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"You've got the sunscreen?" I asked my husband.
"No, you have it"
"I gave it to you," I told him gritting my teeth in my patience and understanding.
"You don't love us anymore, do you?" Bessie asked from her perch on the king-sized bed.
Willis and I looked at her. Bessie is very good at manipulating -- as are most children -- and we've been instructed to meet these attempts head-on.
"Yes, we love you," I said. "But that doesn't mean we can't take a vacation without you."
The look on her face was skeptical.
"We'll only be gone a little while," Willis said, which would have earned him a frown from Anne, our family therapist.
You'll be with your grandmother and your brother and sister and all the dogs and cats and you'll have a wonderful time. And we have the right to go on a vacation. We're grown-ups," I said.
She scurried off the bed and headed for the door. "Well, I hope you have a wonderful time. And don't worry about us." She sighed. "We'll be just fine."
She left, and Willis and I looked at each other. "We can't go," I said.
"Yes we can," he said.
"If we go we're terrible parents."
"If we don't go, we'll end up killing one of them. Then what kind of parents will we be?"
The thought of a long-term jail sentence was almost as appealing as the upcoming vacation. They both had their pros and cons. Excuse the pun.
The vacation had been my mother's idea -- concocted a couple of months before at Christmas. My mother is the proud parent of four daughters who rarely speak to each other and have very little in common. Therefore she thought it would be a marvelous idea for the four of us and our spouses to spend "quality" time together somewhere where none of us could run away.
Preferably an island.
My brother-in-law Arlan -- the Toad, as Willis and I not so affectionately call him -- came up with St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. This he told my mother, who told me, and each of the other sisters in turn.
Although Willis and I have been able to plead poverty in the past when any kind of family adventure had cow up, I'd made the unfortunate mistake of telling my mother about our daughter Bessie's birth grandmother's legacy to us of $85,000. Most of it was gone now, but there was enough left for this little jaunt.
Why a family of redheaded women would want to spend any time on a tropical island is beyond me, but that's Arlan for you. Full of big ideas that never make a lot of sense.
But somehow my mother had cajoled us all into it, and now here Willis and I were, packing and deserting our three children.
"There it is," Willis said, pointing triumphantly at the SPF 50 sunscreen in my carry-on bag.
"I should have bought more than one tube," I said.
"Do you think it's possible that they might actually sell sunscreen on an island?" Willis tries for sarcasm, but I find bun generally lacking in tone and quality.
"Maybe we can run by the drugstore on our way out of town," I suggested.
Willis looked at his watch. "It is now 9:03 A.M. Your parents expect us in Houston for lunch at twelve noon sharp. If we don't get out of this house in twelve minutes, we will be totally off schedule. I don't see any way we can make an unscheduled stop at the drugstore."
Don't ever marry an engineer -- unless you are attracted to anal retentive behavior.
"I can't leave the house in twelve minutes," I said.
"EJ., you will," my husband declared.
"I don't have the cats' stuff together"
"Graham's doing that."
"Oh, like he'll do it right! And I forgot to stop the paper-"
"I called them yesterday."
"Will be picked up by Luna next door. You told me that yourself. "
"Yeah, but what if she forgets?"
Willis threw a pair of underpants at me. "Pack this and shut up."
I sighed. I packed.
Somewhere along the way my mother picked up her own unique parenting skills. One of these was to endow each of her four daughters as special in some way. Elizabeth, the oldest, was the talented one. Nadine, the next, was the kind and nurturing one, Cheryl was the pretty one, and I was the smart one. All this did, of course, was tell us what we were not. Liz, Nadine, and I weren't pretty; Cheryl was stupid, unkind, and talentless.
The truly unfortunate part of this was Mother had a point -- although this is arguably a chicken versus egg situation. Liz is now the director of a small theater company in Houston, while Nadine is a registered nurse who has worked in OB/GYN at Houston's Ben Taub Hospital for fourteen years, and Cheryl, like it or not, is pretty. Very pretty. And Liz, Nadine, and I have hated her for as long as she or we have been around. Okay, I made straight "A"s in high school and carried a 3.9 GPA throughout college. But again, that could have been environmental.
Liz and Nadine are two years apart and became friends early in life. Cheryl is four years younger than Nadine and I'm a year younger than Cheryl. It was mother's plan that Cheryl and I, like Liz and Nadine before us, be close friends as well as loving sisters.
Mother is the queen of organization and accessorizing. Not only does she have shoes and purses for every outfit, but when I was younger and she smoked, she had a cigarette case and lighter case to match every change of clothes...