I just returned from our annual 4th of July family vacation in Florida (the Redneck Riviera!) on Tuesday, and let me tell you: Nothing gives you a clear picture of your own mortality quite like a family vacation.
It’s amazing. You’re sitting there with a group of people who kind of look like you, but they’re all at different stages of their lives– stages you either have already experienced or will experience shortly. My little 17-year-old brother is still in that phase where he’s trying to figure himself out. He listens to music at absurdly loud volumes in his car, sleeps past noon, and boasts about being able to get past the firewalls set up by his school and access Facebook in class.
I remember those days. We would drink Strawberry Boones Farm before school dances because we hated the taste of beer, but still wanted to be cool. I would blast Juvenile in the car on the way to school in the morning, and make faces and sarcastic comments behind my teacher’s back in class to cover up for the fact that I was probably getting an A. We were always trying to strike that balance between being cool, which, in high school, equals being bad, and performing at least well enough to get us into a decent college.
But being around my brother just makes me feel old. I have to ask him to please turn down the booming Lil’ Wayne music in his car, because shit, it’s 9 am, and my ears are not ready for loud music at 9 am. Every time I walk past him in the kitchen, he wants to fight or ninja wrestle or otherwise block my way to the toaster, and instead of fighting him back like I used to, I just whine and ask him to please not be so violent because I really don’t feel like going to work with a big bruise on my leg. Then I say to my Mom, “Mom, have you been letting him play too many violent video games? I’m not gonna let my kid play violent video games. Look what it does to their psyches.”
My middle brother, 24, is like a mini-me version of my Dad. He looks exactly like him, has the same sense of humor and facial expressions, and wears the same button-down fishing shirts with weird flaps everywhere. He goes to the same law school my Dad went to, is ridiculously picky about food like my Dad always was, and is a similar sports fanatic. When I look at him, it’s like I’ve traveled back in time to hang out with my Dad in his 20s, and then I look at my Dad and it’s like looking at a fast-forward version of my brother in 30 years. It’s like I stepped onto the set of that Benjamin Button movie. And THAT freaks me out.
But the weirdest to be around is my Mom, because she is the fast-forwarded version of me. We go out on the beach, and I lie out in the sun with no sunscreen because I really want to go back to D.C. with a great tan. My Mom sits in the shade and warns, “Don’t sit in the sun. Your face is going to get wrinkled like mine. Do you see my face? This is from years of doing what you’re doing right now. I wish I could go back to your age and put on sunscreen and sit in the shade.”
Then I defiantly lie out in the sun for like, one more minute, before submitting to her warning and throwing a towel on my burning legs and scooting back under the umbrella. “God dammit,” I tell her, “You are going to ruin my bronze glow with your sinister warnings.” But honestly, when the fast-fowarded version of you tells you she wishes she could go back to the age you are now and do something differently, how can you not do it? You have to do it. It’s the closest to time travel you can ever get.
I love family vacations, because it’s good to see your parents enjoying them so much and to know that, even 30 years from now, if all goes well, you are still going to be going to that beach house on the 4th of July and enjoying it with whoever your family is at that point. And you will look at your 27 year old kid and think, Man. Being 27 was fun, but I’m really happy to be out of that phase.