Someone’s been drinking Mai Tais.
I’m up at five Hawaiian time on Day Three of the Webber family reunion. That’s right; the kids and I flew halfway across the Pacific, on a journey you probably already know gave me grave misgivings, to attend a reunion put on by my ex’s grandparents and which would include seventeen members of my ex’s extended family. In a house. Together. Plus the three of us.
There are advantages. Back when the reunion was being planned, K. and I were still together, and I was one of the original advocates for Hawaii, largely because a)I thought it would facilitate K.’s aunt, who is recently out of a correctional institution and still on…probation? Parole? (I think parole. Clearly, I never watched enough crime TV) attending, as she lives here, and b)I thought it would be a fun and easy vacation with the kids. When I went to Kauai last year, I was struck by how pleasantly low-fi the island seemed, how attractively run-down and second-world with just enough limping American infrastructure to make it unintimidating, and by the general attitude toward children, which seemed indulgently tolerant rather than the dominant North American attitude that children should be not seen and not heard or else they should be plastered, in ghoulish exploitation, on beauty pageant ads and movie billboards, their red cheeks made more appley by the lavish application of rouge and their cherub-like affect made more cherubic by the judicious application of Prozac and valium. Basically, I think most of us on the continent are encouraged to view children as things: things to be clucked and cooed over, things to manage, things to avoid at all costs, things to exploit into an industry, but always things. I’d bet money that if a stray Hawaiian dude says hi to your kids, there’s something like a 50% lower chance that he wants to put them in a porn film.
Anyway, so we’re in Hawaii. The trip over, with my sister-in-law, was awkward — she didn’t ever respond to my letter telling about the child support imbroglio and, though I certainly appreciate the feels of conflict she must be having, I guess I was also wondering if she’d finally step up and communicate about what’s happening rather than just avoiding it (I hate avoidance. It gets under my skin like scabies. This is why I’m bad at politics, family reunions, and department meetings; I have to either check out entirely or appall half the room). I appreciate her being willing to coordinate itineraries and “help out,” although I don’t need help now as much as I used to, and it’s a rare person who can really offer active help when they enter our circle. But it made going to the bathroom easier.
And now it’s Sunday and the bottle of Mr. and Mrs. T’s Mai Tai Mix (shouldn’t it be illegal to make “tropical” cocktails from a plastic bottle of reconstituted juices and sugars that was probably imported from the mainland? It’s an amazing world we live in where you import your “island flavor” — and yes, I know Mai Tais are not native to the islands and that they were invented in Oakland by Victor Bergeron, aka Trader Vic. I used to be married to a booze worshiper, remember? And even before that, I had a fondness for tiki bars) from somewhere around 37′ N 122° 23′ W on a diesel-powered freighter. But I digress.
Before we left, I had been trying to get my own rental car. For one thing, I had some research I wanted to do, and for another, I had the distinct feeling that being trapped in a rental house on the North Shore with no way to leave except the stroller might cause me to become even more irritable, nigh desperate, than the prospect of being surrounded by so many people making so much noise and watching so much TV for so long with an escape hatch. But for some reason, the other members of the party were dead against it. “We’ve rented a seven-passenger vehicle,” they said. “We’ll drive you places,” they said. “We have a car you can borrow, one that belongs to the cousin who can’t be here,” they said. “Why do we have to rent a car seat? Bring your car seats!” they said. I tried to explain that checking car seats is dangerous and that being a single parent hauling two kids and bags through the airport is challenging enough without the added complication of hauling two car seats, but the flurry of emails continued. I was tired before I even left.
