I live 3,000 miles away from my mother. It’s not by design; I just happened to marry a guy from L.A., and I happen to like L.A. better than New York, or D.C., or any of the other cities where people from the east coast go to live after they get out of school, and so, twelve years ago, I decided to move. At the time, it didn’t seem like a big deal. I could call my mom just as easily from L.A. as I could from New York, and if I wanted to go home for a weekend, or a holiday, I could get on a plane, pop a sleeping pill and be back in Philly before I knew it.
Of course, I wasn’t thinking about my future, unborn children when I made the decision to move to the other side of the country. I wasn’t thinking about how I might need the extra help that only one’s mother can provide. I wasn’t thinking about who would babysit if Michael and I ever went away for a weekend, or who would pick the kids up from school when Michael was out of town for work and I was in bed with my semi-annual case of strep throat. I wasn’t thinking about having to make matzoh balls for Passover by myself (honestly, don’t even ask). And God knows, I wasn’t thinking about what it would be like to fly across the country on a holiday weekend with two kids under the age of five.
But such is life, I guess; all of the choices we make affect our future lives, which is why I am boarding a plane with my kids in a few days and flying off to enjoy a long weekend in sunny, Boynton Beach, Florida. People from the east coast might go to New York or D.C. or Philadelphia after college, but when they retire, there is only one destination, and that is Florida (pronounced Flah-rida, if you want be authentic about it.) My mother moved there about seven years ago, into an “active seniors” community, where she had her choice of one of three, single-story home models with optional upgrades, complete with a clubhouse and its own lanai. If you don’t speak Florida, this means that she moved into a housing development for old people who are still agile enough to play tennis, but who eventually won’t be able to walk up any stairs, that things like built-in wall units, marble floors and recessed ceilings cost extra, that there is a central meeting place showcasing acts that nobody under the age of seventy has ever heard of, and that each house has it’s own screened-in patio so that you can sit outside without getting eaten alive by mosquitoes the size of frogs. My kids can’t wait.
Visiting grandchildren are a prized commodity in Florida; the more you have, the more jealous your old-but-still-agile friends are, and so once a year, I suck it up and schlep the kids halfway across the world so that my mother can at least place in the competition. Michael, of course, is “too busy at work” to accompany us, so I have the added bonus of getting to fly halfway across the world with two kids all by myself, which is always a thrill.
From the minute I get off the plane, I am greeted by name wherever I go, by people I’ve never seen before in my life. The neighbors. The waitress at the deli. The checkout guy at the grocery store. The gas station attendant. Ah, this must be Risa, they say to me. How’s the new book coming? Still blocked? And here’s Harper and Davis, look how cute! I swear, anywhere else I would be totally freaked out that complete strangers know so much about me and my kids, but in Flah-rida, all bets are off. Old-but-still agile people have nothing else to talk about besides their offspring, and it doesn’t help that my mother and my step-father walk around in t-shirts with giant pictures of my kids on them that say Nana loves Harper and Davis, and Pop-Pop loves Harper and Davis. And when they’re not wearing those, they wear ones with my picture on them that say Risa Green, Author in giant block letters. And no, I’m not joking.
But when we’re in Florida, oddness aside, we do have fun. It’s fun to go to my mom’s house and to show my kids my old baby book, and the video from my Bat Mitzvah. It’s fun for them to just hang out with their grandparents and play games and go swimming and watch movies and stay up late, without having to rush off to school or do homework or go to art class, which is always how it is when my mom comes to visit us. My mother also stockpiles crappy little plastic toys, and its fun for the kids to wake up every morning and get to pick one from the crappy plastic toy closet.
So we’re going to Flah-rida this week. It’s a pain in the butt, and I’ll be honest, sometimes I regret making the choice to move to Los Angeles (although not usually during the winter). The truth is, it would be a hell of a lot easier for everyone if my mom and I lived in the same place. But we don’t. So I’ll be nice to all of the strangers who seem to know me, I’ll tolerate the giant mosquitoes, and I’ll listen to my mother obsess over which neighbors have more upgrades, who has the biggest lanai, and whose grandchildren come to visit every weekend. And in between, we’ll actually have fun.