Monday, November 30, 2009

Forty Years, and Four Days, of Family

My parents, according to legend, met during middle school biology lab. My mother's version of the story has my father as her lab partner and trying to take over frog dissection, thinking she would be squeamish and amenable to simply observing the process. Mom was having none of that and, baring her scalpel, vied for vivisection rights. The rest, as they say, is history. They finished middle and high school together, endured four years on opposite coasts during college, and married promptly after my father's graduation in 1969.

And miraculously, while other couples of their generation set new records for American divorce rates, they persevered for decades.

A few years ago our parents (of five offspring and by now eight grandchildren), declared that we would be celebrating their 40th anniversary with them on a trip, somewhere, sometime in 2009, and we should make ourselves available. We're there! we declared.

Plans narrowed to a Mexican Riviera Carnival Cruise out of San Diego during Thanksgiving week. We marked our calendars and watched as the economy shortened our cruise to four days, three nights: round trip to Ensenada and back. But we didn't care; we'd be together, in cabins down the hall from one another, and who knew what capers would transpire.

And that is how it came to be that a Mammom and Bampa and their four kids and their spouses (minus the pair who gave birth to Grandchild #8 just three days before departure), along with six grandchildren plus a mother-in-law and cousin boarded the Carnival Elation for a 40th Anniversary Adventure last week.

Our party of 18 was rarely all together in one place, except the day we conspicuously navigated the streets, shops, fish tacos, and margaritas of Ensenada. In various groupings and combinations we swam, mini-golfed, water-slid, toasted, gambled, spa-ed, buffeted, feasted, napped, exercised, and ate some more. My husband figured out on the second night of dining (rather coincidentally on "Elegant Night" when they serve lobster and prime rib), that no one will stop you--or more importantly, CHARGE YOU--from ordering two entrees. So he did. Steak AND lobster. And then several of my family members followed suit.

My generous parents provided the opportunity for us all to come together and celebrate, in effect, our very existence (and closeness to one another), thanks to them. In foresight, in the moment, and in hindsight, it was an exquisitely unique and special time.

Some other cruise highlights:

Delayed Departure: Our family's strategy was to board the ship as early as allowable, even if it was going nowhere. Our excitement began in various lines at 12:30 PM on Monday, but it wasn't long before we were enjoying reggae music and Mexican Mamas ("$7.50 for the first one and ALMOST one dollar off for a refill!") poolside. I believe the ship was meant to pull out around sunset. But alas, some of our fellow passengers were running late, and "because Ensenada is an easily reachable destination," Carnival announced that we would be extending our truants the courtesy of delaying departure.

Our entourage, along with most other passengers, was gathered on the top deck, anticipating the casting off of lines. My husband and brother-in-law discussed the possibility of mooning our comrades when they finally made it aboard. But we eventually decamped for dinner preparations, and the boat started moving, and then my sister-in-law got seasick.

Club Carnival: I just assumed any childcare on board was costly and questionable. Instead, it was FREE and AWESOME. So awesome, in fact, that 1) Daughter #1 was angry with us when we picked her up "early" at 9:45 one evening, and 2) after their first time, both girls begged to go back. We spent our days with the girls but took them to "Kids' Camp" each night so we could dine with the adults. As a gift to Daughter #1, we left here there until 11:30 on the last night. That's how much we love her.

The Coca Cola Scandal: Giddily relating her first Kids' Camp experience as she and her dad made their way back to our cabin, our First Grader admitted that, "Dad, you're probably going to fire me. In fact, yep, you're definitely going to fire me." The fire, though, was the glint in her eyes as she confessed that when the counselors gave her the choice to have water or Coke with her dinner, she totally went with Coke. "But Mom," she explained later, "It wasn't my fault. They gave me a CHOICE."

"And," she added, "I love Coke."

