Racing Car Red

At midnight, the boys and I got our bags from a slow baggage claim while my husband went to get the car. When he texted that he was on his way, we went outside, and within seconds our thirteen year old shouted, “Here he comes!”

Faster than expected.

I looked into the darkness outside the garage but didn’t see him. “Are you sure?”

“It’s the only minivan in Colorado that goes 90 miles an hour.”

Family humming of Raiders of the Lost Ark commenced, as if we all knew what was called for.

Why We Need Our Dog

We were standing at the edge of the water, the sun splashing itself against the curling waves so that the water itself sparkled. My thirteen year old son, whose freckles reappeared after a few days on the beach and whose blue eyes match the turquoise sea, leaned into me. “I don’t want to leave.”

“Me neither,” I answered with my arm around him.

“It was an awesome week.”

And we took a few last moments watching the sea together.

Two hours later, having packed up and showered, our nine year old and I sat on the Harbour island dock with our bags while my husband went back to get the older boys and lock up the golf cart. Our son wore a Kansas City Chiefs baseball hat and a fluorescent green t-shirt from last summer’s swim team. His red fox neck pillow was wrapped around his neck.

“You guys are so much fun to travel with,” I told him and couldn’t help but kiss him on the nose.

He smiled, “You and Dad are fun to travel with too.”

And when we were all together, having made our connecting flight, but nostalgic for the day we arrived eight days ago, our fourteen year old reminded us that home is not so bad, because…

“I can’t wait to see the puppy.”

The puppy who is no longer a puppy. “Poor puppy,” the boys added and were suddenly ready for vacation’s end.

 

Heard on a Plane

On a recent flight from Denver to DC, the pilot’s voice came over the loudspeaker, while we were still at the gate an hour after our original departure time.

“So the reason you see us all standing around doing nothing is that they are just now loading your bags on the plane. And my guess is that you all need some clothes wherever you are going. So we have to wait.”

Did he just say that?

“And I am just as sorry as you are that I am yet again apologizing for the airline.”

For real. He said that.

Under the Eye of the Fox

My eight year old loves foxes. So on a trip at the start of summer, as we approached our Frontier Airlines gate, he was thrilled.

“My first time with a fox on the tail!”

But our gate had changed. We were flying on Mickey the Moose’s plane.

Later, as we suffered through a white-knuckle descent in windy skies over Washington, DC, he looked out the window. “It looks like the wings are going to brake off.” Pause. “Mom, if we crash, and I survive, you know what I’m going to say?”

“What?”

“I knew we should have flown the fox’s plane.”

Attack of the Vacation Beasts

It is a good thing that all went well in March 2013, while on safari in South Africa. I have bad luck with vacation animals, and that was the only recent trip where the beasts were not on the attack even when our jeep got stuck a few yards from an alpha lion and his fiercer looking ladies.

Phew.

On other trips, however, there were the all-night partying roosters who never learned to wait for sunrise.

The pack of chickens, led by Geraldine, who chased me through the barn, pecking at my calves because I had not brought them grapes.

The toad that made our dog vomit five times after going after “frog’s legs” for an appetizer.

The crazy swans who swarmed every time we went near the water, sending the kids into high-decibel shrieks and the Puritans in neighboring lake homes wishing we had never come.

And now, falling asleep each night, is it the swans or the frogs honking?

I miss our dog. She may roam the halls, nails clicking on hardwood floors like an alarm clock we do not need to set, but she sleeps through the night and doesn’t bite when she is hungry.

 

South Africa: The World is Small, and Yet…

On the third day, I slept. But not for long. There are too many “firsts” to experience. And this is a country so complex that I know I cannot ask enough questions to understand it. I will only be here for 11 days.

I am on the African continent for the first time. South Africa. I see the Southern Cross for the first time in the night sky, near Orion’s belt. A baboon crossing the street. Shining a flashlight into the darkness, face to face with a tired giraffe, who rolls her eyes like a teenager before rising out of the grass for a quieter spot. Ducking below the roll-bar on a Land Rover tipping dangerously only feet from a curious male lion. Sitting in a pool with a cold glass of chardonnay, watching a family of warthogs at a watering hole below in the brush. Then a family of moneys. A wildebeest. They seem to have a schedule by species.

We are on safari near Kruger National Park. Driving along the highway from Johannesburg to the Lodge, I feel tricked into thinking South Africa is just like home. The acres of cornfields could be Nebraska. Cows. A McDonalds near the highway. Lays Salt and Vinegar potato chips at the rest stop. Sprite.

And when we ask our driver about life in South Africa, his words could be those of someone in the U.S. He is patriotic. His country is a melting pot of colors and 17 languages. He feels conflicted about Affirmative Action. He talks about failing schools that are overcrowded with too many kids who are not learning to read. He complains about the unions. He worries about the growing gap between the rich and poor. He claims that South Africa’s reputation for crime is overblown. He is concerned about a constant flow of immigrants looking for jobs where the unemployment rate is already nearly 30 percent.

Yet he wouldn’t live anywhere else. He says the people are leaving the horrors of Apartheid behind. It is a beautiful country. There is forgiveness.

But he is too young to remember Apartheid. He is white.

You drive past the townships with closet-size shacks made of scrap metal clustered together in a field of dirt. You hear later about HIV rates of 70 percent, 50 percent of the school children. Many have to choose between food and uniforms, because while the government will waive school fees, it will not cover the cost of required school uniforms.

If I asked the barber braiding hair in the township to describe his life in this country, would he speak of patriotism and the beauty of the countryside? Or the grandmother who opens her home to “29 or 35” children in need of a safe haven? Or the couples who disappear, abandoning their children, when the signs of AIDS first appear because the stigma is still so great? Have they climbed to the top of Table Mountain and seen how the cliffs meet the ocean? Have they witnessed the ostriches at the Cape of Good Hope?

Nearly 20 years after Apartheid, I realize that I was only a few years younger than our driver when the U.S. was at a similar point in its history post-desegregation. And I will never comprehend fully what that time was like in my country. The extreme poverty and contrast in communities here remind me how close they are to their past.

Then as I try to understand something I cannot, because I am only a tourist, a rhino with no horn steps out from the brush.

I am a long way from home.