There is a story told of the Chazon Ish, one of the greatest Torah scholars and leaders of the 20th century, that he was learning late at night with one of his students. In need of a refreshing break, the Chazon Ish suggested they go swimming. While in the water he began splashing his student, who was surprised by this behavior. “If you want to discover new insights in the Torah,” suggested the Chazon Ish, “you need to be playful.”
And on a completely different note, my husband once asked the famous actor, Kirk Douglas, about the key to his success. “The secret to good acting,” Mr. Douglas responded, “is to be able to act like a child, to throw yourself down on the ground and play with pretend guns!”
I kept both of these ideas in mind (I won’t reveal which one took precedence) the other day while on our family vacation.
I find that one of the keys to enjoying yourself (especially with everyone’s different needs and desires) is to let go; to access your inner child, as they say. It all began with a change of plans…
We were in San Diego (our default location when no one wants to travel too far or for too long). “Let’s do something different,” I suggested enthusiastically. “There’s a Globe Theater here that we’ve never been to. We can go and see one of Shakespeare’s plays.”
However many exclamation marks I put at the end of that sentence, however much excitement I infused in my voice, the idea fell flat. The reactions ranged from morose to abject horror (this is the moment to comment on the flaws in the educational system or my parenting but we will thoughtfully ignore both opportunities).
“Let’s go night-kayaking instead,” offered one of my daughters. “You can even see the fireworks from Sea World.” This met with a much more desirable response – especially after reassuring everyone that you won’t find sharks in a man-made bay!
We booked an appointment and were told to arrive at 7:45. We left our lodging early to avoid traffic – and, lo and behold, there wasn’t any. We were VERY early. We walked down to the water to wait. When the guide arrived, he told us that our trip had been scheduled incorrectly and we should wait yet another hour before heading out if we wanted to catch the fireworks.
Okay, we were troopers. We could do that – especially since there was a small amusement park across the street. I strongly believe that one of the biggest secrets to good vacationing is to be able to “go with the flow” – as I said earlier, to “let it go.” There will constantly be glitches (I remember with actual pleasure a Shabbos in Tzefat with the pouring rain leaking into our rooms…) and you just can’t let them frustrate you.
We strolled the park, played a little air hockey, watching some terrifying rides and returned for our water adventure.
“45 minutes till fireworks,” the guide commented as he launched us into the water. Yet, just as we started paddling, we heard the familiar “Pop, pop, pop” of …you guessed it. We were nowhere near our destination but that’s the good thing about fireworks – you don’t need to be.
Our guide was mortified. “Every other night they started an hour later,” he claimed. But it didn’t mater. We just wanted to kayak out on the glassy water under the soft night sky.
And it was beautiful. And wet – very wet. Well, duh, you might say. Did you notice the location? The problem was we were unprepared. The clever child who had suggested the activity (and done it before I might add) was reassuring. “Don’t worry about your clothes; you barely get wet.” “Worried about your hair? No way it will get that far.” All I can say is that our appearance at the end of the adventure gives new meaning to the expression “drowned rat.” I was drenched – from head to toe. And we couldn’t stop laughing.
This is secret #2 to a good family vacation. Not only do we need to roll with the punches but we need to keep perspective and keep laughing. As long as we can find something to laugh about, as long as we can maintain our sense of humor, then even the dreariest vacation spot (Bullhead City, Arizona was a new low) can still provide fond memories.
In fact these two tips for successful family trips are really important life skills. To live successfully and joyfully, it is crucial to be able to relax about the details and to gain perspective through laughter.
“Go with the flow” isn’t just a holdover from the sixties nor does it obviate the need for practical planning. It means, to quote the famous Yiddish expression, that man plans and God laughs. We need plans and goals. But we also need to be flexible in order to meet the challenges that will, inevitably, rise along the way.
And we need laughter – it takes us out of ourselves, our petty concerns and foibles; it reminds us of the bigger picture.
Laughter is really the only way to survive - and enjoy – a family vacation. Did I mention that I need a new skirt because it ripped when it caught in the bicycle chain as we rode along the beach yesterday – that kept everyone rolling for a good long while…