If you could spend four days in Aruba with your mother — just the two of you — would you do it?

Most people answer in one of two ways:
1. "Absolutely. We’d have a blast"
2. "NO WAY. We’d kill each other."

My initial reaction was No. 2, but when my mom suggested traveling without the kids to Aruba, I decided to go. It had been an unusually harsh Chicago winter, and the allure of sun on my skin (not to mention a break from my kids) convinced me that I could handle her for four days. Plus, I started to have these "this can be quality time" and "memories of a lifetime" feelings, even if my sister laughed at the thought.

It started out badly.


Mom was chipper and chatty at 4:45 a.m., on the ride to the airport. Listening to the news on the car radio prompted her to rant about American’s foreign policy in Iraq. The sun had not even risen, and I was going on two hours of sleep. So when she asked me “What do you think?” I wanted to say, “I think I want to jump out of the car.” But not wanting to pick a fight 15 minutes into our vacation, I just said, “Can we talk about this when I’m more awake?” She gave me her famous irritated look and stopped talking.

During a layover in Atlanta,  I bought a Chick-Fil-A sandwich and fries at 9 a.m. Chicago time, and my Mom couldn’t contain her disgust. She launched into a lecture about my bad eating habits, and I had a sinking feeling this was what the next three days would be like.

Then things took a sharp turn for the better.

Healthy competiton

Delta Airlines’ in-flight trivia game — with monitors on the seats in front of you — led my mom and me to spiritedly and competitively answer questions for two straight hours on the way to Aruba.

First we competed against each other, and then, as more passengers started to play, we went head-to-head against a smartypants in seat 19D named Mike.

At one point, when my mom held a commanding lead, she announced she was getting up to go pee. I refused to let her leave her. She was in the middle of her best round yet! If she left now, Mike would take the lead! She kept saying, “But I’m going to pee in my pants!” and we howled with laughter.

Mom ended up staying – and winning. And before she sprung out of her seat and ran to the potty, she had the distinction of seeing “Bbobb is the champion!” appear on the screen (my mom, whose name is Bobbi, had a little trouble with the keyboard).

Arriving in Aruba

When we arrived at the Aruba Marriott, I knew I was going to survive the next four days. The recently renovated hotel had everything I would need to make me happy, including a casino, a full-service spa, an amazing beach, great restaurants (including the American chain, Ruth’s Chris Steak House), and a 24-hour carry-out counter where I could satisfy my diet soda addiction or get a gelato and charge it to the room.

I’ve never been the type of traveler who never leaves the resort, but places like this make it hard to leave. And with the exception of a half-day snorkeling trip, I didn’t.

When we weren’t enjoying the hotel’s amenities together, my mom and I were sleeping like babies. The first morning, after 10 hours of sleep (!), we laid in our beds until noon exchanging laugh- and scream-filled “remember when” stories.

We had fun meals, like dinner at the hotel’s sushi bar, or a candlelit beach dinner that was so romantic we had to laugh about it. “Look into my eyes, my darling!” my mom said in her sexy voice while leaning toward me with her eyes bugged out.

Aruba’s warm breezy winds had a calming effect on both of us. We weren’t as sarcastic or short with each other as we usually are. One day, my mom begged me to go with her on a stomach-churning Jeep tour of the island – something I had no interest in doing. She tried a guilt trip  (“I guess I’ll just go alone then.”), but then quickly backed off. We’d been together a lot, so she respected that it was time for her to do her thing (bounce all over Aruba’s backroads) and me to do my thing (veg at the beach with my book and iPod).

Aruba Provides Neutral Ground

It’s an example of a weird phenomenon that happened in Aruba: when my Mom and I were together, we were unusually tolerant of each other. She doesn’t like shopping, but made the best of a little shopping trip we took. I don’t like to befriend other hotel guests, but my mom does. So when she inevitably struck up conversations with people, I found myself being uncharacteristically chatty.

Discussing this phenomenon later, my mom surmised that happened because we were on “neutral ground.” It made us see each other as friends, not mother/daughter, and it made us treat each other more respectfully.
The roughest time for me in Aruba were the sunsets, and the post-dinner walks along the beautiful moonlit beach. That was when I wanted to be with my husband. Or my kids. Not my mom.

When we got back to Chicago, I was sad the trip was over. We genuinely had fun. The trip recharged my batteries, and it really strengthened my relationship with my mom. 

We might even go again.