The Week I Look Forward to All Year

I’m lying on the cold cement floor of a hotel room in Lowell. It’s not anything kinky, or the tragicomic result of a Hangover-esque bacchanal, or even a line from a Kerouac poem (though he is the local hero). I’m here because it’s the first night of my vacation, and my back is pretty seriously injured. And I’m pissed.

I try to always see the positive. I know all the life lessons: being angry hurts no one but yourself. Depression is anger turned inward. This too shall pass. I usually try to deal with anger in healthy ways. But today, I just can’t.

I’m not the mean vacation mom, like the one in the campsite next to us, who’s just mad about everything. She’s annoyed that she had to pack up half their lives and drag it out here into the woods and set it all up again just to get her kids out of the house so they wouldn’t kill each other. She’s bothered by their behavior and nagging at them all the time. Her older son yells, “Oh yeah, sarcasm, that always works well.”

I’m the mom who lives for this. I’m not a sidelines kind of girl. I like to be out there in the middle of the action. Laying by a pool is fine for an hour or so, but what’s next? There’s a bunch of amazing stuff out there, let’s go see it.

Though I have to admit my packing experience was probably similar to hers. I was in constant pain and couldn’t bend over. I dropped the last clean spoon on the floor, left it there for my husband to pick up, and used a plastic one from the pantry. While trying to find the travel pillows, I emptied half the linen closet onto the hall floor and left it there. I didn’t even change the kitty litter (sorry Mich).

I think, you have nothing to complain about. You’re young and healthy, quit being a baby. I think of Aunt Rachel, who was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in her early 30s and spent most of the rest of her life in a wheelchair. Or my dear mother-in-law, who is literally in the hospital right now recovering from knee replacement surgery, and is in pain most of the time.

Still.

Being positive all the time feels like a big pain in the ass today. I’m angry. I feel gypped. I want my vacation and I want it pain-free. I don’t ask for much. I get very little to myself that I really want, and I deserve it to be nice.

My job is to function at a very high level all year so other people can have a life. I want mine just for this one week. I don’t think that’s too much to ask for.

My mother (who I’ve been texting for long-distance diagnoses and medical advice) reminded me of the year she put her back out and had to lay on the couch while her entire family went on with all their vacation fun. She said, “Four years later I’m still mad about that.”

I remember that week, and while we were relieved that for once Mom had to let go of the cooking and cleaning and let us take care of her, other than that we only wanted her to get better. No one was mad or resentful, and I think that’s how the men are seeing me this week (well that and trying to make me laugh by challenging me to race little old ladies with canes). I have to push them to go ahead and do the fun stuff without me. I got us here because I at least want them to still have a vacation.

And even though I’m waving them goodbye and hanging out on my own a bit, I’ll still have vacation memories. Like the look on Older’s face when he helped me grocery shop and found a double cherry that looked like a butt. Or clinging in fear to Younger during the scary parts of “The Lone Ranger.” And the way they charged toward me and actually wanted hugs every time we were reunited.

But as I lie here flat on my back on a picnic blanket waiting to pick them up at the end of their bike ride (on the stunningly amazing and beautiful Acadia carriage roads) I can’t help but feel sad.

I have to settle for the tourist views that you can see from your car. I know the hard-to-find ones are so much more impressive, and more rewarding because you had to work for them. This is the one I enjoyed while writing this post:

Bubble Pond

Bubble Pond

It’s not much, but it’s still pretty. I have to be content with the little things this week. Like the dragonfly that landed on me while I waited, and the two beautiful black and blue butterflies that danced over the pond. When the boys arrived they ran to me through the woods, grunting like apes to scare me. I asked if they’d do it again for my video camera but shockingly, no go.

Last year on the drive to Maine I told Dave this was the week I look forward to most out of the whole year. He seemed surprised. I couldn’t imagine why he was, since it really is the best time we have. He said, “There are so many other things to look forward to.”

Sigh. He’s right. It’s not the end of the world. This year I will sit on the sidelines a bit, and I’ll be angry and resent this injury and its horrible timing. As we drive along listening to the special vacation iPod mix I breathe in the ocean air, smell the pines, and try to relax. This is all that matters – that we are together.

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Bike Path: Kill or Be Killed

After a week of riding the (gorgeous, incomparable) bike trails on Cape Cod, I’ve learned alot about human nature. First there are the types of people you will find using the trails:

1. The Tour de France’rs

They have their bodysuits, their space-age helmets, their front-arm-leaning handlebars, fanny packs and camelbaks, and feet cemented to the pedals, so they AIN’T stoppin. Just stay out of the way because the peloton is coming through, and you will die if you get in front of it.

2. The Neurotic Parents

They want to teach their kids to ride, but maybe they should’ve thought about doing that at home, before they got on the biking superhighway. Sometimes they have to stop and lecture their children about “how angry it makes me when you do that.” Often accompanied by grandparents pushing empty strollers. Occasionally you see a variation of this with three or more adults pulled over to the side of the trail, all fussing over one crying child in a bike trailer.

