I really did have to write essays in elementary school answering that question, “How I Spent My Summer Vacation.”
Sometimes, answering the question was easy. “We went to Pensacola, Florida,” or “We went to Gatlinburg, Tennessee” (this was before Gatlinburg was discovered and made over as a tourist mecca).
Those were the times when my parents had the financial resources to take a vacation. When they didn’t, my answer to the question might be “I spent a week with my aunt in the Ninth Ward” or “I spent a week with my grandmother in Shreveport.”
Except for my trips to Shreveport, our vacations were always by automobile. I can remember long trips to Washington, D.C., North Carolina, the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains, and Parris Island, South Carolina when my older brother “graduated” from Marine boot camp. I can also remember short trips to Dallas (Six Flags!), Galveston (revisiting the one family vacation my father knew as a child), and Pensacola.
And on those long trips, I can remember asking – many times – for something to drink because I was thirsty. My father’s response was to hand me a cup of “imaginary water.”
Because me and my siblings were rather chronologically spaced out (eight years between me and older brother and ten years between me and my younger brother), there were a lot of vacations as an only child or as the oldest or youngest child by a wide margin. The benefit of that was a lack of sibling rivalry and fighting in the car. What I remember most about those long car rides was spending a lot of time reading or napping.
The memories I have of those vacations are largely good ones. I loved the mountains, and wading in mountain streams, and hiking up a nature trail in the Blue Ridge to suddenly come upon the entire Shenandoah Valley laid out before us. I also remember the massive traffic jams in Houston and Washington, D.C., and the severe sunburn in Florida. But vacations were good times, fun times, things I remember as fun and different, and things I could write about in September for the inevitable essay question.
Vacations have changed. Now they seem to have to be planned with all the strategic and tactical details of a battle plan. Life seems more complicated, or we’ve allowed it to become more complicated, including how we have to keep the kids from getting bored (which, of course, is the major horror of 21st century culture – boredom).
In The Secrets of Happy Families, Bruce Feiler describes how he talked with the game maker Zynga about what to do to keep children occupied on vacations, particularly for those times when plans might go awry (traffic jams, delayed planes, thunderstorms closing the beach). But tension can happen even when things go well, and Feiler has some good ideas for that as well: “…worry less about eliminating the negatives and focus more on maximizing the positives. One easy way to do that: put away your phone, get down on your kids’ level, and play.”
I like that. Get down on your kids’ level and play.
This month at The High Calling, we’ve been discussing The Secrets of Happy Families. Check the site today to see what Seth Haines has to say about the final chapters in the book, covering vacations, sports, and family reunions.
Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.