I was taking a drive along the Pacific Coast Highway, by myself, in a red sports car with the radio blasting, drinking milkshakes from In and Out, the breeze wafting through my hair --
Okay, that didn't actually happen. It was a fleeting fantasy of the "Calgon, take me away" variety that occurred in the middle of a Target store, 1,200 miles from home. I was there with my mother, loading up on school supplies for one of my two college-bound sons, and I just plain wanted to escape, but couldn't.
The baskets held all the basics for his apartment, less the scant pieces of furniture that thankfully came with it. There were pillows and sheets, a shower curtain, cleaning solutions, blankets, toilet paper, hooks that promised they wouldn't ruin walls, printer paper, a trash can, food, and batteries -- you know all that stuff that they never buy but always need.
By the time I got to the register, my mother had, understandably, checked out emotionally. When I attempted to check out literally, I discovered that you're supposed to call your credit card company ahead of time to let them know when you're travelling. Am I the only person who didn't know this? I know it now because they blocked my card, which meant DECLINED flashed on the screen as I stood in line with multiple baskets in front of multiple people. I blinked several times, scratched my head and tried another card when it happened again. At the cashier's suggestion I called the number on the back of the credit card, traded top secret information, and provided details of my brief trip, including length of stay and travel partners. It was at once comforting, disturbing, and an invasion of privacy.
By the time we had unloaded everything into the rental van, the call of the PCH was stronger than ever. Too bad my van doors wouldn't close. Even the kind if somewhat robotic-sounding man in the roadside assistance call center was stumped. Finally, my mother found the one sweet spot on the inside of the van door that released the locks, nearly severing an arm in the process. And no, there were no other buttons, nothing on the remote, nothing on that overhead compartment thingie. It was as stripped down a van as a van can get. But it did have cargo space, I'll give it that.
By then, to say I wanted to give in to my fantasy would have been an understatement -- in fact, it's been a hell of a 12 months. But I didn't. My practical-mom voice -- the one that's kept me grounded while raising a family and running a household -- took over. I knew I needed to just get on with life and deal with reality. It's what I do, though I'd like to do less of it in the near future.
Every family has at least one of me. You know who you are -- the family CEO.
Our role is to take care of the details. The skills we possess are a gift and a curse: a gift because we're helpful to have around and we enjoy the process of crossing the t's and dotting the i's (most of the time). A curse because everyone leaves the details to us to handle, thinking we always enjoy it so they don't have to do it.
Of course, reality is different for everyone. I know people who take regular family vacations even when they can't afford to. Who don't stress about the details of life, or successfully ignore them. I see their Facebook posts, read their blogs. They believe all the pieces of life fall into place by themselves -- that it needs no planning and very little maintenance. They do seem happy. But are they happier than those of us who don't live that way? I'm not sure anyone can be that Zen. Or can they?
Not me. I've spent a lot of time doing triage over these last 25 years -- and as a result I'm pre-wired to see the train coming. I no longer enjoy surprises unless they are wrapped in a box with a bow. So I make plans to try and have some semblance of control and fantasize about vacations that I've yet to take.
Perhaps I can expand my fantasy to include one of those body-switching movie plots like in Big, Freaky Friday, or 13 Going On 30 -- you know, where my practical voice will transfer to my kids and their impractical voices to me? That way, we can both get a glimpse of life from the other side.
Until then, there's always red sports cars and milkshakes, right? As long as I notify my credit card company when I cross a state line.
Join me next Monday for another installment of The Pre-Empt Chronicles, as I transition from full house to empty nest.