The Hairy Chest Contest: Taking for granted that this cruise would be a true escape from work and regular routine, it only occurred to me two days prior to our departure (from our own city's port, natch) that it was Fairly Likely that one of my students would be on this cruise. As we converged upon my parents' stateroom on the first afternoon before leaving port and watched our fellow passengers and family members board below, I spotted two former students on the gangway.

Well, I figured, former students are in a different jurisdiction from current students (and then there's international waters to factor in, ha ha!). Out of respect for the fact that these young men were in the less desirable position of having their former vice principal on their vacation, I avoided crossing paths and making direct eye contact.

However, my daughters and I did walk through the pool area as one of our alums was competing in the ship's Hairy Chest Contest. Daughters wanted to stick around. I did not.

Blackjack: Like so many of the things I do, I gamble one-dimensionally. What I mean by this is I know the simple aspects of one game, ignore the complicated stuff like buying insurance, etc., and then make up my own guidelines to keep me safe. I apply the same strategy to my sewing machine, for example. I know how to stitch in a straight line and I can sew stuff. Don't talk to me about button holes.

Guidelines that keep me safe in blackjack include agreeing how much money I will put out initially, and then how much I am willing to lose. At some point I decided I wanted to win enough to pay for the massage my husband kept hinting he'd really appreciate. Following the old "quit while you're ahead" maxim, I walked away from the table on the third night $100 up. And still not totally understanding the finer points of gambling.

Shane: So much to say about Shane. I'll try to keep it brief and stick to the best parts.

On our last night aboard the Carnival Elation, various adults gathered in my parents' cabin for a pre-dinner drink and Together Time. Door propped open, I happened to make eye contact with the resident of the cabin across the hall as he headed unsteadily out of his stateroom, drink in hand.

"Cheers!" I lifted my drink, and he responded in kind, peeking into my parents' "well-appointed" stateroom (certainly in comparison with his interior windowless room).

"Wow," he murmured, "This is a nice room! Where are you guys from?"

"San Diego," we answered, "What about you?"

"Well, have you heard of Riverside?"

We all nodded.

"Yeah, well. Actually, I'm from Hemet." (A town slightly more remote...)

He paused a moment, and then opened up.

"You know how the boat was delayed?" We nodded. "Ha! That was me and my buddy. It was his birthday last week, so we went to Vegas, and then it was my birthday this week, and we scheduled this cruise. We got here and realized we forgot our passports. We had to drive all the way back to Hemet. But we remained in contact with Carnival the whole way, and told them 'Don't worry; we're here! We're parking.'" He shook his head ruefully and took a swig of his drink.

"We were actually still on the freeway, like fifteen miles away."

My brother-in-law mentioned that "someone" had talked about mooning the late arrivals. Shane laughed, loving that he had achieved some shipboard infamy.

"Anyway, I figure we saved the boat four laps outside Ensenada."

We all drank to that. Our ship had spent an entire day "at sea," basically idling outside our one Mexican destination.

Shane, we learned, was a divorced surgical tech and dad living with a divorced roommate and planning to start a Physician's Assistant Program. "Life has been great since my buddy and I moved in together...we have so much fun."

It was only one sentence or so later before we learned that Shane's "buddy" and roommate was his sister's ex-husband.

You can't make this stuff up.

He asked us if we had encountered a group of now-infamous Bachelor Party guys on the cruise. In Speedos? With the Bachelor wearing an obligatory crown everywhere he went? Yep, we'd seen them.

"Well, we saw them in Papas & Beer in Ensenada." (Ed.: But of course!)

"I asked them if any of them had gotten laid."

He took a sip of his drink as we waited in anticipation for the answer.

He shook his head. "They didn't."

It was the perfect non-story to make us all raise our eyebrows and look around uncomfortably.

Proving, folks, that while the drinks ain't cheap on a Carnival Cruise, the childcare and entertainment is.

Here's to my parents, and 40 years of traveling, living, and loving together. Thank you, Mom and Dad, for a wonderful time, then and now.

1 comment:

Mama Deb said...

Love it! Sounds like a great time. You're so lucky you like your family so much :)