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Family Vacation
Mom with a View

Family Vacation

It doesn't have to be an oxymoron.


It’s August already. All those dollars for camp have been well spent. Your kids are flying or being bussed home (more well-spent dollars!) Summer is almost over. But wait a minute; it’s actually not. There are still about five (yes, count them, five!) weeks until school starts again.

Since we are no longer living an agrarian lifestyle (my kids never even liked that yearly camp trip to a farm to pick vegetables in the heat of the day!), why does summer vacation need to be so long? But that’s another rant for another time. Meanwhile, there are five weeks to fill (or at least cope with). One evening is definitely going to be occupied by a recitation of all the camp cheers and a medley of all the songs (I think I could be head counselor at Camp Shira next summer!). But that leaves approximately 34 more evenings – and corresponding days.

Although many of us can’t devote every waking moment to entertaining our children (we have to work to pay those camp bills!), we all try to set aside some special time. We usually take a block of days so that we can possibly even leave town. Yes, this is the time of year for that famous oxymoron, the family vacation, an annual event guaranteed to thrill many and evoke terror in the hearts of others (mostly mothers).

Actually, I enjoy these trips (note the deliberate avoidance of the word “vacation”). I like to get away, I like to explore new places, I like the undistracted time with my family. And I think my grown children have fond memories of these adventures, even the disasters (Bullhead City, Arizona, anyone?)

When the children were young, finding family-friendly spots was fairly easy. We could rely on something that entertained the older ones while the diaper set was good-naturedly along for the ride. As they have gotten older, it has become more complicated. What will entertain a 15-year-old boy and an 18-year-old girl? (And no, outlet malls do not qualify!)

We try to have a combination of outdoor activities – you can bike ride almost anywhere – and indoor more city-inspired ones. We even try to sneak in a few cultural and educational activities, although since my kids shy away from museums, we try to cleverly rename them.

And we attempt to make every aspect of the trip an adventure. Here’s where I really do put on my camp counselor hat. And although we don’t sing songs the whole way (the advantage or disadvantage of iPods, depending on your perspective and your voice) – does anyone even remember Found a Peanut? – we still try to interact and be open to new possibilities along the way. Last year, we found a lake and stopped to go kayaking. We even usually have a night activity.

I try to rise above my fatigue and frustrations (sometimes more successfully than others) to just be a good camper and make this a positive experience.

And I try to fill the car with food to keep everyone’s body quiet and happy.

We may not fly to Europe or other more exotic destinations but we can have fun. And all the externals, however interesting or educational, are really just an excuse to spend time together.

The trips add to the family narrative, they create memories and stories to repeat afterwards – sometimes ad nauseum. And they deepen our bond.

We spend too much time searching for the perfect trip, the perfect experience when it’s just about family time.

And we invest too much energy in unproductive expectations. Yes, there will be fighting, yes, there will be glitches, yes, there may even be moments when you want to turn around and go home (you may even threaten to do so). But in the end you will have created something lasting for your whole family (studies actually show that experiences make a much deeper emotional impression than gifts and other material possessions).

Don’t make the mistake of missing out on this special opportunity of the many (many, many) weeks of summer. Just be sure to save some energy for you and your husband – you’re going to need a real vacation afterwards!

July 31, 2011

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Visitor Comments: 7

(7) Judith, August 7, 2011 9:43 PM

Share the experience, share the memories

There is something very relaxing and bonding about spending summer time with our children, after 10 months of shuttling them to school. I relax my messometer, stock the fridge with lots of summer fruit that we select at the local farmers market, and take the kids on trips that are either free or low cost around the city and state. This year a computer literate mom (thanks Becca) put together a blog and sometimes we join other families so our kids have friends for the activities. Nothing compares to the family memory of a burst tire in the Mojave desert in triple digit heat (a good samaritan, not-Jewish, helped us).

(6) Rschel, August 4, 2011 3:15 PM

How sad that anyone would think it's an oxymoron

Until recently, my husband and I ALWAYS took our kids with us -- there is no one with whom we can leave them. And while occasionally there were (small, fixable) problems, I never felt stressed about anything except getting everyone to the airport on time. We raised our children to appreciate things like museums and historical sites, and now they do. And when one opted not to go with us this summer, he was really missed.

(5) Anonymous, August 3, 2011 6:46 PM

Mrs. Braverman is right - it's not about what you do, it's about doing it together. One of your goals is that in 30 years your grandchildren will hear their parents giggling about the experience (whatever the experience was) and realize that Mom and Dad were once kids, too. We did the Bronx Zoo and went bowling this summer - and splurged on a half gallon of ice cream once in a while. Next week we're working on the scrapbook - together.

(4) Anonymous, August 3, 2011 12:41 PM

What planet do many frum people live on?

Yes your article was very nice with good points for those able to travel. MANY articles in this venue and similar ones seem to write to an elite audience. I work with and live near many kinds of people--many are observant Jews. I have the wealthy who fit the description of your family's summer activities and I have those you are humbled to beg for free camp, food, assistance with bills. Those (MANY) families where neither parent (if there even are 2 parents lately) has a job in this economy. Those who are blessed with wealth are often clueless about the other REALITY of how people live. Maybe there should be more articles about REAL life situations and how people are coping...not just the occasional nice fund raiser (ah--isn't that nice). Let us pray that Moshiach comes soon , so we can all rejoice and focus on the real emes!

(3) Miriam, August 3, 2011 1:06 AM

Great article!

You're inspiring me to go for it this year! Thank you!

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