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.

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