Not long ago we found out Skylar would have the last two weeks of September off so we decided we should probably make the most of it and head off on a trip somewhere.
I've been fortunate enough to travel quite a lot in the past twenty years, but because I tend to go to odd places most people don't necessarily think of when they are making vacation plans, my travel map looks lopsided and confusing. What this all means is I've swallowed a parasite in Plovdiv Bulgaria and I once got arrested on a bus in Slovakia, but I've never been to London.
I'm trying to rectify this sort of thing in recent years, which is why I suggested we go to France and drive around for a week or two. And it was during that trip that we ended up in the middle of nowhere listening to safety instructions from a very French man who confusingly started every sentence with the word "moreover."
Skylar's dad had booked the excursion—a full day of riding electric bikes around French vineyards for occasional wine-tasting stops. We hadn't intended on traveling with his parents when we planned our ten-day trip through France, but after they expressed some interest in coming with us, Skylar asked me if it would be alright to have them join, and he said it in the tone of a child begging his mom if he could keep a stray.
I was thrilled with the idea. For one thing, Skylar's parents are hilarious. Usually intentionally! We've always gotten along very well, besides the one time, when Skylar moved to Salt Lake City, and my mother-in-law demanded I work on having a baby "TO REPLACE THE ONE YOU STOLE."
Secondly, it's not lost on me or Skylar that having parents who are physically capable of rigorous international travel is not something we'll have forever, made all the more omnipresent in our minds of late as both sets of ours have experienced rounds of significant health scares in recent years.
And so, our planned trip for two became a trip for four.
Skylar is the only one of the four of us who has any ability to speak French at all. He took four years of French in high school and now claims he's forgotten nearly everything, but he sounded far more competent than any of the rest of us and multiple French people complimented him on his accent so I think he's just being hard on himself. I say this as someone who took high school Spanish and the only thing I now have to show for it is that I can sing the entirety of "There Are No Cats In America" from American Tale en español. Which, honestly, I am proud of that.
From the moment we arrived in France, Skylar became his parents' caretaker, ordering for them at restaurants, guiding them across cobblestone, and lecturing them on personal safety. I even watched him give daily sermons about pickpockets and vegetable consumption.
But neither of us were prepared for the responsibility of teaching his mother to ride a bike.
The bikes were heavy—much heavier than any of us had anticipated. They included an electric assist feature that could be turned up or down, depending on how much help the rider wanted, so pedaling in theory could be made easy.
Within the first five minutes of being granted possession of the bikes, Skylar's mother had already crashed twice. (She later presented us with a leg full of bruises like an excited child doing show-and-tell.)
"I don't think the biking is going to happen today," I said to Skylar after the second crash.
He talked to his mom, who was determined to keep trying. "I think she just needs help getting up and running," he told me. "I can teach her."
As Skylar's dad and I hung back and watched Skylar run along-side his mother, one hand holding onto the seat, trying to keep her upright and stable before sending her off, Skylar's dad said to me, a heavy dose of nostalgia in his tone, "I remember when she did that same thing for him."
Eventually she got the hang of it and over the course of the next six hours she only crashed two more times. Yes, that was two more times than any of the rest of us crashed, but if you look at the charts and graphs you can clearly see this was a substantial improvement in frequency.
By day seven of our trip we arrived in Paris and the constant moving around and walking was wearing on all of us. Skylar's mom announced that she was going to buy a ticket to one of those hop-on-hop-off busses where she planned to just ride the city in circles for the better part of a day, healing from her biking injuries. "I'll see everything I want to see while sitting in a warm vehicle," she reasoned.
The morning of her excursion, Skylar went to his parents' hotel room to turn tracking on in their phones so he could see where they each were at all times. "I need you two to make sure you charge your phones fully before you go anywhere," he lectured them, referring to their very bad habit of allowing their phones to die multiple times each day.
Skylar insisted we walk his mom to the pick-up location for the bus.
"Put your purse strap over your head and don't take it off," he instructed her. "And keep it zipped up at all times." He was buying her a large bottle of water as he continued his safety lecture. "And don't forget to stay hydrated."
"Now what's the rule?" he quizzed her as we approached the bus stop.
"Don't get off the bus until I'm back at this stop," she parroted back to him.
She climbed into the bus when it stopped and showed the man her ticket. "Let's wait and see her off," Skylar said. "Make sure she finds a seat."
A few seconds later, Skylar's mom plopped down into a seat next to the window, grinning and waving at us, perfectly content.
"I feel like we're seeing our child off to her first day of kindergarten," I joked. Skylar grabbed my hand and squeezed it.
As the bus pulled away, and we watched, Skylar's voice broke a little as he said it.
"I just love her so much."
~It Just Gets Stranger