Friday, 16 July 2010

The Long And Whining Road

"It's hot," my daughter says for maybe the twentieth time, wiping her forehead with the back of her hand.

As if I hadn't noticed.

"It's even hotter if you're carrying a backpack," I hint, but she's too sweaty and miserable to pick it up.

A line of eucalyptus trees offer us a short, thin strip of shade and then we are out in the sun again. We fully intended to leave earlier when it was cooler, but the morning was frittered away on girls' grooming rituals. Gritting my teeth, I only just manage to keep this to myself.

My daughter kicks at a stone. "I don't get why we couldn't just take a taxi anyway!"

We really should have taken a taxi -- even I can see this now. But when we were planning the day's events, it was still cool. Our family has walked a lot farther than four kilometers, even uphill. Yes, we should have known it would get hot. And that it would take two teenage girls so long to get ready in the morning even with almost non-stop nagging.

A motorcycle whizzes past us and we watch it disappear around a corner.

"This is totally ridiculous!" my daughter groans. "Walking four miles straight uphill just to see that pile of rocks!"

"It isn't a pile of rocks and it's four kilometers, not miles."

"Whatever." She kicks at another stone. "It feels like miles."

I shrug my shoulders to shift the weight of my backpack and rattle it meaningfully. Its full of water, money, Kleenex, and sunscreen and other day trip essentials of use to the whole family, but my daughter still ignores the hint. She's smarter than I am.

There is a rush behind us and a whole bus goes by, one of those luxury two-tier tourist buses packed to the gills. We just know it's bound to have air conditioning. From behind the dark frosted windows, we can see tourists staring down at us.

"In Cyprus, they'd have stopped for us!" my daughter whines. "When we were hiking up to Karmi in December, they stopped for us and we didn't even need a lift!"

"Maybe they're afraid of offending us. Two lone females as we are."

My daughter snorts. "They probably think we're crazy! What kind of total losers walk four miles uphill when it's this hot?"

My husband and younger daughter are waiting for us just around the bend. As we join them, another loaded tour bus zooms past. We all turn to watch it. Through the tinted glass, we can see the people sitting in air-conditioned comfort inside as they gape down at us. Our thoughts may be warm, but they're definitely not fuzzy.

Eldest daughter says something unprintable. "Can't we call a taxi?"

"We've made it this far," my husband reasons. "We might as well keep going." Another car whizzes past us; there are no passengers. Eldest daughter says something else unprintable.

She and I sit down in a tiny patch of shade to catch our breath and my husband and younger daughter, much more heat-tolerant than we are, carry on up the hill. Two youths chug by on a moped, slowing down as they pass us to have a look. Eldest daughter suddenly perks up. "If we had a stick or something, I'll bet we could knock them off." She stares after them reflectively. "They were cute, weren't they?" I smile. If we weren't so miserable, she'd have noticed that right away.

Another tour bus rushes past us, sparkling white in the blazing sun. My daughter glares at it. "Stupid driver! What would it cost him to stop and give us a lift?"

I shrug. "Come on. The driver isn't going to risk the lives of 40 people on a hairpin turn just to pick up a couple of sweaty females."

"All this just to see a pile of rocks!"

"It's not a pile of rocks, it's an acropolis. If it were a pile of rocks, would all those people come all this way to see it?"

My daughter frowns. She's an Olympic frowner; she could win gold medals. Fortunately, she's got a gold medal smile too, but I haven't seen it for at least three kilometers. "Stupid tourists," she mutters. "They'll get to the top, take a look around, then pile back into the bus and think they've seen everything."

"Our journey is purer than theirs," I say in my most unctuous tones. "The gods will look on us with favor because we've put more effort into ours. Nothing worthwhile should be easily achieved."

My daughter snorts, but as we round the bend, we see a lake sparkling in the distance, fringed by a crescent of bright green trees. And now we can both see the columns, huge and dazzlingly white in the sun. My daughter is silent for a moment; even she is awed. And they look so close -- surely we are almost there now?

"Looks like it's going to be worthwhile after all, doesn't it?" I prod.

