I'm the mysterious lone woman in Cabana 7 at the sparkling Mother of Pearl pool. Surveying the scene, I observe that I'm also the only Phoenician resort guest without a tattoo or drink. I forgo the former and, come 5:00 p.m., rectify the latter. After all, I'm on a "spafari."
It's a miracle I'm even here. Long story short, I spent nine hours on a plane that never went, was stranded overnight, and spent ten hours getting to a destination that was three hours away. I reunited with my luggage at the Phoenix airport with the ardor of a long lost lover. (Jerry McGuire moment: "Toothbrush, bathing suit, running shoes... you complete me.")
My destination is worth it. In Greek mythology, the phoenix is the legendary bird that is reborn out of its own ashes. Let's see if I can do that, too. Work and kids have been particularly intense. My justification for the mom splurge is simple: you can't give what you don't have. I need rest, solitude, and maybe some turquoise and red wine.
Vacationing solo, however, is weird. Rick, my cabana boy, delivers a glass of crisp Sauvignon Blanc. Surveying the scene, there are two ways I can look at being alone.
1. Lonely. Romantic couples canoodle in the pool while families apply sunblock to their
2. Only! Lose the "L" and the single soul requiring my attention is me! My kids are happily
home with their dad. And my non-existent pool canoodler won't miss me if I slip off to the
So I do. In a fluffy white bathrobe, I sip "Inner Goddess" tea as I await my "Holistic Massage," which is sort of like therapist's choice in a spa.
"Do you want to try cupping?" asks my therapist Judith, once I'm lying face down.
Remember reading about when Gwyneth Paltrow appeared at a formal event with strange red marks on her back? The culprit was this mysterious cupping.
"Does it hurt?" I ask. "And how does it work?"
"A little," Judith admits. "And I'm not sure how it works, but the nervous system loves it."
My nervous system votes yes before I can veto it. I don't know what happens at the dry cleaners, but I'm happy with those results, I rationalize.
It feels like Judith is rubbing small toilet plungers up and down and across my back. There's the occasional suction popping noise. It's painful, but I'm too relaxed to stop her.
The next day I show my friend Betsy, an Arizona native, the strange marks all over my back. We're going to the old town to look at artisanal silver. Betsy and I have known each other for 25 years. No matter how much time goes by between visits, we just plunge right in.
"I'm still mad at Nora for dying," I say referring to our common friend and mentor, Nora Ephron, who died at the age of 70, after hiding an illness for years from most of her friends.
"I just went to New York to see her new Broadway play, Lucky Guy, starring Tom Hanks," says Betsy. "The opening was filled with her friends. She was the only one who wasn't there."
We move on to motherhood. I'm a working mother and she, after a long, glamorous career in film publicity, is not. We each feel the pinch of our decision.
"Mom Tax," I call it.
"For years I've had this nagging feeling like I should get back to work, or move back to New York," she says. "But recently I had a shift. Right now my life is here, and I'm going to appreciate what's really good about it. Plus I want to set that example for my girls."
"Working is not perfection, believe me," I say. "I'm constantly pulled in two directions. Sometimes I get home and I'm like Zombie Mom. I wish I was enjoying it more."
As I continually examine my life, there's nothing I'm ready to give up. That means accepting that nothing will ever be done perfectly, and that stress is the price of admission to a full-to-bursting life.
Betsy encourages the retail therapy of a fantastic turquoise belt, made by a local Native American artist and takes me to buy t-shirts for my kids.
That night I dine at JG Steakhouse on the hotel's top floor. Eating alone in a restaurant, especially a swanky one, is by far the most awkward part of traveling solo. I watch the majestic sun set on Camelback Mountain, and as if on cue, a couple is seated between me and the view.
I turn my attention from their P.D.A. to the tasting menu, which is only available if the entire table orders it.
Luckily I am the entire table! I make my way through five amazing courses, starting with tuna tartar, and ending with chocolate molten cake, which I learn started as a mistake. Early in his career, Chef Jean Georges catered a meal for 300, thinking he was serving perfectly baked cakes. Forks hit the fudge, the lava oozed out, dessert history was made. Scrolling through my file of huge mistakes, I don't spot any useful inventions, but ever the optimist, I have my entire future for spectacular bloopers.
I make sure not to make any mistakes the following morning when I hike up Camelback. Two hikers, guys in their 20s, were killed last year on the mountain, so I'm respectful of Mother Nature's steep and slidey bits.
The sun is so hot and the hike is so invigorating that I literally stop and smell the white gardenias blooming in the hedges upon my descent.
I spend my last day by the pool reading Ann Patchett's State of Wonder and writing in my Grateful Journal. Even though I missed the first two days of my trip, I feel grateful for:
1. Arizona's beautiful weather and nature.
2. The Phoenician Resort's opulence in spa, pool and food.
3. The opportunity to catch up, and always learn from, a faraway friend.
4. Getting the rest and solitude not always available in my daily environment.
I pack up the glow-in-the-dark lizard and sequined horse t-shirts, which I know my kids will love. But they'll benefit even more from the reentry of Calm Mom. I'm teaching by example that, once in a while, true relaxation needs to be an away game.