Imagine three kids, ages 6, 4, and 18 months occupying a hotel room for four nights (parents included). The baby wallows in a pack-n-play while mom, dad, and the kids crouch between the farthest bed and the wall waiting for her to pass out. Cramped quarters, a stuffed-to-the-brim mini van, and a noisy helicopter tour service right next door. Added together, it spells "Family Vacation", Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, circa 1995.
The baby learned to say, "helicopter" that year. We traipsed all over Dollywood, the 6 year old exclaiming before, during, and after each and every ride, "Which one will we do after this? What's next, mommy? Oh! Can we ride THAT one?!" On the ferris wheel - after we endured the long line to board - she jumped and pointed so much that she rocked the car and received a stern admonishment from the ride operator. Aside from my fear of heights, my nerves were shot as I cowered in embarrassment.
We packed those 4 days tight, drug kids all over the place, including the Christmas Shop where they visited Santa Clause (in July), and drove home, exhausted.
Vacation for a parent of young children is more like a form of torture wished upon you by your mother - who took you on vacation when you were a little pest.
I recall my Uncle Charlie wondering at my sanity for taking 3 kids under age 6 on a "pleasure" trip. At the time, I didn't think much about it because I had two choices: I could either enjoy a change of scenery while herding cats with help from my husband, or stay home, confined to four walls, fielding skirmishes and cleaning messes just like every other day of the week. (Disclaimer: I loved my role as mom. But like any mom, I spent a few days at the end of my frazzled rope.)
The truth is, my folks instilled in me a deep commitment to family vacation.
It all started with a little blue tent, barely big enough to fit the three of us (mom, dad, and I) lying down. We took our tent and went to Cape Canaveral, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and all parts in between.
Motel trips didn't figure into the financial scheme of things, so it was the tent or nothing for us. Except for the night we rolled into the campground in Kitty Hawk, winds gusting so hard our humble abode couldn't be lassoed to the stakes in the ground. Thrilled beyond measure at the luxury of hotel amenities, I became enthralled with the ice machine. My dad and I reloaded the ice bucket three times, just for my pleasure.
The little blue tent saw better days, and we acquired a larger, more spacious tent. We purchased wooden cots and shared excitement of moving to "higher" ground.
Swimming in the campground pool, eating breakfast over the open flame, winning game after game of Dutch Blitz against my dad, and attending movie night in the campground shelter became traditions each year. I loved it.
Except for the year the cot material dry rotted. It sounded throughout the night - rip, rip, rippppp - as three people tossed and turned in sleep. We awoke lying uncomfortably against the wooden criss cross frames. No one slept well that year.
Once, I got the bright idea to set my dad's alarm clock for 3:30 AM (don't ask me why we brought an alarm clock on vacation - chalk it up to a perfectionist's attempt at relaxation without a schedule). The next morning over breakfast, dad passed the coffee percolator to mom. "I wonder why the alarm went off in the middle of the night? I guess I need to replace it."
And I laughed. Hard. Because I never even woke up during that episode.
The next night I climbed into my sleeping bag and snuggled down to a pile of rocks and sticks.
Paybacks play a key role on vacation.
After we married, Jim and I carried on the tent tradition.
We did stay in motels occasionally, as noted in the 1995 bed crouching episode. But mostly, we camped. Eventually, the tent transitioned to a pop-up camper, and the pop-up evolved into a 30 foot pull-behind, and last summer, a driving camper headed west.
This summer, we hopped in the RV and headed back to our old stomping grounds of Pigeon Forge. Family vacations look a bit different now that most of the kids are out of the house. The eldest drove down for the weekend with her husband and our grandson. Our son lives and works in nearby Knoxville, and joined us in between shifts. The whole family is not under one roof anymore, but everyone still cherishes the bond of family vacation.
If you are just starting a family, or if you've been wavering on the importance of family vacations, let me encourage you to make the investment, both regarding finances and time. You may not think it's a priority, or it may be low on your list of necessities. Finances may be lacking, or vacation time minimal. I understand. But for the sake of family bonding, please consider your options.
Get a tent. Visit local state parks if time is short, or gas too expensive. Get the family away from the hubbub of normal life, technology, video games, whatever - grab a pack of marshmallows, build a fire, and spin a yarn around its warmth. Let the kids collect bugs, catch butterflies, fish, swim, and climb trees. Grab a few relatives who also have kids who can keep yours company while the adults play crazy card games. Our kids recall with fondness the times we camped with cousins, aunts and uncles down at the local state park. We were the loudest people in the campground, but we were also the most fun.
Memories acquired = priceless.
Did we go on vacation every single year? No. We had a few very lean years, and it took a while to get a financial plan together to make vacations possible. I'm so glad we did, because it set a precedence. Our kids came to expect the tradition, and in time, they matured enough to where they could feed, clothe, and bathe themselves. This made vacation so very much more enjoyable - but I wouldn't trade those early years for anything.
So what are you waiting for? Get planning that vacation! You won't be sorry.