They say you don't really know a person until you travel together, but is that true if the person is your mother?
I asked myself this on our recent trip to Arizona, our first mother-daughter vacation in almost 10 years. We had an amazing time and got along great, but I noticed some new quirks, beginning as soon as our first flight.
"Can you open the window?" she asked.
"Sure." I slid the shade up and squinted into the light. "Wow, you can see - "
"Nm-mm," my mother grunted, and I noticed she was shielding her eyes.
"Sorry, too bright?"
"No, I don't want to see how high we are. It scares me."
Now I squinted at her. "You asked me to open it."
"Yes, but I don't want to see!"
I know her, but do I understand her?
I wondered again by the pool in Scottsdale, when I lowered my sunglasses to see my mother approaching with what appeared to be a cloth napkin tied around her head.
"Perfect, huh?" She posed like a pirate beauty queen. "I went to the gift shop for something to cover my head, but then I realized, I could get this from the restaurant! It's just like a bandanna!"
"It's even more like a napkin." And I reminded her she had a ball cap in the bag.
"Nah, the brim blocks the sun." She settled down on the chair next to me, readjusting her bandanna-napkin.
I slid down behind my book.
Another of my mom's quirks is that she loves to order drinks, or "dwinks" when she's ready to party, but she hates the taste of alcohol. She always forgets this last part.
"Can I taste it?" She sipped my sauvignon blanc and grimaced. "So winey."
The only wine sweet enough for her is Lambrusco, an unusual, sparkling red, and when she asks for it, she tricks waiters into thinking she's a jaded oenophile. Most restaurants don't have it, so the waiter will suggest other esoteric options, using words like tannic and peaty.
I wanted to tell him she wants notes of "juice box." Do you have a juice box wine?
As the server left to bring a sample of a "jammy" pinot noir I knew she'd suffer through, I said, "You don't have to order a drink."
"Of course I do, we're on vacation!"
She had a point.
I was getting the hang of Vacation Mom, when I anticipated a problem. If a peek out an airplane window was too much for her vertigo, how was she going to enjoy the Grand Canyon?
The irony was that she'd planned the trip. The Grand Canyon was entirely her idea; she had even booked a guide to take us hiking into it.
I sat her down. "I'm worried about you. You need to mentally prep that it's going to be really, really huge, and you might get freaked out by the height."
She waved me off. "It'll be great, I just won't go on the high parts."
"Mom, I think the whole thing is a high part."
Cue the sound track to City Slickers.
But when the day came, my mom closed her eyes for much of the mountainous drive up (don't worry, she was in the backseat), yet remained in good spirits!
We arrived at the canyon, and the guide showed us to the top of the steep trail. Or at least he pointed to it from a safe distance, because my mom refused to get out of the car. I said I couldn't leave her in there like a dog, but she insisted: "You go. That's why I hired him. I want you to have a good time."
I was touched. And I realized how much of my mom's behavior was to make me happy: a good view from the window seat, fun drinks at dinner (OK, the napkin thing was just weird and I got nothing from that). She wouldn't let her quirks keep us from having an unforgettable vacation.
In the end, I made it less than 30 minutes down into the canyon before my own vertigo forced me to turn back. When I reemerged on the top, flat ground, there was no sweeter sight than my mom, bravely out of the car, trying to take a photo with a shaky hand while gripping - a good 10 yards from the gorge's edge - onto a signpost for dear life.
When she saw me, she broke into a grin, still clinging to the signpost like a koala. "How was it?"
I smiled. "Perfect."