At the 5 Guys in Mystic, an elderly woman tugs on my sleeve while I refill our ketchup. “You have a lovely family… so nice,” she says, and her husband nods in agreement. “You deserve to take a bow, Mom. Right now.” and so I do, right there with my french fries.
It’s moments like these that highlight our family vacations.
~Like when my husband runs into the Subway shop on our way through the town of Salem, asking (on a whim) where we could find all the witch stuff–only to be reminded that we are in CONNECTICUT, not Massachusetts.
~Or the museum volunteer who dashes out of her meeting when she sees our family standing in front of the painting that she simply must tell us about;
~Or the young custodian in the casino who kindly goes out of his way to give my teenager directions to the ice skating rink, and hours later, my son repeats, “I really liked that guy.”
Family vacations provide for these kind of touchstones which would easily be overlooked if not for the novelty of being out of place–together. The trips don’t have to be fancy or expensive or even long. We’ve taken 24 hour getaways that hit the spot.
Still, it’s tricky fashioning a trip that pleases a man and a woman, a ten year old and a teenager. Over the years, we’ve found that setting intentions–before making plans–helps create success–for all.
~This winter we knew what we needed most was simply a change of scenery. We also knew that we had neither the energy nor the finances to go very far–though we definitely wanted to head south. We began looking toward something coastal.
~Next we realized that we wanted this trip to provide some kind of “adventure”–some new discovery or experience that we could share together.
~Lastly, we wanted this vacation to offer what we want every vacation to offer–a chance to be incubated as family–away from home and routine and every day distractions.
This last one is a steep order when you’re traveling with teen given their great need for peers; so the deal has to be extra sweet. We accomplished this by finding a location that not only had an aquarium for my 10 year old and an art museum for me and a coastal town for my husband–but also a shopping mall, right near our hotel.
While the last place on earth that I want to go on vacation (or any other day) is the mall, my son feels the same about art museums or days on end without friends. Thus, there is a give and take in our time together that brings balance to the whole.
He tolerates a walk through a scenic waterfront town, and we tolerate a deadening maze of airless storefronts for him. Actually, I skipped the mall, but we all went to the art museum because I was covert about it. Chocolate always helps. They were eating M & Ms when they noticed that we pulled up to an art gallery just before lunch.
It’s also important to find something that the entire family enjoys equally as much. For some families, that’s amusement parks; for others, it’s the movies; while for others, it might be camping. For our family–it’s always been food.
The whole point of vacation for us is indulgence, and thus I always book a hotel that includes breakfast so that my kids can pig out on stuff I wouldn’t let them touch on a holiday–basically sugar masquerading as various forms of nourishment.
If we’re on a trip that lasts more than a couple days, I also make sure that we have a room (or an apartment) with at least a refrigerator so that we can eat in one meal a day. This makes it more affordable, especially if lunch is our “out” meal. It also helps ground us into a bit of routine.
We take turns choosing–a seafood place on the water for me, 5 Guys for our teen, pizza at Chuck e Cheeses for my ten year old, Italian for my husband.
As a family, it’s this give and take that makes our vacations (and our lives) work, even if we do have to remind our teenager about this flow of energy from time to time.
I’m touched when he hugs me and tells me that he had a nice vacation. I almost want to take a bow.
“But now, I’m ready for friends,” he adds.
“Yes, I imagine you are,” I say, “And Dad and I desparately need some date time.”
“Okay,” he replies amenably, as our resident child care provider.
This first morning home our small house feels expansive with plenty of room for our separate agendas. We intersect in the kitchen for to delve into the Cracker Barrel leftovers; and then we each head back to do our own thing.
My husband is in bed nursing a sore throat, while my ten year old is playing with his castle. I’m diving into writing and no doubt my teenager is texting friends.
A hum of ease and joy pervades the home and it feels good, even if no one has faced the laundry. I think back to the incubation of our hotel room, which was at times too crowded, but also sweet in the togetherness it provided. Our view was of a wooded lake without a home or human in sight, while the hotel itself was situated across from a strip mall.
Living rurally as we do, it was a treat to suggest to our boys, “Why don’t you head over to the stores and we’ll pick you up on the way to the aquarium.”
I would have preferred the hotel in Newport, right at the sea, but when my sons discovered this one beside a mall AND a Chuck E. Cheese’s, I couldn’t turn them down.
As a parent, watching them soften and delight in each other’s company–and into ours–is the best gift of all.
Kelly Salasin, February Vacation, 2011