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Corona Spring Break by Kelly Swanson

Cooped Up With Kelly

Episode 3: Our Corona Spring Break Gone Broke

Every year when the pollen starts falling, I wheeze and scroll through Facebook to see where everybody is going for Spring Break and how beach ready their bodies are, while I look for a bathing suit that will hit my ankle.

I’ll admit it. I’m often a bit jealous of your pretty toenail polish as I sit here on my sofa eating Cheetos and watching your kids build sand castles. I know you probably all fought a minute before, and the kids were one snapshot away from a meltdown. But still. It kind of stung. I’m just saying.

Well, Corona, the great equalizer, struck this year and completely leveled the vacation playing field. And wouldn’t you know, this year was the year we were going to Ireland for Spring Break. The REAL Ireland, not the putt putt one. We actually had scheduled our first trip out of the country as a family, and that damn bat ruined it. Sorry for saying damn. Drastic times. Shoot, I’m not supposed to say “drastic” I’m supposed to say challenging. Mental adjustment. It wasn’t a bat? Darn that fake news. I need to stop asking my cousin Nester to debrief the press conferences for me.


Times are hard right now, and me being a motivational speaker (albeit an unemployed one) I was determined to put a positive spin on this year’s Spring Break or rather Spring Broke.  So I gathered everybody together for a family meeting. There’s only three of us (not as cool as when they gather on the show Blackish) and I announced that while we can’t go to Ireland, Spring Break would still be a go.  My dog, Max, raised an eyebrow dubiously. He was the only one who was happy Ireland got canceled and had finally stopped the stress eating he had started ever since the day he saw “kennel” written on the calendar.

This year, I announced, dragging out the moment for effect, and for the fact that we had nothing else to do in this moment. Or for the rest of the day. Thank you Corona.

I announced that even though Ireland was out, Spring Break was still in. And it was a surprise. The entire family rolled their eyes and got up to go back to doing nothing again.  Max went and ate a piece of the couch. They thought I was kidding.

I was not.

So imagine their surprise when on the first day of Spring Break I said, Pack a snack bag for the car! We’re off. They played along.  I think just to see if I would really do it. I did.  We packed a snack bag, threw Max in the back yard with a chew bone the size of my thigh, and hopped into the car.

We rolled down the windows. Sang songs. And I drove over the speed limit. So what if I get a ticket, surely they won’t make me pay it! Thank you free money from the government. I’m still hoping I don’t have to pay for my next OBGYN appointment, which I heard they are going to hold on Zoom. Yikes.

We sang to some good old 80’s tunes while I drove – Let the good times roll.

My family started to look suspicious when I drove around the block. And then did it again. And again.  The neighbors walking their dogs looked confused as they waved to us. Again. And again.  One of them said, Where are you going? We’re on lock down! And I said, Spring Break! and circled around the block again.

We’re here! I squealed as after about thirty minutes of this, we pulled back into our own driveway.  My son rubbed his eyes. He’d been sleeping in the back seat. He was not happy to see that our house was the surprise.

I announced that this year for Spring Break, we are going to the guest room.  That’s right. The guest room which hasn’t seen a real guest since 2004 and if you don’t believe me, go lift up the throw pillows and you’ll see their faded outline on the bedspread.  The guest room which also doubles as a closet, a laundry room, and I’m pretty sure is where I lost the treadmill.

Ta da! I shouted as I threw open the door and smell of coconut Fabreeze hit us in the face. Just as my timer had done its job, the beach boys began serenading us as I handed everybody their beach towel and led them to their beach chair set in the middle of the floor in front of the computer screen ocean.  Thanks to the space heater, the room was the perfect balmy temperature. My son and husband stared at me in horror, like you can’t really expect us to go along with this?

I did.

Put on your bathing suit and join me, I sang. I’ve got magazines and snacks, and the water feels great. I dipped my toes into the water foot massager I got my husband for his birthday.

It took a while since not everybody’s bathing suit fit after three weeks of us eating like the world is ending.  But finally we took our seats, grabbed our diet cokes with cute little straw umbrellas and watched the beautiful ocean with the small “click here to buy toilet paper” ad in the bottom right hand corner.

I made the dog Max come join us since he never gets to come on family beach trips and judging by his expression, don’t think he will be disappointed in the future.

About five minutes into our vacation my son starts asking when it will be over. In a little while. First we have to play volleyball. And out we went to the front yard in our bathing suits, to hit the deflated ball I dug out from under the back deck. Technically it was a badminton net, but it still worked.  I could see curtains flickering in the neighbors’ windows. They were probably just jealous. I get it. Been there.

