There are few things I tolerate more dearly than my family. They have, after all, raised me from an infant to a child. At which point, according to them, my development stopped. The biggest changes after that came at the age of 18, when I began to drink, and at the age of 21, when I moved out. I simply became a child who drank and lived in the city. How does that sentimental cliché go? You’re always a child in the eyes of your parents, or your parents always have child eyes?
But it was on my first family holiday in almost 4 years that I realised not only do you remain a child in the eyes of your parents, when you travel with them you become a child in the eyes of everybody else too.
We were in Hawaii and needed to hire a car to get about. The guy at the car rental place looked at my sister and me as he helped us with our bags. “Shouldn’t you all be at school?” He asked.
“It’s school holidays,” my mother replied for both of us. My pride (that little shred I have) forced me to puff out my chest and explain, “I’m actually 24.” There was an infantile ring to these words, as though I was urinating standing up for the first time while saying aloud, “I’m a big boy now.”
Thinking it would be fun we had rented a Jeep Wrangler, a car that, beyond its sound system, has barely been altered since 1946. To call it a convertible is a joke. The canvas top was strapped down like a straitjacket and taking it off almost killed us. Unable to redo the many zips we ended up driving with the roof half attached, flapping precariously.
At the hotel the friendly bellhop (is that still the term?) took our bags. He asked us if Hawaii was our only stop in the US. My pride still hurt from the earlier encounter, I insisted on telling him, “Not for me, I am backpacking around the US for a month afterwards.” I pointed at my big blue backpack lodged on his trolley.
He looked at me, “Wow, travelling alone, how does your mom feel about that?” I think he was trying to be nice, but in my mind those last few words oozed condescendingly from his mouth. Again, I chose the mature response, I raised my voice, “I don’t care what she thinks!” My voice cracked so my reply was delivered in two distinct octaves.
Inside, the receptionist gave out our swipe keys. “These ones are for the kiddos,” she said, nodding at my sister and me. “And for me?” I asked, differentiating myself from a ‘kiddo’ by stroking my face’s pathetic attempt at facial hair, a thin and uneven chinstrap, which probably didn’t help my case. The receptionist pointed to the same keys, “These ones, sir.”
The next incident occurred out in the surf. Most of what I know about surfers comes from anecdotes about how they are violently territorial about their waves. Half of me was saying to avoid eye contact and interaction with them altogether. My other half was telling me to be polite and say hello. This dilemma saw me accidentally make eye contact with various surfers then immediately lose my nerve and turn away. I was treading water, terrified. Not of the waves or whatever lurked beneath them, but of the chance that I was misunderstanding surfer etiquette.
My panic must have been obvious. It wasn’t long before I heard a voice asking, “Do you need help getting back to shore, son?” I turned around. A golden locked, middle-aged surfer with leathery sun damaged skin was looking at me. “Oh, I’m sorry,” he said, “I mistook you for a child. You know, physically, you resemble a child.” I told him I was working on it, and pointed to my chin fluff (eventually, I got tired and decided to take him up on his offer, draping myself on his long board as he swam behind pushing me along).
That afternoon my family and I sat down for lunch at one of the foreshore’s many eateries all owned by men with monosyllabic names (Duke, Roy, Mike etc.). I ordered a beer. “Got any ID champ?” Asked the waiter who was young, tanned and cocky. I knew this was the law, but I still felt I was being unfairly targeted.
He examined my passport, “1988? That makes you 24,” he scrutinized my face closely, then laughed, “you sure don’t look it!” He returned with our drinks and placing one in front of me he added, “And a beer for the big boy!”