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As you know, my son did not want to go on a family vacation. He had his reasons—three of them. Us. Or maybe really just us two parents, since usually he can count on his sister to be in complete solidarity with him. But when she found out we were considering Hawaii, their long-standing unity dissolved just like that, “If you screw this up for me, I’ll kill you.” A sincere, straightforward threat has its place in every family.

So off we went. My son superglued his headphones on when we boarded the plane in Houston, and pried them off when we got back home. On our drive from the airport to the resort, he not only had his iPod blasting but was playing possum, too. That allowed him to avoid the dreaded scenic overlooks, his dad’s travel obsession.

On the plane my husband planned road trips to Hana (so twisty turny, I was guaranteed to throw up), drives to the top of a volcano (best time to see it—sunrise), and golf, golf, golf. My brother-in-law was with us, but it was pretty clear that I was the intended golf victim. Anyway it turns out that the resort was nice, really nice, nice enough to tame my husband’s restless tourist spirit. Thank God. That meant we were free to do nothing—read, hang out around the pool, order lunch, and then hang out around the pool some more. It was just perfect. Especially for me, since I measure vacation success by the pages turned and naps taken.

My son spent most of his time immersed in his music, book in hand (Jane Eyre, go figure). So when he freed his ears and went to the hot tub, I decided to follow. (Now he is not a big talker, at least not to his parents—there is evidence that he talks a lot in class, and to his sister and his girlfriend—but every once in a while when I am in the kitchen frying bacon or something, he’ll come in and get wound up. I mean like a clock. He starts circling the stovetop, Dr. Pepper in hand, talking ninety to nothing, pacing faster and faster as the story gathers steam. No surprise, I find talking this way weird, and dizzying.)

Anyway back to vacation. I followed him to the hot tub. Now I know it’s probably hard enough to talk to your fifty-year-old mother when she is wearing an apron, just try having a meaningful discussion with her in a bathing suit. Bless his heart. But that didn’t stop me. I plopped right in with a big smile that said aren’t you glad I am here to keep you company. In my mind, this was what used to be called a “teachable moment,” so I wasted no time: when I was in college, blah, blah, blah… He showed slightly bored interest and asked a question—always a good sign—what did you major in? I was so encouraged that I rattled off not only my major, but possible majors, minors, and dissertation topics for him. I was on a roll. It was my turn to circle, my wisdom enveloping him like a dust devil. About that time his coke arrived along with my wine spritzer. I asked a couple of pithy questions, but he had to work his one-word answers around the ice cubes in his mouth, so it sounded like he said argh, rghh, rghh, rghh. No problem. I continued talking about college, goals, aspirations, the meaning of life. Then I noticed his face had taken on a serious, thoughtful gaze while he was chewing ice and spitting out small pieces onto the stone surrounding the hot tub. I moved on to the origin of the universe and my concept of hell, a brief statement on nanotechnology, atomic energy, and global warming. He interrupted me to say: look at that one. I looked over and saw a tiny cube making a puddle of itself. Fascinating. I went back to my topic—the economy. Then he spat out another ice cube in a different place and watched it transform itself from one state of matter to another. He was tracking the progress of about three ice cubes when it hit me. My moment was gone. I had been trumped by his watching ice melt. Never even got to my philosophy on marriage and child rearing…