One benefit of Foreign Service life is that, depending on where you live, you may be entitled to a complimentary R&R (Rest & Recuperation) plane ticket for you and any Eligible Family Members that have accompanied you to post. It’s unpaid time for which you must use your personally accrued vacation allowance, but the plane ticket is free. And coming out of Guadalajara, that’s a sweet deal in and of itself.
When we started planning home leave several months ago, we found ourselves facing a dilemma: Should we go our separate ways to visit our individual families, whom we have not seen in over a year (planning began prior to mom's little medical scare), or just blow them off entirely and take a fun trip together?
We ultimately decided to do both, and planned a two-week vacation that would find us spending a week with my family and a second week adventuring by ourselves. We decided to save TJ’s family for Home Leave, the mandatory one month leave of absence that immediately follows our departure from Guadalajara in late 2012.
For the family portion of the trip, it was absolutely essential that we come up with a solution that allowed us to spend quality time with my parents without having to be in Texas. No offense to my many Texas friends. It's just not my bag, baby.
Having spoken to dad about our cruise in November, it had become clear that he would love to partake in such an adventure one day. The sticking point was my mom, who has an irrational fear of most modes of transportation. This has unfortunately resulted in them not being able to visit us in DC or Guadalajara, both of which are too far to consider driving to. Well, Mexico also has that whole drug violence thing going for it that they can't seem to get past.
Still, it was important for me that my parents visit us in Mexico in some capacity. I also wanted my dad to have his chance to go on a cruise. With these things in mind, TJ and I concocted a tiny white lie in which we told my parents that we had already booked a 5-day Western Caribbean cruise to Progreso and Cozumel for the four of us. After doing the requisite research to determine that we would, in fact, be unable to cancel our phony cruise, mom decided to simply bite her tongue and look forward to it...leaving us free to actually book the cruise.
And, man oh man, am I glad we did.
Mom, despite her fears, arrived in a Dramamine stupor ready to give it her best effort. Dad, the only one of the bunch that can't swim, and therefore the one that should have been afraid, was raring to go. Apparently, it was all he could talk about in the weeks leading up to departure. And TJ and I were just praying for no family squabbles.
They weren't up for excursions, and I can't say as I blame them. We didn't book any for our first cruise, either. And for folks that don't normally take big vacations, getting on a boat in one country and finding yourself in another a couple of days later is adventure enough.
TJ and I had planned a trip to Chichen Itza for our day in Progreso (next time...on Adventures by Aaron!), but the rest of the time was intended for simple, relaxing, family time.
Let me tell you, I am SO proud of my parents. They really let loose and stepped out of their comfort zones on this one.
They became good friends with the casino (not surprising, as they are prone to the occasional weekend gambling getaway), and mom even walked away $1300 richer. But that's not all they did.
They read by the pool. They people watched on deck. They went to the evening shows. They tried new foods, things they never thought they would like, and went back for seconds. They set foot on foreign soil and went shopping like it was no big deal (tip for you hodophobics out there ...it's really not a big deal). They enjoyed themselves so much they said they might even do it again some day.
But most important of all...they got a little tipsy (ok, plastered) and had a real, meaningful conversation with their son and his partner.
Now don't get me wrong, they've known TJ for years. And everyone has always managed to carry on polite conversation. But it felt forced. Perfunctory. And if we're being honest, it's possible that all parties were to blame, myself included.
But sitting there, drinking Greyhounds and Blue Margaritas, listening to a Korean man awkwardly croon out old country-western songs...it felt like everything finally clicked.
I was no longer the son that came out of the closet and turned their world upside down.
They were no longer the parents that I resented for letting the world turn upside down.
TJ was no longer the painful reminder that there would be no daughter-in-law.
We were just...family. I talked about how happy I was to finally be in a position to pay them back, in some small way, for all they had done for me over the years. TJ over-bragged about my contributions at work. Dad told me that he is proud of me. Mom even talked about wanting us to give them grandchildren.
Everyone boarded the boat on April 9th worried about one thing or another, but left the boat five days later looking forward to the next family vacation.
That just goes to show...we all need to get a little liquored up with family every now and again.