Here’s where my unpublished essays come to see the light of day. They aren’t all directly related to family travel, but don’t you worry as I’m a master at making a square peg fit in a round hole.
I am Jillicus
Considered a woman of “advanced maternal age” when I became pregnant, you might think I’d be at a disadvantage when it comes to keeping up with an active child. You might think that my daughter will one day think of me as her geezery old “hag mom” who can’t remember what it’s like to hop a rock or even break a sweat. (I actually have a friend who referred to her older mom by that name. I weep for her.)
Well, I am fighting Hag Momdom with everything I’ve got, and that includes being fit enough to do all the fun things kids want to do in daily life and on vacation. But I know that skiing, hiking, biking, scootering, climbing and swimming take a certain level of fitness, and I’ve been doing a boot camp for the past few years in an effort to achieve it. This essay is about that very humbling experience. It’s a little hokey and, hopefully, a little funny and maybe even a little inspiring. Here’s to fending off Hag Mom status, and to keeping up with our rock hoppers.
I could live with the fact that I was not Spartacus.
After all, most of us lack the skill, strength, endurance and intensity to wrestle wild beasts and lead a Roman uprising. But I did mind lacking what it took to keep up with my fellow boot campers sprinting, shuffling, push-upping and lunging around an inner-city park version of the Coliseum.
It was my first Camp Gladiator session, and I knew I was in trouble after 15 minutes when the trainer encouragingly barked that the warm-up was almost over. I actually almost cried. That gigantic, painful bundle of squats, high knees, butt kicks and a quarter mile run was the warm-up? I thought a warm-up was supposed to dangle gently on the front end of a workout, stretching and easing you languidly into the more strenuous activity to come.
Which, inevitably, it did.
The actual workout consisted of numerous exercises I’d never heard of, interspersed with sprint shuttle runs just to keep things completely demoralizing. Mountain climbers, star jumps, spiders, bear crawls… who the heck makes up this stuff? Whoever did had a cruel streak, for the child-friendly names are designed to fool the uninitiated into thinking, “I can do anything for an hour.”
Well, I’m here to tell you there are things you can’t do for 45 seconds, and at the end of that longest hour of my athletic life, I lay prone on the grass, sucking wind and plotting a slanderous campaign against the jerk who invented the burpee. As I ruefully surveyed the pride left scattered around that grassy playing field of despair, I thought to myself, “This is not what I signed up for!”
I joined the one-month camp thinking it would be a fun way to tone up quickly and give me the strappy sandaled foot to the backside I needed to invigorate my fitness routine. It’s not that I was completely out of shape—I’d done several mini triathlons and one very, very slow half marathon for Pete’s sake. But I’d let it slide the past few years, running (okay—usually walking fast) a few times a week and hitting the occasional Pilates class.
As a result of my half-hearted exercise regimen and “Don’t mind if I do” attitude toward cake balls and triple cream Brie, I’d morphed into a thirty-something cliché. It was time to admit I could no longer blame my new curves on the birth of my no-longer-a-toddler daughter, and I figured with a little extra effort three times a week, the boot camp would help me shave off the unwanted pudge.
It was a grand delusion, of course, believing 12 workouts would have me looking much different than I did four weeks earlier. And while it was definitely a misnomer to call it “fun,” it was the mindset that got me out the door. Now, a year into this gladiatorial madness, I’ve seen glimpses of the Spartacus in myself, and can hardly imagine life without this love/hate relationship. My fickle feelings go something like this:
Hate: The third set of cross body chops, reverse crunches and side-to-side sit-ups followed by a three-minute plank hold (attempt).
Love: Being confident enough to wear a bikini, even if it’s only in my back yard.
Hate: Removing my booty from the seat warmer in my car in order to join the group gathering on the frosty grass.
Love: Putting my nearly-muffintopless booty back on the seat warmer knowing I don’t have to remove it again for this purpose for approximately 47 hours.
Hate: Feeling guilty when I skip a workout.
Love: Having a new group of friends who notice when I don’t show up and motivate me to get back on track.
Hate: Being the “rabbit” in a chase game—which means I’m the slowest in the group that day and everyone else’s target to pass.
Love: Being the “rabbit” in a chase game, and not getting caught. Ah, the sweetness of small victories.
Hate: Towing a sled of weights across a sun-scorched field knowing the boot camper at Station Three can’t stop doing tuck jumps until I finish my lap.
Love: Being able to tow my child several miles on a sled while snowshoeing to a yurt in the mountains.
Truly, the loves far outweigh the hates in this unfolding epic drama of my physical health. And while I may never be Spartacus, I am Jillicus—a gladiatrix in training and leader of my own fitness rebellion!
As for the guy who invented the burpee, no one can say for sure who gets the credit. But it’s pretty certain that his last name actually was Burpee, which at least partially explains the legacy of torment he left to his fellow man. -30-
Destination Danger Zone
Here’s a funny (I hope) take on our trip to Mexico just following the swine flu outbreak. Were we bad parents or not?
Passports, bathing suits and sunscreen? Check.
Face mask, flu medication and bulletproof vest? Check.
We were packing for our family trip to Mexico, despite the double whammy pummeling the country’s tourist industry: swine flu and drug-related violence. After all, my husband and I reasoned, the flu had reached pandemic proportions and could be contracted almost anywhere in the world; the violence referenced in the U.S. government’s travel advisory seemed far-removed from the quiet Yucatan beach town we were planning to visit.