3. Walkers, Joggers, and Dog-walkers

They have every right to be on the bike trail. It’s supposed to be a safe haven for people trying to enjoy a walk or run without having to risk their lives on summer-traffic-filled roads. But I’m not sure they’re any safer with the bikes than they are with the cars.

4. Teenagers, Old Folks, and European Tourists

Lesser seen, but still present. Teens will be surly and/or dangerous-looking. So will the old folks. Europeans will be half-naked and stopped on the side of the trail eating berries.

5. Rollerbladers

Really?

6. Normal People Out for a Nice Bike Ride

Like me and my family, who were just trying to get through it all unscathed. And at least one of your party will be asking, “What’s the point again? Why are we riding bikes in a straight line for hours?”

Repeatedly.

My scariest moment was when we passed a dad and son who were pulled over, and mom was just getting back into the flow of traffic. Older Son was in the middle of the lane passing her and I was starting to make my move when I noticed there was a daughter, maybe four years old, trying to turn around and find her family. Older slowed down when he saw her swerve across the lane of traffic.

But the 65-year-old guy coming toward all of this mess didn’t. He just made a grimace like, “Oh my God! There’s a little pink Dora bike in front of me! How dare she? I’m about to crash into her! But I ain’t slowin down, dag-nabbit!”

I told Older he did the right thing. When in doubt, STOP BEFORE YOU CRASH INTO PEOPLE. It’s pretty basic.

Now. To this spicy gumbo, add cars. Every time you come to a street crossing it’s complete anarchy. By the letter of the law (we think), cars aren’t supposed to yield to bikes in crosswalks (I know, stupidest thing ever). But it makes sense if you realize that bikes are supposed to observe the same traffic rules as cars, so a rail trail crosswalk throws everything into confusion.

Cars are supposed to yield to pedestrians, so on the trail, the rule is that bikers should stop and walk their bike across the streets, hence becoming pedestrians and clearly having the right of way.

But no one ever gets off their bike. And the cars can’t always see the crossings coming. They are hidden around corners and in trees, and anyway most drivers on the Cape are in vacation mode. They’re not paying attention or they’re in a SERIOUS rush to get to some soft-serve. If they’re not familiar with the trail, they can be flying along with no clue that a person could jump out in front of their car.

As my dear old sailor dad used to say, the laws of gross tonnage apply. Motor vehicle vs. pedestrian laws don’t matter when a many-ton vehicle is flying toward your 65-pound skin-and-bones baby.

So we taught the boys to come to a COMPLETE stop at every crossing. BUT, those of us who are trying to keep our children from being flattened by cars get in the way of the peloton, who fly through, knocking you out of the way in their hurry to beat you to the entrance on the other side of the road.

Then you’ve got the people who draft off your stopped cars. You and the kids are getting across as safely as you can, when the others come up your butt because they shot out in front of the drivers who stopped for you. Now you’re on the other side trying to climb back on your bike and get….CRAP! Angry Granny!

“ON! YOUR! LEFT!!!!” They yell, annoyed at you for being in their way.

So what does all this mean? It’s simple. People need rules. I have my own problems respecting authority and I’m the first person to say, “Bah! That’s not a real law.” But if there were just some basic right-of-way guidelines (i.e. when a small child loses control of their bike and darts in front of you BY ACCIDENT – stop your damn bike instead of yelling at them and their parents), the trail would be a far less terrifying place.

Dave had a theory that it’s like the townies vs. the college kids. After a few weeks of having bikes dart out in front of their car, or being on a bike and having a car speed toward you, there’s competition between locals and tourists, drivers and bikers. The age-old story. Oh – and it’s hot. And everyone’s stuck with their cranky family.

Of course Dave also managed to get in a little parenting wisdom. Our last human behavior observation, which I’ve been saying like a broken record for years anyway, is this: kids will watch what the adults are doing and do exactly the same thing.

So when he’d had enough of all the shenanigans, Older got in on the act. As he tried to turn left to exit the crosswalk and head for a deli we’d picked for lunch, another crazy grandpa went flying by him (to pass everyone and get back on the trail first) and almost knocked him down. Older yelled, “Thanks for almost crashing into me while I was trying to make a legal and safe left-hand turn.” (We’ll have to work on brevity when it comes to his snippy remarks.)

After this event Dave told him, “If somebody’s out here yelling at people then they’re probably not a very happy person. Don’t let them ruin your day.” So we mocked him, ate sandwiches, and went back into the fray for another hour of enjoyable riding in straight lines amongst crazy people.

But please don’t let this story deter you from riding the trails. Go early or late, go on a Tuesday, go when it’s NOT summer, but get out there and see them, because as far as rail trails go, this one is world class.