Learning From Our Mistakes

In Journeys
My dad is the organizer and mediator in my family. When I heard that he was unable to come on the Thanksgiving family vacation, I sensed a disaster. Last semester I studied abroad in Cork, Ireland and the only time my family could come visit was over Thanksgiving break. This was our first family vacation without Dad.

As I said before my dad would have had this whole trip planned down to a tee. However, the other members of my family are not as organized. My mom, who has depended on my dad’s organizational skills since college, tends to go with the flow. I always had to wake her up to take me to school, rather than the other way around. My sister, Holly, would rather make a joke about how unhelpful she is than actually help out. That leaves my brother, Peter, and his girlfriend Ashley. Peter does not take high stress situations very well. However, we usually have my Dad’s plans to avoid high stress moments. Ashley, who I do not know too well yet, was unfortunately stuck with this mess of a family dynamic. Without my dad’s leadership, I sensed a potential disaster during this haphazard family vacation.

I put myself in charge of the few days that my family came to visit me in Cork before we headed off on our road trip. After giving them a tour of my campus and of the city, there was only one other thing to do: drink. One night I wanted to give them a real Irish night out on the town, by having a few drinks in pubs and maybe meeting some locals. As I led the way into one of my favorite pubs, we passed the regulars who always sit right up at the bar and talk to the bartenders about the inconsistent weather. Sometimes, if they are feeling sentimental and daring. they will even talk about their families. There were two of these regulars sitting at a table next to the bar, watching everyone pass by. As I tried to direct my innocent American family to a seat by the fireplace, these two Irishmen looked at us and said“póg mo thóin” simultaneously.

My mom then curiously said,“I’m sorry, what did you say?”

“Oh ye are American?”, the guy with a fedora and corduroy blazer said.“We were just trying to figure out how many people know Gaelic; obviously ye do not.”

My mom, being the nice woman that she is, said “Oh, how fun!”

Little did she know they had said “kiss my ass.”

Between the curiosity of my mother and the gift of the blarney, we ended up sitting and talking to these Irishmen. “What brings ye to Ireland?” they asked, which then turned into the men talking about why Ireland is so great and how we need to explore the countryside, all the while comparing themselves to America in order for us to connect: “America may have better TV, but we have The Ring of Kerry.”

I eventually got bored of them comparing Ireland to America, and possibly flirting with my mom, so I asked the bartender for some cards so we could all play a game. Somehow my idea of an innocent card game turned into a drinking game involving the two Irishmen and my family. At one point my mom lost a game “Ride the Bus” and I had to watch her take a shot. My mom enjoyed the shot so much she said, “Oh can we get another?” About an hour later I looked around and realized that I was by far the most sober of my whole family.

Ahead of me in the corner, Peter and Ashley were being over affectionate, making me feel very uncomfortable. To the left of me, my 27-year-old sister was talking to some 18-year-old boys, which she claims was purely educational. However, the boys had quite big smiles on their faces. I looked to my right and my mom was standing on her chair trying to get a good angle to take a photo of my sister talking to the youngsters. What my mom thought was subtle and sneaky was definitely the opposite. I hid my face behind my hands as I heard my mom complaining about her phone being too sensitive as she tried to get a good picture of Holly and these random Irish boys, while the two men we had managed to befriend giggled throughout the whole scene. We were too easily sucked into the Irish nightlife of sitting and drinking in pubs and playing games. Without my dad’s mediating skills we let Ireland take the night.

As we were leaving the hotel room my mom grabbed the hotel chocolates from the pillows as a snack for later. At the time I thought that was a brilliant idea. We then left the hotel and got into our rental car. Thanks to the advice from the Irishmen the night before, we left my home in Cork and made our way to the Ring of Kerry. We drove by the beautiful and rainy views that Killarney has to offer of both the greenest grass on the earth and the whitest sand. I explained to my family, “You’re getting the full Irish experience.”

Peter, who likes to take initiative, signed off for the rental car and thus had to drive the whole time. My dad never would have allowed my brother to drive, knowing not to trust anyone but himself to drive on the left side of the road. Since Peter doesn’t trust any of his own family members either, he appointed Ashley as the navigator. That left me, my mom, and Holly in the back. The back of this car was not ideal for three not so tiny ladies. Our bodies smashed up against each other, and the windows and cracks of the car. At first this made the car ride cozy, but it soon turned semi-torturous.

I wanted so badly to enjoy and observe the scenery around me, but it was hard when I was in the middle seat and Holly, to my right, kept jabbing me in the side with her knitting.

I requested a classic Irish oldie, “Drunken Sailor,” from Ashley who was in charge of music. I could tell she was getting frustrated with her duties as both the navigator and DJ; all while my sister, mom, and I non-stopped gossiped about family friends back home in the back seat. If my Dad had been there, this would not have been the case. He would have taken over the driving, he never would have let me request music while he was trying to navigate, and he would firmly tell us that gossiping is not intelligent.

We were so intrigued with the story of my mom’s friend getting married to someone she just met a month ago and not inviting anyone but family to the wedding, we hadn’t been paying attention to the fact that a toll was coming up. We were not experts yet on euros, so my brother stressed out and began clenching the steering wheel.

My mom frantically reached in her pocket, which had been warming up against me the whole car ride, looking for change. I looked over and saw panic in her face.“Uh oh”, she said as she pulled her hand out, revealing a hand covered in chocolate. She had put the chocolates from the hotel into her pocket for later, and her hand looked like she had literally placed it under a chocolate fondue fountain. I could not stop laughing. Peter still needed the change that was somewhere underneath the chocolate mass that was my mom’s pocket. With a look of disgust, she placed the chocolate covered coins into my brother’s hands. The rest of the car ride all I could think about was how excited I was to tell my dad this story–he likes to make fun of my family when we mess up.

We then stopped at a gas station so my mom could wash off her hands. While my mom was in the store at the gas station, Ashley got out to fill up the car. I watched her jaw drop a little and her eyes widened. Not knowing how to tell the bad news, she looked at Peter and said “You might want to see this,” as she pointed to the left rearview mirror. Turns out that time my brother had hit a branch actually did some damage. My brother, after a little bit of cursing, went into the store to tell my mom the news. Holly, Ashley, and I waited in the car, curious to see how my mom would take the information. There also happened to be people waiting nearby in a car that looked very similar to ours. I guess my mom forgot where we had parked our car, because then the three of us sat and watched as my mom searched around these strangers’ car to look for the damage that did not exist. We watched as she gets super close to the rearview mirror and then to the rest of the car, not thinking to look to see who was inside. “Oh God, please make it stop…this is horrible,” my sister freaked out, while Ashley and I just could not stop laughing. Eventually I reached over Ashley to honk the horn of the car. Finally, my mom looked up and saw us. She immediately power walked away from the disastrously embarrassing situation. She decided to wait until the next stop to check out the actual damage.

We all guessed that the damage would not be too expensive. Unfortunately we were wrong; we found out when we returned the car that the damage was exactly 100 dollars and a few tears shed by my brother. If my dad had been there he would have driven–and knowing him he would have driven perfectly. My senses were right about not having my dad on this family vacation. Everything went not according to plan; most of the time we did not even have a plan. Disasters happened, but we were still able to manage without him. We talked to strangers we might not have otherwise encountered and did some damage to a car. We learned to not forget about the chocolates we put in our pockets and to always carry spare change. My family was able to fully embrace Ireland by having to adapt without a leader. We learn from our mistakes and some of these mistakes only happen when the organizer and mediator is not there.

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