My daughter shrugs. Like many other teenagers, she is also an Olympic shrugger. Unfortunately, as we round another bend, it is obvious that we have at least another kilometer to go. Just as this sinks in, another tour bus soars past us. I am amazed at the feelings of rage this stirs in me. It doesn't make sense, but there it is: it's like waiting to be served in a popular restaurant. All the diners who are lucky enough to have seats look so pompous and greedy even though they are doing exactly what you want to be doing yourself: sitting and eating.

"But those columns are beautiful, aren't they?" I say lamely.

My daughter narrows her eyes and gives me a long, hard look. Those columns could be gold-plated and tipped in crystal; they could surround a lake of nectar and honey and there could be free banana splits and chilled mango juice and she still wouldn't think an uphill march in the sun was worth it.

The acropolis, it turns out, was wonderful to behold and well worth a visit. But if you ever visit it with a teenager, I strongly recommend you go by taxi.


Vijaya said...

I also took the long walk to the Acropolis ... but this was in December and I was alone and you wouldn't believe how many cute guys wanted to give me lift ...

Truly you made a pilgrimage :)

AnneB said...

I'm with Older Daughter on this one. Pilgrimage schmilgrimage; give me A/C any time.

But just think what wonderful material you have given her for beating you up with in years to come! What a mom! (Not that she probably doesn't already have much, much material that she hasn't even used yet!)

Although it could work the other way. We took a supposedly four hour trip to Minneapolis years ago that ended up being more like 6.5 because we observed the speed limit. My sons both whined the entire way but what do they remember now? How cool it was to ride through the dark listening to show tunes on the car's tape player (that's how long ago it was; our car, which was a mid-eighties Olds, had a tape deck but not a CD player. But it was a cassette player, not an 8-track!)

Anonymous said...

I have to confess I can remember being 13 and insisting that everyone in the backseat ride with the windows shut so the wind wouldn't blow on my bangs - as though I hadn't already frozen them in place with half a bottle of Aqua Net.

If only the memories made it easier to tolerate my own teens - so far, no luck there!

Robert the Skeptic said...

I'm surprised they ventured on the hike to begin with. Usually just prying their GameBoys out of their hands is an effort; especially if they are sitting in an air conditioned hotel room.

Charles Gramlich said...

I would have loved such a walk when I was younger. Now? Not so much.

Mary Witzl said...

Vijaya -- I wish to God we'd gone in December!

If I hadn't been with her, I'm sure my daughter would have had a couple of offers of lifts. Good thing I was with her.

AnneB -- Believe me, I agreed with her myself! When it gets really hot, I do my fair share of whining and turn on the air conditioning any chance I get. She did my whining for me.

Our kids have good memories of not-so-great times too. You know you've done a good job as parents if your kids end up with good memories of less than perfect trips -- or maybe that's just the rose-colored glasses of memory?

Christina -- Ah, Aqua Net, how nostalgic! A real must for girls with cowlicks and hair that didn't lie flat.

My own memories don't always make it easy for me to understand my kids -- our generation was so different to theirs -- but it usually makes it easier to forgive them some of their peccadilloes.

Robert -- Our kids don't have Gameboys, but they certainly do have mobiles that play music and MUST be kept charged. Every modern kid can't run unless s/he is plugged into a mobile phone. And mobiles conveniently block out adults' voices.

Charles -- I wasn't big on long, hot, uphill walks as a kid and I haven't changed a bit. But it was still amusing to note my daughter's reaction.

Kim Ayres said...

A prime example of how you know where to find the story. You go off to a famous monument but you don't write about the place, you focus in on an aspect of the journey instead. It's all about the emotional moments rather than the physical place. You have a real gift for that, Mary :)

Ruth Donnelly said...

You've captured the "whiny teen" essence so thoroughly, I can easily imagine doing this with my daughter. (And if we ever do, we'll definitely take the cab!)

Robin said...

I even laughed at the title of this post! I am totally in love with your shruggy daughter.

We just got back from the beach, where we rented bikes for 4 whiny teenage boys, thinking that they'd enjoy the independence. Can you say, D-U-M-B? It was too hot to ride, or too far, or it would make them too sweaty. Yeesh.

Mary Witzl said...

Kim -- Thank you for writing that. Eldest's comment was that she didn't really sound this whiny. Which is pretty much a lie, even though it's true that she DID sound funnier.

We were close to CD yesterday -- I'll try and call you soon!

