Anyone who has ever experienced the family vacation knows the family vacation experience starts weeks before and ends weeks after the actual vacation.
This is about a family vacation experience, and about different perceptions. Writing a story is all about the use of perception. Twisting and focusing the reader’s perceptions, utilizing opposing perceptions, and even tricking the reader into thinking you are following a certain line of perception before revealing your true intentions. What you do with this depends on your story and its goal.
Real life is drama. Don’t shortchange your readers by forgetting that in your stories.
Feel free to skip to the parts that actually interest you. I am also sick again as I write this, so please bear with me.
BEFORE THE VACATION
Of course, there are the “pre weeks” aka “the months you can’t get back”; the weeks where one of you spends a painful amount of time researching vacation possibilities (because travel agents are for wusses, people less cheap than you, and people with a different type of common sense). They endlessly read opposing reviews, getting excited and then woefully disappointed by the same resorts, before finally taking a great intake of air, holding it indefinitely, scrunching their eyes tightly closed, and hitting send. The vacation is booked.
And then once the vacation is booked it is the stressful “vacation time coordination”. Anyone with differing vacation in-house work rules will find this more difficult. We are lucky in this. Unlike some, we don’t have to definitively and un-irrevocably book vacation time all at once for the year and not be able to change plans. Still, you have at least two people with different work vacation booking rules, plus kids/others, to try to book everyone off for the same week and it can be a juggling act.
Then it’s the preparation time. You have to make sure you pack all of your stuff, that everyone else has theirs, and plan for every possible contingency and buy a pharmacy.
How you think it will go aka “the boring story” or “what your character wants” – You make your list, pack and purchase, and everything is packed nicely and easily. Stress free. And you happily and contentedly go to sleep looking forward to your vacation. Your vacation is flawless. You do stuff, relax, enjoy, and come home refreshed.
How it really goes aka “insert drama here” – Ugh. Let us not forget how real life can get. You have a job, kids, dogs, and a house. So, in between looking after all of that, you have to find the time for packing, lists, shopping, re-packing, and cleaning. And, if your dogs are lucky enough that you have someone willing to house sit/dog sit so they don’t have to spend the week stressed and panicked in a boarding kennel, you also want the house clean when you leave.
Starting with the dogs, the husky, Roxy aka The Big Dumb Bunny, decides to pick that time right before your vacation to start blowing out her coat. In the middle of winter and -30 to -45 wind chills. How a dog can shed more than her weight in hair every hour is beyond me. Cue the endless vacuuming. We call the other dog, Meeka, the “good dog”. She does not blow out her coat, steal all your socks, or make you put her out every five minutes.
The kids. Anyone with kids can tell you that you really need to plan a week off kid free to clean the house for anything upcoming of importance. This still applies when they are teens. As fast as you try to clean, the place is unraveled around you into a bedlam of chaos and mess. And, the virtual extra large dogs aka the Big Dumb Hair Bunnies you need to vacuum up endlessly. You are also trying to get all the laundry done, and make futile attempts to pack your own stuff.
Just a quick interject – naturally, pre-vacation week you get sick (cough cough). You feel like Bill the cat from Bloom County looks. If you don’t know, look it up. But you still must be up before six every morning, go to work, and deal with the kids, dogs, family, house, etc. every evening, plus vacation preparation.
Three days prior to vacation you announce to the entire household (repeatedly), “Tomorrow night I have to pack my stuff for the trip. All my stuff. I have nothing packed. So let me do that or I won’t have any clothes to wear. After I pack all my stuff, I can help you with yours.”
Two days prior to vacation, the “I MUST PACK ALL MY STUFF” evening, …guess what. Yes, you guessed it. Kids. One, who is old enough to handle it in my opinion, absolutely needs your help to figure out and fill out the grade 10 course registration for next year that ABSOLUTELY MUST BE DONE THAT NIGHT OR THE WORLD WILL END. Because it has to be handed in tomorrow, since it is due when you are gone on vacation.
The other kid has a mountain of homework that she absolutely cannot figure out on her own, even though she is the one going to school to learn it and knows it better than you do. Seriously, some of these math word problems I am sure are written in some archaic ancient dead language from a planet in a far away galaxy. Mostly I repeated the questions on the page until she started actually thinking about them and solved them herself.
Now, it is past bedtime for everyone, you still have laundry and cleaning to do, and have not packed a single sock. Or maybe you did pack a sock, but the Big Dumb Bunny stole it. At this point you are too tired and sick to know or care.
The Nightmare before Christmas, I mean (um), the night before vacation. Okay, now you really need to pack. You start your morning with slopping an entire cup of coffee on yourself minutes before you have to leave for work. Nice. Now you have to do laundry again because you had to pull clothes out of the stuff you washed to pack, because you don’t have enough clothes that fit. You bust your butt at work all day making sure everything is done. You half expect at this point that your car will break down on the way home. Somehow the stars and planets align and it does not.
