We had not been on a real, non-working vacation since forever. We had to take our fourteen year-old son somewhere, anywhere, before it was too late. I wanted him to share the experience I had as a child of climbing in an over packed car and driving for days. Staring out the car window at total darkness in the middle of the night. Eating lunch at the vending machines at highway truck stops that smelled like cat pee. Waking up on the other side of the country. Learning about geography, history, and hearing dialect for the first time. I wanted all that for my son.

driving trip

It would have been a beautiful drive through the Great Midwest, but we only had a week and I hear Kansas and Nebraska look the same anyway. We passed up the truck stop vending machines for airplane food and landed at our destination in a measly four hours.

Seattle. Seattle is a lot different than Chicago. Even though it rains, no one carries an umbrella. The rain in Seattle is like a heavenly mist and you only need a rain parka with a hood.

Fact: no one speeds in Seattle. There is no road rage. We saw one car weaving in and out trying to catch a light and it had Illinois driving plates.

Seattle is beautiful, Puget Sound, a sight to behold. Its waterways form a complex maze of land and sea, freshwater and salt. Mount Rainier is a constant ghostly presence in the distance.

my son the explorer

We got up early in the mornings to go to tidal pools. Saw starfish clinging to rocks, , crabs big enough to take your finger off, and a beautiful pinkish fish about a foot and a half long with angel wing fins who was very interested in my orange Keens. We later found out that the fish is called a Rat-Tail and was a member of the shark family and I think I’m lucky she didn’t eat my toes for breakfast.

this shark almost ate my sandals

On our last day we decided to go to the zoo. My son and I have been to Lincoln Park Zoo about once a week since the day he was born and we consider ourselves zoo experts. The Seattle Zoo is unenclosed and only fences separate the exhibits. This we had to see.

That morning I got up before everyone else and had extra time. I decided to go through my email. Big mistake.

I left home with two annoying projects simmering on the back burner. One was our mortgage conversion. I had been working to convert a building mortgage to a 30-year fixed for months and months. The other was our real estate tax, which was three times what it should have been. I was in the process of an appeal and made a partial payment so we could actually have the money to go on a vacation.

The first email was from the bank asking for a copy of our paid real estate tax bill.

I emailed back. “We are in the process of an appeal. It was recommended that I make a partial payment.”

The bank replied, “No bank will give you a mortgage with an unpaid tax bill.”

Boom. Down the rabbit hole I went. A morose  and negative mood overwhelmed me and I just couldn’t shake it. The takeaway: never check your email while on vacation.

don't check your emails while on vacation

Driving to the zoo my husband asked. “What’s wrong, honey?”
Entering the zoo my son asked, “Are you ok Mom?”
I answered with, “Just a bad morning,” and my usual, “I’m fine.” But I wasn’t fine.

The truth is that it’s always been hard for me to shake my own dark moods. I don’t get these moods very often anymore, but they send me into a vortex of negative energy that’s very hard for me to climb out of.

But even through my miasma, I could see the amazing design of the Seattle Zoo. Every animal was outdoors and people had access by paths or bridges overlooking specific habitats. We came to a bridge overlooking the Orangutans and stopped. There were several orangutans right under our view playing with large swaths of burlap that they use for bedding. A beautiful female was looking right into my eyes.

I have a confession to make: I talk to animals, I always have. My husband and son are used to this behavior and waited patiently.

An orangutan ws my therapist

I started talking softly to the orangutan, but I was still in the throes of my negative vortex of. Instead of my usual sweet talk, I was near tears, telling the orangutan how bad I felt. The orangutan kept looking in my eyes, seemingly understanding my plight. I continued explaining how unfair my bank was because they knew I was on vacation and why couldn’t they just wait until I got home before they battered me with yet another request.

My little talk with the orangutan went on for several minutes when the orangutan tilted her head like she was going to say something. I stopped talking. The orangutan picked up one of the pieces of burlap, covered her head, ran away and hid in a log.

My son was impressed, “Wow Mom! What did you say to her?  Wait ‘till I tell my friends that my mom actually freaked out an orangutan.”

I was mortified.

My husband asked what happened. I told him, “The orangutan said, “You’re on your own lady.”

Then I cracked up. I was showering her with all my negative energy and she was having none of it. We all had a laughing fit that had us doubled over. When I finally caught my breath, the spell was broken.
My negativity was G O N E.

Mt. Rainier in sunset

I didn’t think about my dilemma until I got home and by then I had unconsciously figured out a solution.

The orangutan saved my vacation and taught me that laughter is stronger than negativity. A good belly laugh is stronger than anxiety and dispair. The next time I have a wave of negative darkness threatening to overtake me, I hope to remember this moment and laugh.