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Challenge: Summer Fun

What I Learned as a Child Who Never Went on Big Vacations

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Growing up, my parents never really took us anywhere.

Well, that’s not entirely fair. We did brave Disneyworld as a family, but not until I was 15 and far past the age that one gets excited over Cinderella’s Castle. For the most part, though, our big summer excursions centered on one thing: A four-hour car ride from our cornfield town to Emerald Isle, where my dad’s aunt, uncle, and first cousin lived.

Every year for more than a decade, the itinerary was always the same. We’d wake before dawn, pile ourselves and our gear into the old Honda van, and drive all day. We’d make it interesting and stop at historical sites along the way to stretch our legs and jazz up the trip a little. One time, we ventured off track about five miles because we thought we saw a road marker advertising a nearby attraction. Turns out, it was a sign telling drivers to beware of roadwork ahead. We came upon dozens of prison inmates repairing a bridge and had to turn back around and get back on the highway.

Once we got to the beach, we’d unpack and my aunt would get spaghetti ready on her oblong dining room table. We’d spend the next two days thrift shopping, searching for sand dollars and shark’s teeth, and eating freshly caught flounder. It was really sweet and honesty really fun.

We still do that same trip. My great-aunt and uncle have gotten a little older and it’s a little harder on them, so we come in shifts. My parents went by themselves this past autumn and us kids hope to go next year and rent an Airbnb nearby so they don’t have to stress over preparing a place for us.

Looking back on it, those simple summers were more than enough. Yet, when I was growing up, I couldn’t help but envy my friends and family members who took trips to more elaborate and exotic locales.

My best friend spent one fall break from high school touring Europe. She visited Paris and Venice and went on tours in Rome. She brought me back the most beautiful leather journal that I still keep on my nightstand. One year, my extended relatives had a huge family reunion in Sicily and everyone I knew back home was able to go, but my parents decided to stay back. My brother was too little and money was too tight.

Everyone came back from the reunion sporting these sweet visors with “Spainhour Family 2001” printed on them. I’ve never been more jealous over a piece of plastic in my life.

As I’ve grown older, though, I realize that maybe my parents were on to something.

We tried to take a big vacation as a family of four this past February. We loaded our Mazda down with enough suitcases to supply a traveling circus troupe, and we headed to Myrtle Beach. Not 24 hours into the trip, my son developed a raging ear infection, my daughter was beginning to feel hot, and my milk supply suddenly dried up, leaving me with no way to feed my sick kid.

To top it all off? One morning, my husband ate under-cooked eggs and got violently sick to his stomach. This was Day 2, people.

I called all our reservations and cancelled them, accepting partial refunds over full ones just so we could get out! I drove everyone home and vowed I’d never attempt a major trip again until the kids were in college.

I thought my parents were stifling me. I thought they were being stingy and over-protective and pretty un-cool. It took becoming a parent for me to realize that they were just more interested in creating memories at home. It was free, the food was good, and I was in my own comfortable environment! Why stray anywhere else when you don’t have to or don’t want to?

When I first got married, my husband and I traveled as much as we could. We honeymooned in Jamaica and saw the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque. We took road trips down the West Coast Highway 1, toured New England, and saw the Pacific Northwest twice because once wasn’t enough.

Then, we had babies and I didn’t change out of my nursing nightgown for about six months.

I nested terribly hard and I just wanted to surround our family with love and comfort. We were presented with an opportunity to take the kids to Disney last year and I couldn’t say “no” quick enough. Not because I don’t think it’s magical – I’m certain it is. I just couldn’t fathom leaving the house at the moment, much less traveling 15 hours away and braving rides and attractions. That seemed far too overwhelming for my postpartum soul.

One day, we’ll take them. I can’t wait until I can show them Monument Valley, Utah. One of my favorite things to look forward to is driving up to it, and putting my hand over their eyes so they can’t get a peek. Then, we’ll pull over onto the side of the dusty, empty road and I’ll reveal to them the sight that took my breath away years before they were around.

I’ll show them the apple orchards in Connecticut and let them ride the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard. Maybe we’ll explore Yellowstone together, or head into Canada, where we can sleep at the bed and breakfast their papa and I stayed at one balmy summer.

But for now? We plan day trips to the museum and love to explore the local library. I keep them at home most of the time, and we play in the yard or on the swing. I’m becoming more and more like my own mama with each passing day, and honing in on home is one of the traits that we share.

There’s this great quote by Paul Newman that I love. When asked why, as one of Hollywood’s most charming and attractive leading men, he’s never strayed from his wife Joanne Woodward, he simply replied, “Why go out for hamburgers when I have a steak at home?”

That’s talking about fidelity, of course, but the sentiment is the same. Why should I stress over finding out what’s “out there” in the world when everything I need is right here? In the place that I stand, I can cultivate memories and create moments for my children – all without leaving the front door.

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