Ruth -- Thank you for commenting!

Smart move, shelling out from the get go. We took taxis whenever economically possible for the rest of our trip and considered it money well spent.

Robin -- I'll tell my husband that: it was his idea. Sometimes when I'm stuck for a title, he really comes through for me.

Our kids would have laughed us to scorn if we'd suggested riding bikes in the heat (or cold or rain or any weather that wasn't 100% perfect, for that matter). I'll bet you were picturing a group of tanned, fit boys having fun in the sun, testing their physical endurance in a healthy, athletic fashion, right? God forbid they should ozze an ounce of sweat.

Anne Spollen said...

Lol - an Olympic frowner - love that phrase!

I'm not sure I've met a teen who endures any type of suffering silently...

Marian Perera said...

When I was a kid my father would insist on us going on vacation to exotic places - Greece, Holland, Bangkok, Hong Kong, etc.

Now, of course, I'd love that, but at the time I was just glad to get home. Part of the problem was that my father hated to go on tours, so it would take us thrice as long to find sites of interest and stagger up to them on our own.

Believe me, when your daughter's has to fund her own vacations, she'll remember the acropolis with some degree of nostalgia.

Kit said...

Reminds me strongly of a hike we did recently with our two girls. Yougest (7) decided to come with us and spent the entire walk dragging her feet and complaining that we hadn't told her how long it was going to be. Older daughter was happily discovering quartz crystals and admiring the view and the aloes. Youngest was practically in tears at the injustice of our misrepresentation and scowled and grmped to win at least an Olympic medal if not your daughter's gold.

Pat said...

Beautifully written - as ever.
I found myself relating to your daughter and you became my son. In age - sometimes - there is a reversal of roles:)

Anonymous said...

Even if your daughter whined, I'm sure she appreciated the view, or at least she'll have a wonderful memory of its beauty. I remember whining about things as a teenager, and as an adult my memories of those situations don't seem as bad as I thought they were.

A Paperback Writer said...

It depends on who else is there. If the teenagers are merely with parents, the parents will be treated to the shrugging and eye rolling you so eloquently described. However, if the hike includes friends -- or better yet, friends of the opposite sex who are "cute" -- then the parents are much more likely to have to tolerate less shrugging and more showing off. But the journey is likely to be quicker.
You are brave to do this in such heat.

Carole said...

Only you could make such a sweat producing, shoulder shrugging, unprintable wording journey sound so interesting. If I ever get there, I think I would have to walk just because it sounds so interesting.

Mary Witzl said...

AnneS -- Well, you know how they do it nowadays, getting in all that shoulder, back, and neck movement. I was a lazy shrugger myself: a mere twitch of the shoulders was enough for me.

I'm not a diligent practitioner of silent endurance myself, so I suppose I shouldn't expect my kids to be any better.

Marian -- Your father had to insist that you went to Greece, Holland, Thailand and Hong Kong? My inner child feels so envious! I begged and pleaded and nagged, but the furthest we ever managed to go was Florida, which was a huge thrill.

Our daughter HAD BETTER appreciate these holidays we've taken her on! Right now, she's going through an ungrateful phase, but I have my hopes.

Kit -- Your hike sounds a lot like our hike -- my commiserations.

It would be fun if we could get our kids together and see which ones would win the griping awards. My money is on ours. I know my husband and I know myself, and I'm sure there is no substitute for good whining pedigree.

Pat -- Thank you for your kind words.

Believe me, I know what you mean. Part of me agreed with my daughter 100%. But you had to see how long she took over her hair...

Medeia -- Me too. I look back on some of the family holidays we had and can remember elements of pure joy gleaned from all the chaos and bickering. I know my kids will do this too, but it's cold comfort (or hot, in this case) when I'm getting whined at non-stop.

APW -- We were idiots to climb to the top in the heat! If I had it to do over again, I'd have called a taxi and spared us a lot of misery. You should see our blisters, too.

I'm pretty sure my daughter wouldn't have suffered quite so much if she'd made the trip with one of those boys on the moped that went past us. Especially if she'd been on the moped herself.

Carole -- Thank you, but take my advice and don't do this! There are any number of wild and crazy taxi drivers in Bergama, Turkey who will help you have as interesting a trip up that hill as you like!

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