When the GPS took us through Royan to take the ferry across the estuary to arrive at Lacanau-Océan, we were a bit confused. Sir had mapped out the trip ahead of time, and fully expected to drive through Bordeaux. The GPS had us get off the autoroute early and head into the towns. So my husband thought, “Perhaps there’s a bridge I’m not aware of that’s going to bring us to our final destination.”
But all we got was a long, long line leading us to a port where there was a ferry. We had no idea if it was worth it (it’s not), what the price was (about 22€ just for the car alone), or how long the wait was, so we left and went back to the autoroute, turning the 7-hour trip into eight.
The GPS kept telling us to turn around. I mean it was so insistent it seemed like it had some kind of personality disorder. Even when we were back on the highway, it kept trying to get us to turn off the next exit and go around to the ferry. We joked about the GPS needing a “comments” function with “comedy” on optional. Come on – tell us how you really feel.
(In thug Brooklyn accent) “Make a U-Turn here. Here, you idiot. That’s what I keep trying to tell you. What, are you stoopid?”
(In sarcastic British accent) “You should have signaled earlier if you wanted to take the longer route by land. You know? One if by land; Two if by sea?”
(Plaintively) “This is just not the way I pictured it would be!”
I think that’s what makes a vacation difficult sometimes, when it’s not the way you pictured it. By the time we finally rolled out of the car at 7:30 PM (we had left at 9:30 that morning), a long dusk was just settling in. The air was a little cooler, though not much, the light just a little less brilliant, and these conditions were to last for a couple of hours more.
We got the key to our apartment and walked in to a hot, humid tiny 2-bedroom with the white tiled floors still streaked with hasty cleaning, and the thick brown polyester curtains hanging sloppily with missing hooks. The bedding was a polyester blend, which didn’t marry well with the hot, humid, stagnant air.
Alarmed, I looked over at Sir and said, “I’m going to go open the doors so we can get some fresh air in here.”
The air was not that fresh, and within four minutes we had five mosquitoes, so I was forced to entomb our apartment once again. We pulled down the third bed for Petit Prince, which left little room to walk without scraping our ankles on the other two bed frames.
Trying to contain my frustration, I said, “Let’s just go eat. There is only a half an hour left for the dinner.”
As we walked towards the restaurant (there was not enough room in the gite parking lot for our car, nor was there any more room outdoors for us to eat, which forced us back into the humidity of the dining room), I saw a kid about two years of age, wearing nothing but a sleeveless tee-shirt, a diaper and a pacifier, leaving the dining area and walking out into the parking lot.
I stood still for a minute, watching him toddle towards the busy street, waiting to see who would come running after him. No one did. So when he was about halfway there, I went to grab his hand and said, “Let’s go see where your mom and dad are.” He went willingly with me, sucking on his tétine (pacifier). I led him to the open patio and called out, “Does this kid belong to anyone?” Everyone just looked at me and then resumed eating. One person called out, “His mom might be indoors.”
I then led him to the inside restaurant and called out again, “Does this baby belong to anyone?” No one moved or said anything. I raised my eyebrows in exasperation and anger at such neglect, and was about to turn to go when a mother walked towards me with a half-smile.”He’s mine,” she said.
“Uh, he was almost on the street, just so you know,” I said. She nodded imperceptibly and went on her way, her kid in tow.
We went over to get our food, and I discovered that the starch was boiled wheat kernels – I’m not sure what this is called in English and can’t even remember if we eat this sort of thing in America. I knew this was not going to bode well for a gluten-free week.
Afterwards I sat on the bench watching the kids play on the dangerous wooden climbing set (dangerous for anyone Petit Prince’s age and younger). There were young kids climbing up, pushing each other, sliding down. I was already riled up and nervous by the neglected child, so it didn’t help matters to watch the older kids starting that basic dance of flirting (chasing each other and throwing sand at each other, hitting the younger kids at the same time).
I was also wondering where all the parents were? I mean, what kind of place are we in here? The sewage drain that collects all the riff-raff from around France? One of the moms came over and saw that her two-year old had been climbing the big slide instead of sticking to the little slide, and she whacked him on the butt. I thought, “Where have you been the last twenty minutes when you could have prevented him from going up, instead of just punishing him for going down?”
I also saw the mom of the escapee sitting there, comfortably on the park bench, watching her kid climb up (he seemed way too fragile for this playground as well). I quickly figured out that she was a single mom, and thought to myself, “ Is it really so hard to stand up and make sure he doesn’t fall off that tall wooden structure that’s clearly marked for kids, age 4 and older? Is it really so hard to keep an eye on your kid over dinner so that he doesn’t run into the street? You have one responsibility here. Just one!”
I can really be such a jerk sometimes.
We lay down for the night, freshly showered but lotion-slimy, on the polyester blend sheets. The windows were filled with condensation when we woke up, and we immediately started to air the rooms out in the fresh morning air. I felt another wave of frustration when two wasps started to hover persistently over our breakfast. But the coffee was passable, and it was a new day, so …
After eating I noticed the mom sitting on the park bench near the playground again while her child climbed up the ladder. Resolved, I approached her and said, “Good morning.”
I continued, “I’m sorry if I embarrassed you yesterday.” Tears threatened to prick the back of my eyes, but were held back by pride and social norms.
“You did the right thing,” she said, reserved and a bit timid. “I thought he had just gone over to the playground like he usually does.” We gave each other a brief smile and I continued walking. A cloud lifted and I felt better. Somehow, I think for me, gratitude doesn’t come when the circumstances change; it comes when the heart does.
We discovered that there was actually a supermarket open on a Sunday, which was quite astonishing really, and we managed to buy the last two fans that were for sale. We needed them anyway for the kids’ rooms at home, and had been meaning to buy some. We were both very glad to have found a solution to the stark conditions of our bungalow. After sweeping out the rooms of all the accumulated sand and mud, and installing the fans, everything seemed so much brighter. I don’t know why, but it makes me happier to play house on vacation than it does in my actual home. I might need to work on that.
It was hard going to climb it, and nothing prepared me for the beauty of the ocean this side of the Atlantic. The waves are huge in high-tide, the wind is steady, the sand is so fine, so white, and the beach stretches as far as you can see. “This is what we’re paying for,” my husband tells me, “the location and the season.” He was relieved to see me letting go of my frustration and trying to enjoy the one week we had. He feels responsible when I’m not happy, and that makes me want to get happy quick.
As we sat down for snack (in typical French fashion, lunch is at noon, and dinner is at 7:30, so snack is a must), Young Knight started to complain about whether or not we were ever going to be able to go to the pool.
Sir took him in hand and explained how much better it was to be grateful for each moment we have. Here we were on vacation! There is a kids club where you can play and learn to dance! We get to go to the ocean and the pool – how lucky we are!
He added, “It’s so much better to say, ‘Wow! Right after the snack I get to go swimming, and this morning I even got to see the ocean – all in one day!’ than it is to whine.” (And here he gave a pretty good impression of our middle child, who has an excellent nature but can be subject to the occasional whine).
I think gratitude also comes when we set our expectations right from the outset. It may not be perfect (oh, how we always hope for perfect when it comes to vacation), but it’s a change in rhythm, which is so needed – it’s a different outlook, different foods, a change of scenery, time off to ponder the deeper things in life …
Young Knight took this all in quietly, his mind turning over the concept of being grateful in the moment.
And then he said, “Is that all we’re getting for snack?”