Bubble Rap: Susie Lau on the Trials and Tribulations of Last-Minute Vacations

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he original plan for August was to run aground like a literal whale in her third trimester and not do much at all. I have unofficially campaigned for an august-off-off tradition to be instituted in this country. True to myself even though I have abandoned my own intentions. Who am I kidding? I have never failed anywhere for more than a few days. I don’t quite know how to take a vacation without doing anything. The buzz in my mind is always going, “But what can we DO/SEE and especially EAT?” I take 15 minutes to get comfortable on a lounge chair by the pool, then find the texture of the towel on the chair rubbing me the wrong way.

In keeping with my last minute dot com style for organizing trips, I concocted a Tetris game of a trip to Lake Garda. I’ve never been so good trying to cram in as much as I can, okay, even though I’m hanging out with what’s basically a heavy sack of potatoes on my front and overpacked luggage (anyone who can’t carry at hand that when traveling with children, I salute you). Five very different hotels. Five varied buffet breakfasts. Five scrambling tactics for optimal poolside seating. Eight days. Alone with my five-year-old daughter because my partner is away for work. We are currently girls (plus bump) on tour. I considered it very possible (touch some faux wood in my enchanted forest-themed hotel room in aging Gardaland theme park as I type this) the last time she and I go alone, as our family unit changes again with new additions to its co-parenting setup.

I imagined silly one-on-ones, parties in fancy masks, and consolidations of what I consider a slightly offbeat mother-daughter relationship. This has all happened so far as we are at hotel number three and every day is the ‘best day of my life’ for her as I have cleverly opted for family accommodation as opposed to places I Conde Nast Traveler might recommend.

In establishments where the cartoon mascots of the seaside resort come to smile at you at breakfast, you realize that the configuration of 2.4 children with a normative team-marking role assuming that the parents are very lively and widespread , whatever the statistics say. Dads gladly lift strollers and car seats, but are silent when ketchup is spilled on the table or sigh when their children don’t swim as well as they would like. Moms are changing five times a day to make the most of their highly pre-planned holiday wardrobe, as their daily routine doesn’t normally allow for mascara. Their Bugaboo strollers support the weight of their Louis Vuitton Neverfull (but obviously full) bags.

As you waddle through these solo environments with your girl in tow, an autopilot explanatory shield kicks in. My daughter knows it well. In the swimming pool, she will see a father playing with his children and she will let go: “My mother and my father decided that they were not happy together, so they are not living together.” Cue an exchange of embarrassed looks. At dinner, another of his specialties to share is going to families and explaining the concept of girlfriends and boyfriends, then giving me sideways looks in his sassy way and declaring that my mom/dad has a boyfriend/girlfriend. Look for puzzled looks from their parents and, depending on the age of their offspring, the occasional look of horror, because they haven’t had the “families without strong moms and dads” convo yet. Nico is basically here to distribute truth serum for the family setup.

As for me, because I generally hate polite chatter, I smile awkwardly, shrug, then bring her back to me with a warning TMI in Cantonese. Luckily we change hotels again during the day. Next year, a secluded villa in the middle of nowhere.

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