When we arrived in Hawaii, my parents-in-law picked us up in the promised seven-seater — which had no cargo room and required us to cram our luggage onto our laps and the stroller into the seventh seat. They got lost a few times on the way to the house — “I don’t know why,” said my mother-in-law, “We followed the directions exactly,” — and by the time we got here, I had been massively dyspeptic and on the verge of losing my airplane pretzels for a good half-hour. So the car situation seemed dire. Car-related communications all seemed to revolve around the Hawaiian resident family members using the promised loaner a lot, and any use on my part involving specific negotiation. Then my grandmother-in-law, in a fit of bureaucratic micromanaging, tried to broker car borrowing for me (why are we trying so hard not to rent another car? Do we hate the car rental industry more than the Imported Mai Tai Industry? At least, to my knowledge, there are no auto plants on Oahu, but there are plenty of pineapples and blenders. Trading in the cramped 7-seater for two compacts would only be $100 more, and I’d gladly pay it personally to avoid having to put someone out every time I want to go somewhere), which resulted in awkwardness, and Resident Cousin kindly offered to negotiate directly, and things were more or less OK. But I still sense that I’m just going to have to suck it up and not go anywhere for the most part, because the Car of Absent Cousin is really used by Resident Cousin and her mother, and the only other car they have is a truck, and etc.
So after the Epic Battle of Social Awkwardness, Incomprehension, and Different Assumptions, with a dash of Controlingness and Attempting to Arrange Other People’s Lives for Them, Especially Through Charts Which Are Bound and Available for Filling Out On the Kitchen Table, I was in possession of a Rav-4 with a sticky shifter…
…which was essential, as my cousin from Kauai had flown over and gotten a hotel room so that we could spend the day together.
After I stopped fearing I was going to kill my children by not being able to find second gear, the day was great. We picked up my cousin at her hotel in Waikiki, an area which, despite my lingering fascination with it from a childhood of watching Magnum, P.I., we did not explore; instead we took a road around the coast to the east, stopped at a beach park with the most stunningly turquoise water I’ve ever seen, made cakes in the sand, had shave ice at a local plate lunch place where the Spam was flying fast and furious and there were bible verses painted on the walls, and took the Pali, a highway of beautiful Western vistas that climbs precipitously into the Koolau range, back to Honolulu.
Once back in the city, we had a brief driving tour, during which I saw many old and beautiful buildings the likes of which don’t exist on Kauai, and then we admired the view (parking lot/ocean) from the three-inch-wide “lanai” in my cousin’s hotel room. We capped off the evening in a Japanese restaurant in town, which had amazing homemade tofu and some pretty good gyoza that the kids actually ate. It was a great time.
As we pulled onto the H1 from Punchbowl, the light was behind the Waianae mountains to the west. The sky was a slatey blue ringed with large, blue-grey clouds, and the silhouettes of palm trees stood out starkly against it. Thing One was admiring them, talking about the palm trees and the ocean and how the ocean was behind the buildings, and then out of nowhere he said,
“Remember when Daddy wouldn’t let me eat my potatoes?”
I did remember. It was fairly recently. K. was apparently fed up about Thing One not finishing his meal and had laid down the law that there would be no more food unless he ate his lentils. Though normally the stricter parent, I am not a believer in forcing people to eat; I had come in unknowing and told Thing One that he should have a few more bites of his lentils, which he did, and then he could have some sweet potatoes. Essentially, I unwittingly countermanded K., which I apologized for later and asked if he would like me to do things differently in the future (he demurred). Anyway, like so many things, it was about a three-way split between parenting style clash, miscommunication, and poor mood/anger management. But what Thing One remembers — judging by how he talks about it — is how angry K. was.
I assented; yes, I remember.
“I don’t want him to come ever again,” he said. And then he went into a short monologue about how K. wasn’t proper and he wasn’t nice but he was a little nice but he wasn’t very nice and he didn’t know how to be nice and he, Thing One, didn’t want him to come (the bottom lip came out) EVER AGAIN. NO! NOT OK!
The he was quiet. And the light faded behind the palm trees as we drove north.
The kids were asleep when we got back. I carried them to bed. K’s mother, sister, aunt, and cousin were playing cards. They did not invite me to join them. I did not insert myself. I stood at the kitchen counter, ate some lychee standing up, and briefly contemplated having a Mai Tai.
Then I went to bed.