Prompted by finding an old photo of my children in front of the Alamo, I recently recaptured the details of that “Shit-Show in San Antonio” in a funny Facebook post, to honor my dear friend Robin on her birthday.
That’s right. I didn’t send her a gift, so my literary stroll down Memory Lane was the cheapskate’s way out, although I’m betting she still liked it more than a new pair of socks. Okay, more than a new pair of socks, but less than a gift card to Lululemon.
To get the words flowing on the blank screen, I first needed to pinpoint what year this madcap road trip took place. Nothing was written on the back of the photo. Thankfully the familiar outline of the Alamo itself was in the background, so I could at least be certain of where we were.
My mother tried to be organized about writing dates and names on the back of photographs. Only when a photograph seemed significant was this rule ignored. Indeed, you can be sure that if there was a snapshot of my dad on the riding lawnmower, the back of the photo would read “Dad on the riding lawnmower.” But if you had no idea who the person was in an old photograph, or where it was taken, or what special event the photo was intended to capture, you’d probably be SOL.
Thankfully, my memory is still intact enough to recognize most of the subjects and circumstances in photos taken during my lifetime. Which is good, because I rarely write any helpful information on the back, being equal parts eager to believe my memory will stay sharp as a tack forever, and lazy. Seriously though, three kids combined with the advent of digital cameras and iPhones lead to way too many photos to thoroughly document.
My first daughter’s scrapbook contains more details than anyone really wants to know, and then all documentation abruptly drops off, almost to the day my second daughter arrived a mere 19 months later. We’ve been wingin it ever since.
Back to the Alamo photo. I tried eyeball-estimating sizes and ages to discern when this trip occurred. But the moment I asked myself this question, the rest of the details fell into place like a toddler’s jigsaw puzzle: was this before or after Mom’s death? Mom’s passing was a giant dividing line if you broke my life down into segments. Just like BC and AD, I guess you could say my life was MA or MD, Mother Alive or Mother Deceased.
I quickly answered my own question: This trip took place before Mom’s death. Believe me, I wasn’t taking my kids on any glorious road trips to the San Antonio Riverwalk with hilarious gal pals and their kids for a long, swampy stretch after losing my Mom. Life was more like day after day of Operation: Keep Your Head Above Water.
Once everything had been put into context, I was able to clearly recall that this road trip had taken place in March of 2003, during Marin’s Spring Break week from Kindergarten. I instantly remembered that a few days after we returned, my Mom arrived for a visit at our home in Austin.
I inherited my fondness for road trips from both of my parents. Even at 81 years of age, Mom loved to take her old Cadillac out on the open road and drive it, over 250 miles from her home in Shreveport, to visit us. This would be her final visit to our home in Austin, although we had no idea of that at the time.
Fifteen years later, it intrigues me me to note how her death still affects me in so many random ways. For example, the Alamo photo…how non-related calendar events are suddenly redefined, all according to the way a disastrous event unfolded later in that same year. I had to pause and reflect on her last visit to Austin after finding that Alamo photo and realizing it’s significance. How I wished I could have known it was her last visit ever. Of course we’re not supposed to know these things. I’m sure, had I known, it would have driven her crazy. I probably wouldn’t have let her out of my sight long enough to even take a shower.
It’s like the theme of this blog: With motherloss, you never get over it, but you somehow get on with it. Somehow, I was able to sit at my computer and type prolifically, despite the weighty reminder of how that San Antonio girls’ trip essentially marked the beginning of a long list of “Lasts.” I have no choice but to get on with it. Out of the ashes rose a pretty cool phoenix.
So, without further ado,
The Shit-Show in San Antonio
Back in 2003, Robin and I came up with the great idea of taking our combined pack of young, energetic children on an overnight trip to San Antonio. This was back in the day when any sort of adventure was exciting to them, never balking at visiting a destination that was beach-less or not in Europe, or, God forbid, deemed “educational.” John and Guy were both out of town, so we decided, even though our girls were all under six years of age, that we could tackle this unassisted. If memory serves, Theresa Young was supposed to join us, driving up from Corpus Christi with her son. Halfway into her road trip, Theresa telephoned us, reporting that she needed to turn her car around and head back home, as her son had just projectile vomited all over the back seat.
