What is your favorite part of going on a family vacation?
What is your favorite part of going on a family vacation?

I’ve been thinking a lot about vacations lately, having just returned from a three week vacation with my family. Before we leave, there is always a point when I question our sanity and wonder why in the world we take vacations each year. This point is usually reached when I’m knee deep in lists—packing list, pet sitter list, garden sitter list, things that absolutely must be done before I leave my office list, and on and on ad infinitum. I’m at this “why in the world” point once again right now, two days back, as I’m staring at the piles of mail, emails, laundry, and dust bunnies, and garden and flower beds full of weeds. Last night, our first full night home, Peter turned to me and said, “Remind me why we did this?”

I love to travel with my kids. They give me an excuse to do all the things I want to do anyway, but might feel foolish doing if I didn’t have a kid along. Now that my children are getting older, I find myself having to talk them into doing some of these things (read: beg), such as climbing to the top of a mesa so we can make funny faces at the rest of the family below, riding the merry go round, or stopping at every shaved ice stand we see. I know I shouldn’t need a child to give me permission to do these things, but it sure helps and makes it more fun in the process.

Vacations also give us time away from the demands and siren calls of life. Peter and I need time away from work and volunteer activities, and our children need time away from friends, the internet, and all things with electrical plugs, batteries or earphones. It sometimes feels like modern life is designed to isolate us from each other. Our thirteen year old alternates between her room and the computer, while our high schooler moves between work and friends. I feel like I have to post myself in between, waiting for either of them to pass through. The same basic theme is repeated with the others, to a lesser degree. And between work, the house and other activities, Peter and I aren’t much better.

But on vacation it all changes. We have time to step back from the world and just be a family. Literally within a day I start seeing the difference. My kids start playing card games together. They pass their iPods to the front seat to share a favorite song on the communal speakers. Safe from the judging eyes of friends, the thirteen year old reaches out to hold my hand when we walk. The high schooler accidentally calls me “Mommy”. In the evening we all gather together to play long drawn out gin rummy and Uno tournaments, or watch a program on the Discovery Channel. I don’t know why, but we reminisce more about our childhoods and about theirs. We tell stories that they swear they’ve never heard, and we swear we’ve told a million times before. We laugh and tease, and although it is more about potty humor than I would like, it still feels good. Lest this picture looks too Rockwellian, I should share that there are also arguments and getting on each others nerves and a continuation of worries from pre-vacation, but that isn’t what I choose to remember.

In the midst of the “why in the world” moments, I chose to remember that we travel with our kids to create memories—collective family memories, and there is something about sharing an adventure that enhances this process. Oh sure, we also want to broaden our children’s horizons and expose them to the world in all its glorious differences, but deep down, the real pay off for me is the memory of a perfect evening playing games in a beautiful setting surrounded by my family, with enough distance from the demands at home to appreciate it all.


Image credit: OldOnliner