The best-laid plans of mice and men oft go awry — or so the saying goes. However, I’d like to edit this to read: The best-laid plans of husbands and wives oft go awry, especially when those plans involve a child-free vacation. And, also, a drug cartel and a hurricane.
Got your attention? Let me explain.
My husband and I were supposed to go to Mexico next month: our first vacation without our children since they were born, and our first real vacation together in over a decade. To be clear: a “real vacation,” as defined by any parent of school-age children, involves the following:
1. No children. Yes, we love them, but it’s not a vacation when children are involved. It’s a trip.
2. Being free to do whatever you want whenever you want. (Even if what you want to do is absolutely nothing.) This means not having to debate with any other human over who sleeps where, when and what to eat for supper, whose turn it is to wash dishes, how strong to make the coffee, and at what temperature the AC/heat should be set.
But back to my story, which, as I said, involves a drug cartel and a hurricane. Many months ago, very dear friends of ours invited my husband and me to go to Mexico with them. There, we’d enjoy free accommodations in their timeshare hotel, lazy days on the beach, and lovely adult beverages with names we wouldn’t be able to pronounce. It was a kind and generous offer. We jumped at the chance, booked the grandparents for childcare, and began planning our adventure.
Fast forward to the summer, when the U.S. State Department issues repeated warnings about Americans traveling in Mexico. Warnings which include terrifying stuff: the drug cartel enacting violence against tourists, and tourists being served tainted alcohol and waking up in the hospital — or worse. Well, the four of us are parents. We take stock, decide to be smart, and change our reservation to a different resort within our friends’ timeshare company. We decide to go to St. Maarten.
In September, the island of St. Maarten, gorgeous, Dutch — a virtual paradise — is devastated by Hurricane Irma, and weeks later residents are desperate for basic necessities, like clean water.
I’d never want to make light of, or underscore, the tragedy which has befallen this beautiful island and so many others. I also realize that it’s a rare privilege to be able to take a vacation at all, let alone a vacation to a foreign country. We certainly weren’t going to be able to fit it into our family budget without the generosity of our timeshare-owning friends.
However, it seems to me that when your first chance in a decade to go on vacation with your spouse is foiled because of a drug cartel and an historic, catastrophic Category 5 hurricane, you should take it as a sign. A sign of what, I haven’t a clue. But it’s a sign too big to ignore. With tacky florescent lighting and capital letters, and one those guys dressed in a crazy costume waving a giant foam hand so you won’t miss it.
The old saying, “the best-laid plans of mice and men,” comes from the poem “To a Mouse,” by the 18th-century Scottish poet Robert Burns. The story goes that Burns wrote the poem after he accidentally destroyed a mouse’s nest while ploughing his fields. The story also goes that his brother claimed Burns stopped and composed the poem then and there, plough still in hand.
Burns was quite the character, and there’s much to learn about him. But for our purposes, know this: he often wrote in the Scottish dialect, and he had a fantastic sense of humor. These two character traits make him beloved by the Scottish people (who call him Rabbie), and poetry-lovers worldwide, to this day. The original lines are as follows:
The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
Gang aft agley,
An lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!
Translation (from the original Scots into tired, disappointed, vacation-sick mom of two): Many times, when we make big plans, those plans fall through, and we’re left bereft and despondent. Or, as my friend, a 40-year-old rock-climber who still sometimes talks like one, says, “Super, super bummed.”
Despite all this, I am an optimist. I know my vacation time will come. That, one day, my husband and I will again have adventures together. But for now, please, don’t try to cheer me up. I’m well aware I’m veering dangerously close to spoiled brat. However, I need to stew for a while in the fact that, for whatever reason, the universe decided to send a drug cartel and a hurricane to foil plans for the first real vacation my husband and I would’ve taken in years.
How shall I stew? I shall walk around my house moaning that my plans have “gang agley,” and that I’m “super, super bummed.”
Katherine Scott Crawford is an historical novelist, college professor, hiker and mom who lives in Western North Carolina. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.