Then we had a wet t-shirt contest in the back yard, which I won hands down according to the neighbor in the back of the house who let me use his picnic table for the dance floor. But I think it was kind of creepy that he and his family stood there and watched and cheered from their back deck in Bermuda shorts with socks and holding red Solo cups.

Then I made everybody do Jello shooters.  No. We didn’t use real liquor. Turns out that too many even without alcohol is not a good idea. #SugarHangover

Then we sat and watched the ocean some more and I took a handful of wet spaghetti noodles and threw it on my son’s cheek and yelled Jellyfish like I do every year. And my son squealed like a girl, just like every year.

And I made us all sit under that heat lamp we used back when Junior had acne, so we could get a little color in our cheeks and then I made him let me put aloe vera on his cheeks cause darn if that kid lets me get close to him anymore. At least give me this.

Then we had shrimp on the grill and hushpuppies brought in from an Uber driver who said my son should definitely not be so upset that all the kids in the neighborhood saw his mother playing volleyball in the front yard in her bathing suit. # Cougar

And I made everybody change into khaki pants and a white shirt – no shoes or socks – so we could get our annual family beach trip picture taken by that old lady across the street who spends all day in her garden despite the fact that she’s almost completely blind and nobody has the heart to tell her that her bushes look like a serial killer went after them. I’m just saying. So the whole family beach picture might have to be photoshopped. Again.

And then we went for a long walk after the sun went down around the neighborhood with the dog and a metal detector, and every once in a while I would yell, “I think I see a crab and I would squeal and run.”

And we all watched the SAME movie on the SAME screen – TOGETHER –  just we like I force them to do every year, and I made them choose one of the movies most likely stored on a shelf at the beach rental. So it was toss up between Steel Magnolias and Chevy Chase. We went with Chevy. And it was still just as funny.

Now, while I was having the time of my life not spending money, no driving hours up and back, cleaning a rental, and getting sand in my crotch. My boys weren’t exactly being team players. Oh they went along, but I saw the eye rolls and heard the swallowed groans, and the sighs that would escape when they thought I couldn’t hear. 

They thought it was stupid.  And they were happy our beach trip was only going to last a day so they could get back to the better things they had to do. But I had a moment. It was just a tiny moment. But it was enough.

It happened when I gave Junior his annual beach trip money to go spend at Wings – like we do every year.  Only this year Wings was our dining room table covered with a plastic beach theme tablecloth – and displayed with price tags was a collection of beach trinkets that we had purchased over the years that had collected in the bottom drawer of my work desk.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” my son said. “You actually want me to spend this five dollars buying a bunch of junk we already own?”

I wasn’t kidding.  “Don’t forget tax,” I said.

His eyes started to glaze over and I knew he was about to phone this one in and then he stopped. And looked closer.  “Hey! That’s Herbie!” he said in wonder, picking up a tiny yellow shell with wiggly eyes.  And in that moment, my son wasn’t 15 anymore. He was six. And the proud new father of a tiny shell he named Herbie. A shell that went everywhere with him for months – even after one of the eyes fell off. 

“Hey Dad!” he yelled. “Here’s the pocketknife I got you for father’s day. I spent all the money on your gift that year. Which isn’t like me.”  We agreed.

“Oh honey,” my husband said. Remember Shark Shark? He held up a ratty little gray shark wearing a tie.  That shark kept my son from being afraid of the dark when he was four.

And there was the shot glass with the surfboard on it that my son had collected his teeth in when they fell out to leave for the teeth fairy. And we laughed over the year we forgot and made up this huge story about the tooth fairy being abducted.

And the mug that said Best Dad Ever that made my husband smile every time he drank out of it.

And the empty hermit crab cage for all those years we swore this time we would remember to feed him.

And time stood still for me in that moment.

I like to think it did for all of us. As we stood there suspended in time.

As we looked at things and a trip we always took for granted – and stood in quarantine realizing how quickly they could disappear.

So yeah. It wasn’t the beach trip we had been planning. And maybe they complained about it more than not.

But every time I look at that picture on my desk, the only one I decided NOT to photoshop. The one of us standing like idiots in our front yard in khakis and our bare feet, with our heads cut off because that old woman can’t see worth a dime or work a cell phone camera– I’m going to stop for a minute.  And I’m going to be reminded of that awful spring break we spent in the guest room. That actually just might have been the best one of all.

Gotta go. I think I’m going to throw my son a prom. Ssshhhh. Don’t tell him. It’s a surprise.

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