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SANDY BANKS

Almost Paradise: A Family's Second Chance to Revel in the Splendors of Hawaii

August 20, 2000|SANDY BANKS

By the time you read this, I should be lounging on a beach in Maui, an ocean away from the insufferable heat, perpetually barking dogs, insufferable heat, hordes of visiting relatives, insufferable heat, busy schedules that have marked my summer thus far.

And did I mention the insufferable heat?

I'm not prepared yet to presume I'll be relaxing. Any vacation that involves one mom and three kids sharing a one-bedroom condo for a week, with no Nickelodeon or MTV, on a budget that precludes just about any activity other than lying on the beach, is full of possibilities for disaster.

But, hey, it's Hawaii. How bad can it be?

*

This won't be our first trip to Hawaii, though the last one was so long ago, none of my children can even recall it. My late husband and I visited Maui 10 years ago with two kids in tow--a 5-year-old and a 1-year-old--when I was six months pregnant with baby No. 3.

Don't ask me what we were thinking. It was a desperation trip, of sorts. We figured that we'd never again have the money or the energy to travel, that it would be fun to visit paradise with our two little kids.

We were right about the first, wrong about the second.

If it was fun for the kids, they don't remember. And while it may have been pleasant enough for my husband, since he managed to fit in early-morning runs on the beach, ocean swims, pina coladas on the veranda, all of that was off-limits for me. So I spent most days squatting on the floor in arts-and-crafts classes with my 5-year-old. It was called Kid's Club by the hotel, but my daughter was too shy to go alone. So we learned to make leis from plumeria blossoms, fashion wind chimes from puka shells, weave grass skirts and dance the hula . . . though in my case, it was more like a grass blanket. My girth made me so ungainly, the teacher mistook my swaying hips for the start of labor contractions, alarming my daughter so much that she left the class in tears.

I did get to spend some time on the beach, most of it hunched over chasing my 1-year-old, who seemed determined to drown herself by dashing into ocean waves so rough that red warning flags lined the beach like sentries each day.

Because our hotel was overbooked, we'd been upgraded from a ground-floor room to a penthouse suite . . . good news if we'd been honeymooners, as everyone around us seemed to be. Relax, enjoy the balmy breeze, the gorgeous sunset, the ocean view. . . . Fat chance, when you're saddled with a toddler who must be kept on lock-down inside because her sole ambition is to squeeze through the balcony's iron railing and fling herself to the concrete patio seven floors below.

Despite our best intentions, we did few of the typical tourist things. We turned back along the road to Hana; an hour spent battling nausea on that winding road, with a baby screaming in the back seat, was all I could take of scenic beauty. We gave up snorkeling during our first lesson, when our 5-year-old actually spotted a fish underwater and was so frightened by the sight that she wouldn't go back in.

And as I sat on the beach watching my girls make sandcastles and my husband swim through the blue-green waves, I realized we could have saved a couple thousand dollars and 12 hours spent crowded into three seats on a packed airplane if we'd simply rented a place on the beach in San Diego.

Because from our vantage point on that vacation, Hawaii wasn't much different than Mission Bay.

*

This time I'm hoping our trip will be better . . . more exotic, less taxing, more fun.

In some ways, this is the same sort of desperation venture as last time around. My daughters have spent years listening wistfully to their friends recount their fun-filled Hawaiian vacations. And all they've had to offer up were tales from our annual treks to see the relatives back in Ohio.

"One year, we'll take a real vacation." I've been promising them that for years. But it wasn't until my daughter was hired for her first job this summer that I realized how quickly my girls are growing up; that it won't be long before this 15-year-old has no time for us, no longer thinks a trip with her mom and little sisters qualifies as vacation fun.

So when my income-tax refund arrived in the mail this summer, I allowed myself to fantasize about frittering it away . . . spending it on a week in Hawaii, instead of home repairs or tuition payments.

And the bank teller must have been reading my mind when I went to cash it. "So, what are you gonna do with this windfall?" he joked.

"Oh, I've got a lot of bills to pay," I said. "Or I could blow it on a trip to Hawaii."

His face softened and his eyes grew wistful. "I went to Hawaii once," he said. "Twenty years ago, when I was 12." He was silent for a moment, as he tallied my account.

"It was the most fun I ever had, the best week my family ever spent," he said, speaking so softly, I wasn't sure if he was talking to me anymore. "It was something I'll never forget."

I thanked him, tucked my money in my purse and headed home to call a travel agent.

The bills can wait. Hawaii, here we come. We're off to make some memories.

*

Sandy Banks' column is published on Sundays and Tuesdays. Her e-mail address is sandy.banks@latimes.com.

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