The Family Vacation
A mother reflects on the memories and purpose of family trips.
Regular readers know that our only son leaves for college in August. His departure signals a major transition in our lives, and I am increasingly aware that our family’s rhythms and routines will never be the same.
Oh, I know he will be home for the occasional weekend and major holidays. And yes, he will bunk at the house over summer breaks. But we won’t see much of him during these visits. His time will be spent regrouping with friends, and I will have to settle for a periodic peck on the cheek as he darts in and out of the front door.
That is just fine. I am prepared. In fact, I had lots of practice this summer. Since graduation at the end of May, I have seen my son a total of 15 minutes. Our conversations are limited to basic details about the availability of meals and the laundry schedule.
Be assured that I do not begrudge this dance of separation. It is natural and necessary. But I confess, I will miss one aspect of our lives that I know has come to an end: the family vacation.
It seems doubtful that our boy will join us for travel to fun and interesting destinations. While in college, he will choose vacations to the beach or mountains with college buddies, his fraternity brothers’ lake houses or his next girlfriend’s family condo. Then, after college, he will understandably pursue new interests and adventures.
And that is just fine. It is what he should do as a young man starting to make his way in the world.
Nevertheless, images from family vacations flood my mind these days.
I remember the trip to Glacier National Park in Montana. Taylor is 5. The night we arrive, he suddenly gets lethargic and begins running a high fever. The urgent care center diagnoses him with pneumonia and prescribes antibiotics and steroids. He responds quickly, and we spend the rest of the vacation trying to keep our son from bouncing off the mountain walls. We picnic lakeside and dodge a bear foraging for food. A scary but wonderful family vacation.
I recall an image from another trip out west that included a visit to the Grand Canyon. Taylor is 6 years old, sitting cross-legged with the epic gorge in the background. He is grinning, eyes closed, arms raised to shoulder level, his thumbs and forefingers forming circles with the remaining fingers outstretched. From a Western perspective, his hands signal “OK.” But to the Eastern world, he would appear to be meditating. The reason for his pose? Our next stop is the metaphysical mecca of Sedona, AZ, and 6-year-old Taylor, unprompted, is getting into the spirit.
Fast forward to a trip to Washington, D.C. when Taylor is 10. We settle into our room at the Ritz Carlton. Our son is captivated by the hotel’s cable options and does not want to leave the room for dinner. So Lewis and I venture to the restaurant downstairs and give Taylor permission to order room service. A bit later, we return to the room and find our 10 year old snuggled comfortably in down pillows, Egyptian cotton sheets and a silky comforter, watching the movie Home Alone. A room service cart stands next to the bed with remnants of a gourmet cheeseburger, fries, chocolate milkshake and banana split. The room service tab is $56 plus a generous tip he gave the server. Worth every penny to see our own Macaulay Culkin living the good life.
Dear neighbors, I will spare you the description of additional images. Suffice it to say that our family has been blessed with the opportunity to travel.
But know that our family vacations have always been about more than room service and sightseeing. We tried over the years to expose Taylor, and ourselves, to different cultures and ways of life. Through travel, we learned from others and saw wondrous sites as well.
I hope my son will continue to travel and seek to learn the rhythms and routines of families in other locations, cultures and circumstances. This hope is my final gift to Taylor as he separates. It is an important gift, because people in this world too often lack understanding and acceptance of other whose lives and beliefs are different.
This gives me hope: Taylor recalls his night at the Ritz Carlton in our nation’s capital, but also remembers the monuments, memorials and museums. He gained an appreciation of Native American arts following his trips out west. He learned about lassos on the banks of a Montana river. He listened to drummers playing atop an Arizona mountain as they greeted the sunset.
Taylor’s leaving home. And he’ll be just fine.