It doesn't have to be an oxymoron.
It’s August already. All those dollars for camp have been well spent. Your kids are flying or being bussed home (more well-spent dollars!) Summer is almost over. But wait a minute; it’s actually not. There are still about five (yes, count them, five!) weeks until school starts again.
Since we are no longer living an agrarian lifestyle (my kids never even liked that yearly camp trip to a farm to pick vegetables in the heat of the day!), why does summer vacation need to be so long? But that’s another rant for another time. Meanwhile, there are five weeks to fill (or at least cope with). One evening is definitely going to be occupied by a recitation of all the camp cheers and a medley of all the songs (I think I could be head counselor at Camp Shira next summer!). But that leaves approximately 34 more evenings – and corresponding days.
Although many of us can’t devote every waking moment to entertaining our children (we have to work to pay those camp bills!), we all try to set aside some special time. We usually take a block of days so that we can possibly even leave town. Yes, this is the time of year for that famous oxymoron, the family vacation, an annual event guaranteed to thrill many and evoke terror in the hearts of others (mostly mothers).
Actually, I enjoy these trips (note the deliberate avoidance of the word “vacation”). I like to get away, I like to explore new places, I like the undistracted time with my family. And I think my grown children have fond memories of these adventures, even the disasters (Bullhead City, Arizona, anyone?)
When the children were young, finding family-friendly spots was fairly easy. We could rely on something that entertained the older ones while the diaper set was good-naturedly along for the ride. As they have gotten older, it has become more complicated. What will entertain a 15-year-old boy and an 18-year-old girl? (And no, outlet malls do not qualify!)
We try to have a combination of outdoor activities – you can bike ride almost anywhere – and indoor more city-inspired ones. We even try to sneak in a few cultural and educational activities, although since my kids shy away from museums, we try to cleverly rename them.
And we attempt to make every aspect of the trip an adventure. Here’s where I really do put on my camp counselor hat. And although we don’t sing songs the whole way (the advantage or disadvantage of iPods, depending on your perspective and your voice) – does anyone even remember Found a Peanut? – we still try to interact and be open to new possibilities along the way. Last year, we found a lake and stopped to go kayaking. We even usually have a night activity.
I try to rise above my fatigue and frustrations (sometimes more successfully than others) to just be a good camper and make this a positive experience.
And I try to fill the car with food to keep everyone’s body quiet and happy.
We may not fly to Europe or other more exotic destinations but we can have fun. And all the externals, however interesting or educational, are really just an excuse to spend time together.
The trips add to the family narrative, they create memories and stories to repeat afterwards – sometimes ad nauseum. And they deepen our bond.
We spend too much time searching for the perfect trip, the perfect experience when it’s just about family time.
And we invest too much energy in unproductive expectations. Yes, there will be fighting, yes, there will be glitches, yes, there may even be moments when you want to turn around and go home (you may even threaten to do so). But in the end you will have created something lasting for your whole family (studies actually show that experiences make a much deeper emotional impression than gifts and other material possessions).
Don’t make the mistake of missing out on this special opportunity of the many (many, many) weeks of summer. Just be sure to save some energy for you and your husband – you’re going to need a real vacation afterwards!