Sunday, June 29, 2014

How to Go on a Family Vacation

It's SUMMER!!!!!!!

Shit, it's time for a family vacation.

I say family vacation because this is quite different from an actual vacation.

An actual vacation is when you get to sleep in, eat whatever you want, relax, read, go to the beach and not have to build a sand castle, go to a museum for pleasure and not to enhance your child's chances of getting into an Ivy League college, etc.

A family vacation isn't a whole lot different from your day-to-day existence at home. You still have to provide meals, make sure everyone brushes their teeth, keep up with summer reading, do laundry and so on. What delineates it as a vacation is the increased pressure to have fun, create lasting memories and experience quality time together as a family. Whether it's Disney World, or the beach or some destination city, much work needs to be done to make sure every moment leaves a lasting and meaningful impression on your offspring.

So you research websites and download apps like Gogobot and NFT for so-and-so city, and you make daily itineraries, and you plan the best route through the Magic Kingdom to avoid lines and still see the Parade and fireworks, and you toss in a little educational trip to a nature preserve or science museum, and you stay up late and get up early so you can return home knowing that you did everything. And it's a lot of effort. Effort that is often met with exhaustion, and whiny declarations like "I'm hungry" or "I don't want to swim with Dolphin's" or "Who is Emily Dickinson and why do we have to go to her house?" And you get back home feeling like you need a vacation from your vacation despite all the posts on Facebook which give the impression that you're having the BEST time ever.

And, most likely, you spent a lot of money on this BEST time ever. So you convince yourself that it was. And there probably were amazing moments which most likely were happy accidents or surprises. Something you stumbled upon on your way to the next thing on the list; and even a few things that actually were on the list. On the whole, however the majority of the vacation was fast and stressful and exhausting. Not what you were looking forward to when you booked it in the middle of that snowstorm.

I'm a big believer in vacations. I think everyone needs one and everyone needs to learn what constitutes a vacation for them. For some, what I described above is, honestly, the best time ever. For others it may look different. For example, for my kids, vacations often include unencumbered video game time, because that is what they love to do. I still haven't cracked the vacation nut, but over the years I have learned one or two or seven things that have helped.

1. Do not overplan. When we go to Orlando we always do one day in the park and one day off. One experience a day is plenty; ten is a recipe for overstimulation and resentment.

2. Let the kids play too many video/computer games and watch too much TV. If that's what they like, let them do it once in awhile, even if it's a beautiful day out. They're happy, and they eventually turn it off and suggest a game of catch or a bike ride of their own volition.

3. Force the kids or your spouse to do one thing they don't want to do. You'll either get a delightful surprise, or they will gather material to tease you with which is something they will enjoy anyway.

4. Do something that you want to do on your own without anyone else there to spoil it for you.

5. Join in on one of the kids' activities even if you hate it. Play a video game or pitch to them or go shopping in that tourist trap and buy a hermit crab.

6. Do something frivolous and impractical, not because it's a teaching moment for your kids, but because it's your vacation dammnit.

7. Ignore all of the above and do what you want because you know what you and your family need better than anybody.

This year we're taking little vacations, Three to four day treks to see family, hang at the beach, go to an amusement park, and maybe take in New York City. We're doing this because of work schedules and because we're broke. Will Husband over plan? Sure. Will we get on each other's nerves? Yup. Will we only remember the good stuff when we talk about it at Thanksgiving? Oh yeah.

We all want the perfect vacation to ease the WTF of our everyday. What we get is never perfect, it's never enough, but it might slow us down some, remind us to breathe a little deeper and last just long enough for us to remember why we love each other before we're ready to kill each other again.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Resonance of Goodbye

I feel like I've been saying goodbye a lot lately. None of it has been terribly racing-beside-a-departing-train-while-holding-my-jaunty-hat-and-straining-to-hold-a-loved-one's-hand romantic either. Much of it has transpired without pageantry. A once close high school friend dying suddenly, a treasured colleague leaving to work his magic at a new school, teenager #2 leaving the Middle School where I so enjoyed teaching him to begin High school, teenager #1 leaving one High School to try another. And I must say, self-indulgently perhaps, that I find myself mourning a bit.

I have always been a fan of change. I think it's essential. I think it becomes what you make of it. I think no matter how small(trying a new spaghetti sauce) or how large(becoming an astronaut) it is an act of bravery that dares to imagine "what else is possible." Any change, however, whether it is planned or beyond your control necessitates letting something go. And any way you slice that, it's hard. Even if it's a welcome change, like teenager #1's is to him, there is still  a sense of leaving the familiar where you understand the normal of that world and venturing into someplace uncertain.

And there's been a lot of leaving the familiar for me of late. So. I've been pondering goodbye.

I don't know everything, but I've lived long enough to figure out that it is possible to survive even the hardest goodbyes, or at least the hardest I've faced so far. And despite the existence of this blog, I am not a big dweller. Over the last few weeks however, I have found myself feeling. Mainly sad, sometimes scared, a little bit relieved and even jealous; but mostly just full up with feeling the many intricacies that led up to and have been triggered by these goodbyes. And I am struck with the need to sit in the space that these goodbyes are creating. To just sit and listen to the resonance of goodbye, with no expectation of feeling better or wallowing in worse. Just to be present with the holes that goodbyes leave behind; holes that contain memories and lost hopes, sometimes anger and regret, and in time, smiles and gratitude. But they are holes nonetheless, that never quite get filled up.

And now I am thinking about metaphors to musical instruments and orchestrations of life's symphony, and feeling embarrassed by a striking resemblance to a Hallmark channel holiday special.

So get to the point. Goodbyes are hard, and though we are better for knowing that person or having had that experience, small emptinesses appear each time we say goodbye to something or someone. And we try to minimize them with assurances of keeping in touch, and positive reinforcements that change is good and confident statements like "he's totally ready for this," and the validity of those statements is not necessarily undermined by the fact that they are often a coping mechanism. In fact, perhaps optimism and faith build the bridge between what is familiar and what is uncertain.

So I'm going back to the music metaphor, deal with it. Because all of these spaces created by something or someone leaving makes for a much more interesting potential of sound, and echoes, and (let's go there with the title) resonance. They build an intricate structure which actually prevents us from falling apart. They contribute to who we become, and, I believe, makes us stronger for the vulnerability they expose.

So, to come to the end of this particular Hallmark very special episode, I will simply say that the resonance of goodbye is not displeasing, it is the part of the soundtrack when strings and piano and silence blend to a moment of notability; a moment that shifts the story; a moment that has the potential to make a better movie. And it's summer folks, aren't we all looking for a better movie?