When I was a kid, we went on one vacation. No, I do not mean one vacation each year, I mean one vacation. One.
As I got older, I often wondered about that one vacation. It was the summer between second and third grade for me, the summer of 1982. (Coincidentally, that is the same age that B is now - between second and third grade.) We packed up the car one morning and drove east, to Gettysburg PA. We spent a few hours wandering around a small museum or two, looking at more guns and ammunition than I care to remember. Dad took picture after picture of the cases of guns and ammo and in one - a wooden leg. We wandered a bit of the battlefields, but honestly, to an 8 year old girl, there was not much to catch my attention. From Gettysburg, we drove down to Washington D.C., stopping to spend some time at Monticello. I liked the house and the grounds and would have loved to see the second floor, but it was closed to visitors. We were told that was because of the steep, narrow steps. The lure of the unknown, I still think about that second floor today.
From Monticello into D.C., where we saw the lobby of the hotel where Dad's Aunt Elinor lived, and one part of the Smithsonian. When I first told Rob this story, he asked "Did you see Kermit?" No. "Did you see Fonzie's jacket?" No. "Did you see Dorothy's ruby slippers?" No. "Did you see Howdy Doody?" No. Those were the things that captured his imagination when he visited as a child, and he still remembers today. Those were not the things that we saw. I do not recall which part of the museum we saw (anyone who has visited knows that there are many buildings), but I remember an airplane or two and possibly tractors or cars.
From D.C., we drove down to North Carolina to see our Aunt Edie, who was stationed there in the Air Force. We spent at least one night on her floor. We also stopped in to see our Uncle Randy, who was in Virginia, somewhere near Dulles - I remember hearing plans go over all night, while we slept on his floor.
If you are wondering why I remember so little of that one trip - one whole vacation for all of my childhood years, I think it is because I only remember what we did not see, rather than what we did see. The vacation was my Dad's plan and I remember doing things that he wanted to do and seeing things that he wanted to see. We wanted to check out the D.C. Zoo and did not. I'm sure we would have loved to see Kermit or Fonzie's jacket, but did not. To a child's mind, those were the problems with that vacation.
(One caveat as I write this - I think there may have been various other trips, to family reunions - I remember one long drive to Lima, OH in particular) and long weekends in Wooster at our Aunt and Uncle's house, and there may have been a trip to Florida - but if I was too young to remember - which has to be the case, since I cannot recall specifics, then it does not count.)
I now get to consider and experience vacations through my "parental" eyes, trudging through the airport with two children and all manner of car seats and strollers, treasured teddy bears and blankets and back packs full of snacks and gadgets to distract. I attack each city we visit with a mind to see all that we can in the short time that we are there, to soak up the history and culture, while tuning out the cries of "I'm hungry" and "I'm tired," usually because it is a city I've never been to and long wanted to visit. Through this, I wonder if the "vacation" has not become overrated or maybe just can no longer live up to the hype.
B has it very good. She has seen more places in her 7 short years than many people get to visit in a lifetime. We have dragged her across ancient ruins, in and out of museums, up waterfalls in jungle rain forests and across sunny beaches. K climbed that jungle waterfall too - in a baby carried on her Daddy's back. As I consider those vacations through my girls' eyes, I wonder if they will someday look back on them as I look back on the one vacation of my childhood - remembering not what we did do and see, but rather what we did not do. (I'm sure if you ask B today, she will tell you that we did not go to the pool or the zoo and that she did not get to go swimming on this last trip, despite having her suit "at the ready" at all times.) However, she does remember the Eiffel Tower in Paris and Big Ben in London and the Coliseum in Rome.
When I say that family vacations may be overrated or there are arguments against them, it is said after coming home, emptying the luggage and facing piles of laundry. Exhausted from dragging kids through the airport, juggling luggage and having a little one sleep on my arm for four hours. I have to take a step back and wonder if it was worth it. Will my girls remember their first trip to Wrigley Field, or will they remember that we bought popcorn and did not get a chance to eat it. (Side note - to the people that put cheese popcorn into your caramel popcorn "Chicago style" - you are strange and it does not taste good!) I think the girls had a good time at the baseball game, but I also think that they were "done" with the experience after an inning or two and were not as "in" to the game as Daddy or I was (watching the Dodgers beat the Cubs.) Of course, we did not have to travel to experience a baseball game with board children wanting ice cream or cotton candy or hot dogs or souvenirs... that happens fairly regularly right here at home, in Chavez Ravine. You will probably find us there about a month from now when Hello Kitty once again throws out the first pitch.
As parents, we are not in the unenviable position of having to give serious thought to our travel plans before making those plans or taking that trip. We get to balance the fun stuff (pools, beaches and ice cream) that our kids want to do with the "fun" things we, the adults, might want to experience (baseball games, museums, history, ancient ruins, touring the Effen vodka factory or local vineyard). We have to plan our lodgings with the kids in mind - gone is the jacuzzi suite in favor of the "family" suite with pull-out couch. We are no longer able to take "red-eye" flights and a drive that once took 5 or 6 hours with 1 quick stop (or no stops at all) now takes 7 hours, with a stop for lunch and to "stretch our legs."
We get home from all of this, wondering if our children will remember anything of the trip 5 or 10 years from now, and questioning whether or not it was even worth it to leave home. At some point, the key chains and chotchkes will get lost. The t-shirts will no longer fit or will be worn down to rags and have to be tossed. What will be left? Pictures, of course (especially in my house where nothing goes undocumented with pictures), and the memories.
In the shadow of this realization, I revisit the issue of that one vacation of my childhood. I doubt that my parents were actively trying to keep us from seeing the world (or our little corner of it) or made some overreaching declaration that we would never vacation as a family. I'm sure that expense had a little bit to do with it - travel for a family of five is a substantial expense, even if you are sleeping on your relatives' floors every night. But I also wonder if the stress of the planning and the stress of the execution played a part. At some point, did they decide that it was easier to just stay home and have 1 and 2 day trips, rather than a big "blow out"expedition to parts unknown? I'm not sure.
I do know that I have seriously considered waiting until K is a bit older before taking our next family trip. Then again, considering that we've already climbed a waterfall with her strapped to Daddy's back and trekked through a jungle full of ancient ruins with her in a stroller, and considering the fact that we dragged B all over Europe when she was 3 and a half, why stop now? Bring it on. But maybe for the next one, I'll bring a nanny to hang with them at night. That way I can get at least one trip to a winery or vodka factory under my belt?