her Capri pants. I ... well, I don't own a cardigan or anything that could be rightly termed a blouse, and my calves' disobliging habit of not tapering at all pretty much rules out Capris. But I wore that ASU T-shirt and jean shorts. Her hair did this thing that looked sort of like an elaborate frosting swirl and sort of like an ornate piece of jewelry, but still left it looking shiny. Mine was in the ol' standby ponytail. Her feet were perfectly pedicured, slender little French tips to the last toe. Mine ... let's just say I don't have a desire to draw attention to my feet.
And it's not for an office; she goes back home just like me. So already I'm feeling less-than-successful in the effort-making department and wifeyness/momminess in general.
And then the bragathon starts. And let me tell you, guys don't hold a candle to our pissing contests.
"So, what did you do over Spring Break?" Perfect Mom asked.
"Well, we taught our martial arts class most of last week, but we made time to go to the Hilton in Sedona, after a ton of walking and shopping. They have flat-screen televisions there now," said Sporty Mom, who doesn't dress as impeccably as Perfect Mom but looks like what would happen if Angelina Jolie and Jessica Biel had a baby.
"We went camping. And hunting! It was great. Our youngest took his first big animal," said Renaissance Mom, who near as I can tell has done every activity in existence with her three kids. I was at the other end of our row, which was good because I was too tired to keep the distaste from my face when she described searching for a photo devoid enough of gore so her little one could show off his kill. I am an avid non-fan of recreational hunting, and tried to remain politely impassive as the other mothers voiced admiration. I passed the time entertaining thoughts of a Celebrity Death Match-style throw down between Renaissance Mom and PETA Mom, a mother from David's old school; and also by silently thanking the registration gods that my animal-activist son was in another class and wouldn't be scarred for life by today's show and tell.
The pissing contest continued. Disneyland (whoosssssh), Six Flags (pissss), England (foreign piss!), thirteen-kid sleepovers (actual piss! Beat that!), Tiki parties, day camps.
"So what did you do?" Perfect Mom finally asked me.
"Eh, we just stayed around the house mostly," I demurred. "Harry Potter marathon. Playing in the backyard. We went to the Riparian Preserve a few times, did some hiking."
"Oh, that's ... nice," one of them said. "Must be nice to just step back and stay at home for a change. Oh, did I tell you about the fusion food at that rooftop cantina?"
But it's not for a change, I wanted to say. That's how we have fun. Pretty much always.
Sure, about once a year we do the big-V Vacation thing. Sea World, the beach (which is way exotic for Arizonans), ocean kayaking (which couldn't be described as a vacation experience so much as an ordeal, at least the way we did it), that whole bit. We're looking at maybe going to Hawaii some time.
But most of the time our time off is, well, off. Relaxing. It made me think: Am I being too slack? Sure, overscheduling sucks, but aren't you supposed to want to cram as much into your time with your kids as possible?
That's the thing, though. I feel like we do that. We didn't really do much over spring break. We stayed at the house. Read a bunch of books. Watched a bunch of movies (or the same few, a bunch of times over). Went to the park, went on some walks, played in the back yard.
Or maybe I don't realize how much we did. I'm taken in by the argument that proximity-to-house equals loser-vacation.
We saw the sun set every single day. We found ladybugs and they crawled on our faces. We discovered a tree where the cormorants at the preserve like to roost, and we stood there as the sun set and painted the sky orange and pink, watching and listening to them squabble over perches and burp at each other. (Ever heard a cormorant? They don't chirp; they burp. Grab yourself a seven-year-old and find a cormorant. It's good for an hour of laughter, at least.)
We listened to the Canada geese honk as they flew in formation in the evening. We watched egrets; their white primary feathers forming aprons around their forms and glowing almost a painful white as the sun lit them; skim the water as they pulled back to land, necks folding and unfolding in graceful curves. We watched the light play through the trees and the impressionist flowers and grasses, and saw it hit on the glaring red flashes of blackbird shoulders as they called for mates. We feed the geese and ducks.
We saw Saturn through the local observatory telescope, looking as it won't for another fourteen years. The planet's rings are wide but thin, so as the earth passes through Saturn's equatorial plane you can see just a faint line as you get an edge-on view of the rings, and their diminished glow allows Saturn's moons to show more vividly. David didn't want to stop looking. He still hasn't stopped talking about it.
We pulled weeds, and pulled weeds, and pulled weeds. Which doesn't seem like a particularly great spring break activity, but if you happen to be a bug lover, and if your mom's lack of diligence in the yard has turned it into a conglomeration of every arthropod native to Arizona, it's great fun. We found orb spiders, aphids (which explains the ladybugs), rainbow-colored beetles, and grasshoppers in every color imaginable. We'd never seen yellow grasshoppers. We're watching a resident spider as she grows and molts and snacks on crane flies.
We had kicked off spring break with a party for my son's birthday, which was only attended by a few kids (the rest were undoubtedly busy getting passports or firearms), but was full of much sweaty play and cake and Transformers paraphernalia. A few days before, at his request, I had taken him to Chuck E. Cheese, where we spent 30 bucks to win a 25-cent toy and left smelling like feet and pizza, and he had a blast (despite the place housing his one phobia: Chuck E. himself, who, blessedly, never shows up).
We ate cheese sandwiches every day, always on fresh bread with cheddar, Swiss, AND American, the good kind, which was in fact on sale at Fry's. We drank the fancy juice that comes in boxes. We stayed up late every night. We looked at flies' wings and cat hair and leaf cells through the microscope and we played light sabers.
"Mom?" he asked the night of our last day off.
"Whenever I'm sad I try to think of you, like what we did today and yesterday. Sometimes when I'm happy too. Sometimes I think of other things instead, but then it always makes me think of you anyway. I like that."
We did nothing for spring break.