However, and, I should have put that in all caps. Let’s try that again.
HOWEVER, you get home and while you were at work the good dog puked, the toilet upstairs plugged and overflowed, and the house is a complete disaster. The panicked teen tries to resolve the overflowing toilet by staring moodily at the toilet bowl, water flowing over its sides to flood the bathroom floor, glares at it, and starts throwing all the towels on the floor in an effort to make it all stop without asking for help, and the water continues to flood over the toilet bowl.
Meanwhile, on the downside, aka the kitchen, water has begun to flow from the ceiling light fixture located directly below the offending toilet. Cue the sudden discovery by your spouse that something is wrong upstairs. This, by the way, is next to the brown spot in the kitchen ceiling from the other kid previously trying to fill water balloons by placing them over the entire tap end, forcing the water to wash back up the space between the water pipe and the tap covering until it wets and stains the ceiling below.
It is your last evening to pack, and you are overtired, still sick, and trying to clean, do laundry (again), deal with dramas, back up all your life’s work so you don’t risk losing it if anything happens to your laptop (because you stupidly think will all that spare time while you are up hours before everyone else every morning on vacation you will have time for writing), and attempt to pack your stuff, finally. Only, the evening is gone before you know it, you have accomplished little if anything, the house is still a mess, you are still doing laundry, and EVERYONE HAS GONE TO BED WITHOUT YOU.
Oh yeah, and you still have to pack all your stuff for the week, but you can’t because everyone went to bed.
Vacation day! You are not sure what time you went to bed. Eleven? Eleven-thirty? You are up at two am because you are supposed to be ready to leave the house by 4 am. Showered, dressed, and dolled up. Your brain is mush. You know you are forgetting a thousand things. You have half an hour to pack. You are constantly being interrupted despite your pleas of, “Let me pack!” Your spouse is trying their best to help. You gather stuff, set it down, turn, and it is gone. Your spouse packed it in their bag. At this point you are now packing without knowing what you actually packed. You can’t find anything because your brain is mush. You will take stock of everything you are missing when you get there.
You will get there to find that you are missing basic essentials like deodorant, hair brush, and a toothbrush. You will spend an exorbitant amount of money buying two of the three at the little resort store, only to find halfway through the vacation it was packed in your spouse’s suitcase.
After arrival and after going through the customs security screening and passing through the door of “Thou Shall Not Go Back”, the thirteen-year-old discovers she left her phone in the bathroom on the other side. Being stupid Canadian tourists they let us through and watch in confusion as I scurry with her to retrieve the lost phone. Later we learned how terrified our handler was that we committed such serious a faux pas, and we speculated was possibly shocked we were not arrested for it.
The vacation. Day one, everyone wakes up cranky. Everyone is moody, miserable, and fighting. The beds and pillows actually inflict pain; they are so bad. But, once settled in, each person has the time to start living the moment instead of only reacting to a fast paced series of reactionary moments.
While on the drive from the airport to the resort the previous evening, you are taking in the world the local people live in through the bus window, your kids, who are sitting much closer to the front of the bus, are noticing how rude, insensitive, and disrespectful they feel some of our fellow vacationers are being towards the travel guide whose job it is to get everyone to their hotels.
We are in a place where the local population is predominantly dark skinned. You notice how kind and friendly all of the people working there are, how some struggle with the language barriers between them and their guests, but they still do their best to help. Your kids, however, whose sole experience with different people in your other raced neighborhood is what they learned in school about the history of black slavery, are feeling weird and at odds over watching all these dark-skinned staff serving the predominantly white guests. They question the appropriateness of it, not understanding it is so only because of the nature of the local population’s demographics.
During one dinner, while you are observing the strange behavior at the next table, your spouse is observing a very different scene behind you. The table next to you, a larger group, are taking turns politely clapping each person as if each is taking a turn quietly sharing some life affirming moment. The moment feels almost cultish to you, and you wonder if this is some sort of retreat for some group. Your spouse reaches across the table, touches your hand to get your attention, and looks you in the eyes.
“Get ready to move fast, there is going to be a fight behind you and I think it will be ugly.”
You glance quickly at your teen sitting next to you and then at the couple quietly arguing being hind you, just at the moment the whispered argument gets louder. The wife was very inebriated, and the husband not.
We each had a very different memory of that dinner.
Naturally, being a vacation of the sort we have not been on in years and may not again for years to come, everyone has to take a turn being sick. Another wrench thrown into that perfect vacation. Another drama, another obstacle to overcome. I have to say, I don’t know when I felt a sickness like that. After the vomiting the large ball of discomfort settles in to take up permanent residence in your stomach. You are cold and hot. Every inch of your muscles and skin hurts. The weight of your body against the mattress is agony. Even the feather weight of the light sheets is pain. Luckily we packed a pharmacy.