Some friends and family disagreed, believing the potential risks were too great. In their minds, the slim chance of catching and dying from a brand new killer virus or getting kidnapped by drug lords far outweighed beautiful sea views, ancient ruins and no cell phone service on the list of pros and cons. Some even suggested we were being frivolous with our daughter’s health and safety for a few days on the beach, and encouraged us to cancel our trip in favor of a backyard staycation.
Though I was intensely irritated by the criticism, it did cause me to consider our motives and decision-making process. My daughter was only two, and many toddlers manage to become productive human adults without a preschool field trip to the Caribbean. Did we really need to hit the Yucatan playa at this particular time in our lives, and at this particular juncture in world history? Upon reflection, I concluded that, in fact, now was the perfect time for this particular vacation, and I was largely unconcerned that current events unfolding in Mexico would impact the health and safety of my family.
When swine flu first brought Mexico to a screeching halt, we were prepared to cancel our plans if the global cataclysm predicted on the evening news came to fruition. But in early May, Mexico lowered the flu alert and the U.S. government followed suit, lifting its recommendation to avoid nonessential travel to the country on May 15.
At about the same time, swine flu was hitting our hometown, and a large area school district shut down for two weeks because of a few affected students. There is still great debate over whether that move was prudent or hysterical, but it bolstered my own decision. If swine flu was a deal breaker, I wondered, why weren’t people fleeing our city? Heck, given its northward trajectory, maybe we’d actually be safer from the flu in Mexico.
The threat of violence was of even less concern. Living in Texas, I am well aware of drug-related problems in Mexican border towns, and would think at least twice before going on holiday to Juarez. But we were going to Tulum, a touristy town 90 miles south of Cancun. I had read nothing that led me to believe it would be any more dangerous than my own urban neighborhood, where a woman was recently carjacked with her children onboard.
Even the advisory on the US Department of State web site gave me some comfort about traveling to Mexico. Though it goes into greater detail about particular regions of the country, the following paragraph sums up the general situation:
“While millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year (including tens of thousands who cross the land border every day for study, tourism or business), violence in the country has increased. It is imperative that travelers understand the risks of travel to Mexico, how best to avoid dangerous situations, and who to contact if one becomes a crime victim. Common-sense precautions such as visiting only legitimate business and tourist areas during daylight hours, and avoiding areas where prostitution and drug dealing might occur, can help ensure that travel to Mexico is safe and enjoyable.”
I find this to be excellent advice, and wholeheartedly commit to following it – in any locale I may find myself. Common sense, in general, is a useful tool to employ when making decisions. For example, I would use common sense if contemplating a family vacation to any of the following destinations currently saddled with government-issued advisories:
- Honduras (unstable political and security situation)
- China (unsavory swine flu quarantine measures)
- Gabon (dead president/pending elections/risk of violent uprising)
- Argentina (swine flu outbreak)
- “Hurricane Season” (bad weather could result in an unpleasant vacation…or worse)
My carefully considered reaction regarding travel to these other scarlet A-lerted destinations is a mixed bag. At the risk of sounding provincial, I admit I have never researched China or Gabon as a potential vacation spot, though perhaps I will do so in the future. I know many families who have traveled to Honduras, but concede it may be best to wait out the coup before towing your toddler to Tegucigalpa. Similarly, I will do everything within my power to avoid vacationing in the midst of a hurricane.
Argentina is a different story. If we are to be discouraged from traveling to a country simply because flu season is upon it, we should all pack our bags now. On Aug. 24, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology reported that swine flu could cause 90,000 US deaths this fall. If avoidance is the key to survival, maybe the answer is emigration to a country with no confirmed swine flu deaths. Bermuda, for example, may be a prime location to expatriate – if not for the unfortunate problem of “Hurricane Season.”
And so, selfishly, irresponsibly and with great excitement we flew to Mexico in June, straight into the epicenter of danger and disease – Cancun International Airport. After enduring a cursory cough check and lengthy customs line, we emerged into the sunny sea air and shuttled ourselves down the Yucatan Peninsula, through Playa del Carmen and into Tulum. As we marveled at the amazingly blue Caribbean, we managed not to worry about the drug deals and shoot outs that may or may not have been taking place along a different stretch of highway in some other part of the world.
For the next five cell phone- and e-mail-free days, we splashed in the surf, built sand castles and gave our daughter hours of pool time to reinforce her recently acquired swimming skills. We ate together, played together, left routine behind together and immersed ourselves in the culture together. Toddlers, perhaps more than anyone, can appreciate an impressive pile of blocks, and with her first glimpse of the Mayan ruins our awestruck daughter said, “Look, Mommy, somebody build that.”
There is a fine line between parenting responsibly and parenting fearfully. Unfortunately, we are so often bombarded by frightening news and information that we over predict the real threat of a situation and fail to make rational decisions. I am not suggesting it’s wise to wander through parenthood wearing a Pollyanna pantsuit, but neither should unfounded fears cause knee-jerk decisions that make life less rewarding.
In the end, my daughter’s fall out of bed was the worst thing that happened on our family vacation to Mexico. Of all the things that might have gone wrong, I’m afraid it was the one thing I had not even considered. -30-