This set the tone for the trip.
After checking into our hotel on the San Antonio Riverwalk, it took our girls approximately ten minutes of feverishly jumping on the beds and playing hide and seek to ransack the hotel room. Time to round up these boisterous puppies and take them out for a walk.
That’s all good in theory, until we get out onto the Riverwalk itself. If you’ve never been, you should definitely go. Without young children. The San Antonio Riverwalk is absolutely charming, one of my most favorite places in Texas to visit. But with five curious youngsters running amok, it was losing it’s charm by the second. Make that four youngsters…hellbent toddler Kyra was belted into her stroller with no hope of extricating herself. Captive but as curious as the mobile children, she howled and squirmed in frustration since she couldn’t roam with the pack. Nearby couples, sharing romantic interludes, glanced at us and re-evaluated their futures. We just knew. We could sense it.
I mean, you would think this precarious situation would have occurred to us. A meandering, paved waterway with no protective barriers, combined with five foolhardy children interrupting our futile attempts at adult conversation. Really? It photographs perfectly for travel blogs, but it is the exact opposite of practical. Miraculously, Robin and I have never tumbled into this river after overindulging, so I guess we figured our kids wouldn’t either. At any rate, the walk lasted four minutes, but at least no one fell in.
We knew we were running out of options. We decided it was time to join the ranks of the elderly and eat an early dinner. We were determined to find a restaurant that would at least serve us margaritas. Preferably in a goblet the size of a small goldfish bowl. We had earned the right.
We soon found a delicious TexMex establishment that was brave enough to seat all seven of us, but dinner turned out to be another failed attempt at a leisurely endeavor. Our kids had more refried beans smeared in their hair and on their clothing than in their stomachs. The tortilla chip basket looked as if it had recently contained an explosive. A foraging dog could have made a meal of the shredded cheese and ground beef deposited on the floor beneath our table. Robin and I had barely been able to finish our second margarita. (Hey, we weren’t driving, okay? Probably that was why we chose this damn destination in the first place!)
After inhaling our meal and slurping our Liquid Patience as quickly as we could, it was time for the “Jewel Heist” segment of restaurant dining with young children: taking care of the check. Not to imply one walks the check, but rather the process must be done as quickly and efficiently as possible before all Hell breaks even more loose-er.
Robin is put in charge of handling the check, we will divvy it up later. Like a seasoned insurance adjuster, Robin needs time to survey the damage and determine the amount of restitution. Time to award our server at least a 40% gratuity, which, if you saw the state of our table, could technically be considered stiffing her. My role is to border collie the five children away to the restroom so Robin can concentrate. This side trip to the Ladies Room presents itself as yet another Disneyland of entertainment to our exuberant children, what with the plethora of bathroom stalls with swinging doors, the toilet seats and floors that mothers get all agitated about, frantically warning not to touch, and of course all the loud fans with which to blowdry one’s freshly-washed hands.
Speaking of, I think the girls had pressed the “On” buttons on all of the air dryers and were giggling hysterically at how the cavernous bathroom sounded like the inside of a jet engine, when a lovely, older Hispanic woman approached me and cautiously asked, “Are these all yours?”
And, interestingly, Robin and I figured later, we can see why she might have thought that. All five had brown, straight hair, like mine, and from their orderly descending heights, it could have appeared that, had I been impressively fertile, unfamiliar with birth control, and able to faithfully restrict my alcohol consumption for over half a decade, Marin could have been my oldest, Zoe and Camille could have been my twins, followed immediately by Catherine, then Kyra.
“Oh God, no,” I emphatically replied, laughing, but with a slight twitch. “I’m traveling with my friend, and she’s at the table paying the bill. A couple of these are hers!”
“Ahhh,” the women replied, winking conspiratorially. “That’s good. I was about to go light a candle for you.”