At one point, as I lay there, my spouse thought he saw bruising. It was only shadow. I said I had the lividity. That now I know what dying feels like and it hurts like hell. That I am now The Walking Dead and if I didn’t feel like such crap I would probably be eating everyone. My spouse called me a dork.
Of course, the vacation was not all bad. Kids and teens, being who they are, were in a constant flux between getting along and annoying each other. Anyone with teens knows how little you see them when they start hiding in their rooms. And, with work and kids, how little time a couple actually has together. We had eight full days, including travel both ways, of all four of us being together 24/7, getting reacquainted with each other. That was through good and bad, sickness (literally, with us taking turns being up all night vomiting), and health. We still like each other.
The trip home. The plan was to have everything packed and cleaned up the night before and ready to go. Everyone is up, showered, dressed, and last bit packed with lots of time to haul our stuff to the front lobby, get lunch, and hop on the bus to the airport. Easy. No fuss, no muss.
The reality; okay that actually did sort of work out for us. Not so much for the other family with two small boys who were on the wrong time zone. They missed the mandatory check out time, thus incurring the wrath of the forewarned late checkout surcharges. The bus did wait for them while they hurriedly put their two small boys on the bus and scurried off to hastily pack all their belongings and race back to the bus.
It also presumably did not work out so well for the others who our vacation company on-site liaison, bus driver, and hotel staff were unable to locate. They missed the bus. All but one eventually made it to the airport, where we all looked at each other wondering what fate befell the mysterious man they kept paging over the intercom to make his way immediately to our boarding gate.
Going through customs is its own experience. Leaving Canada, the fourteen-year-old was randomly selected for the “sniff test”. Yes, apparently they had to make sure a fourteen-year-old girl was not carrying or recently in contact with cocaine. I, being the concerned parent, laughed at her plight. The Canadian customs staff were typically Canadian, indulgent and kind about it.
And then there was the phone in the bathroom incident on arrival, which we teased the thirteen-year-old about and told her that her father would have had to contact the Canadian embassy or consular service or whatever they have there to have our government try to negotiate our release from a foreign country prison.
Coming home, we learned while in line to check our luggage that the rules for carrying going the opposite way are different. We hastily shifted items from our carry on to our checked luggage. On the way to security I ended up having to throw out my chapped lip stick because that apparently is illegal. Every man woman and child went through a cursory pat down. The Dominican customs people were all very understanding and kind while processing all of us.
On arrival in Canada, and after a slightly bumpy landing, it is time to breathe a sigh of relief. It is over. You are home. Cue laughter.
We are in the back quarter of the plane. Naturally, disembarking is done from the front to the back. Everyone is collecting their stuff from the overhead compartments and beneath the seat in front of them, committing incredible acts of acrobatics trying to squeeze through the ten-inch aisle with their stuff to the front of the plane, and stumbling numbly down the tunnel ramp on legs and buttocks that are no longer functional after a more than six-hour flight trapped in tiny uncomfortable seats with their legs pressed to their chins.
Literally, with the last of the rest of the plane passengers passing through the door at the end before us into the great terminal beyond, an airport worker hurriedly rushes to the door and closes it in our faces. We, and our fellow back of the plane passengers, are left staring dumbly at him as he motions us to stay and runs off through the secondary set of doors. We look at each other. There are a few nervous chuckles. We are literally in a dry aquarium. A glass-walled prison with no way out except to race back to the plane, whose door is presumably closed by now, and no place to shelter. Is there some sort of airport security event? Should we be afraid? But, this is Canada, so the worst it might be is that someone forgot to say please and thank you.
After some moments of the same man who locked us in and another worker looking around in confusion, the other trying his swipe card on some random card swiper at a desk through doors the rest of the plane did not disembark through, a third airport worker came along and let us through.
At last, we are home. Or at least on the last leg of home, driving home with a slight detour that involved going in completely the opposite direction of home for some distance before realizing we are going the wrong way, and made it home.
The vacation, naturally, does not end there. Because now you have to catch up at work and do all the other post-vacation stuff. But the real story has already ended and that stuff happens after you cut to end story.
And that, my friends, is how an unexciting vacation story becomes filled with obstacles and drama. Real life throws a wrench in things and so must you when you write your story.
While we were all in this together through various stages, every person would have had their own unique perspective and experience.
There is more to the story, of course. The monkey on the beach, the walk off-resort through a possibly sketchy area, and the salami taxi. But that is the fine details you flesh out later in your story.
Now, if I were to re-write this from each person’s perspective, each would tell a very different story.
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The Intangible World of the Literary Mind
This blog is about writing, being an author, and life.
LV Gaudet, author
This blog is for the fans of dark fiction, those stories that slither softly into your dreams in the night to turn them dark and foul.
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