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Sandy Banks

How Can a Tropical Paradise Compete With Hip-Hop, Pizza and the Telephone?

September 10, 2000|Sandy Banks

The tan that turned my brown skin the color of a walnut is fading, peeling off in flakes and patches. It's all I have left of our week in Hawaii--save the vacation bills that have yet to arrive--and I hate to see my island girl persona vanishing before my eyes.

I could tell you we had a great vacation, packed with the typical tourist delights. My daughters and I para-sailed over the Pacific Ocean; snorkeled in clear, blue water teeming with tropical fish; learned to string leis, do the hula and surf.

But we also learned that we are not the adventurers we fancied ourselves to be; that eight days-seven nights can be exhausting when you're duty-bound to havefun; that even a vacation in paradise can sometimes seem interminably long.

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We had barely hit the tarmac at Maui airport before my children starting trying to turn the island into something approximating home, scrambling for touchstones to tie them to familiar things they'd left behind.

So we drove the seaside Honoapiilani Highway in our rented convertible with hip-hop music ("Ex-treme radio, 104") blaring, drowning out the sound of ocean waves. And we had our first island lunch at a McDonald's that offered teriyaki instead of Cajun Chicken, with steamed rice, in lieu of French fries, on the side.

That first night, my girls discovered Nickelodeon on the condo's cable TV. The next day, they declared the local pizza almost as good as our neighborhood Ameci's. By our third day on the beach, they had decided that while Maui's ocean was delightfully warm, its waves were too unpredictable and the soft sand of its beaches annoyingly . . . well, sandy.

By day four, we were beginning to get on each other's nerves. What do you do when two kids want to snorkel and one will have nothing to do with fish? Am I crazy to spend $160 on a luau for four, when three of those will eat nothing more exotic than macaroni and cheese? How do I enjoy a moonlit walk on the beach, when I have to carry a 9-year-old who keeps imagining that sea creatures are crawling across her feet? And why does shopping for souvenirs have to be on each day's agenda?

By day six, I was broke and getting grouchy, feeling like one more query of, "So, what are we going to do today?" just might send me over the edge. My girls were moping and pining for home. The oldest missed her friends, the middle one missed the dogs, the little one missed her privacy.

And I was wondering why I'd spent thousands of dollars on an oceanfront room, only to listen to my teenager complain that the ambience intruded on her conversations with friends back home: "I can hardly hear you," my daughter kept yelling into the phone. "It's these ocean waves. They're right outside our room . . . and they're, like, so loud!"

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I suppose I could have anticipated this if I'd read the accounts of family vacations that readers e-mailed to me while I was gone.

Like the warning from Gloria Mathys, whose 13-year-old granddaughter spent the better part of her family's Hawaiian vacation writing to her friends back home.

"I'm keeping my fingers crossed for your vacation to be all you've hoped for, but after the past two weeks [hosting] visiting relatives--including a 16-year-old girl--you may be in for a surprise," she wrote. "Our visitor spent the largest portion of her time writing to her boyfriend. As her father said the first night, 'What can she be writing? We haven't done anything yet!' "

I don't know what my children will recall of this long-anticipated vacation of a lifetime. I imagine they'll remember the exhilaration of learning to surf, the magical sight of a baby turtle swimming alongside them in the sea, the dazzle of Polynesian dancers and the comic fun of the hotel luau.

Maybe it is true, as reader Barbara Peckenpaugh told me, that the images will get sweeter over time. "No matter what, you are building memories for your girls, and 10 or 20 years from now, they will be sitting around with you and their families reminiscing about 'that trip to Hawaii.' "

By then, I suppose, I will have forgotten the rain that dampened our arrival, and remember the rainbow at sunrise instead. I won't be worrying about the cost of my car rental upgrade, but recalling how cool we felt riding top down, sunglasses on, hair blowing in the wind.

I won't remember how it frightened me to see my girls buried by a giant ocean wave, but how it heartened me to see them emerge together, holding tight to one another, big sisters leading the little one to shore.

I'll recall not long days, but quiet nights, when my children slept and I sat in the dark on our balcony, contemplating the ocean's majesty. And I'll remember how good it felt to come home, how much we missed the ordinary, how desperately we sought to restore the routine. The oldest rushed upstairs to check her phone messages, the middle one climbed into bed with the dogs, the little one shut herself up in her room.

And I went out back to the patio and sat in silence surveying the stars. Around my neck hung my lone souvenir--a flower lei I'd grabbed from an airport vendor. I held it to my nose and sniffed, but already, just six hours out of Hawaii, I could draw only the barest whiff of the island scent from its fading plumeria blossoms.

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

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