Dear Summer Vacation, I’d Like a Few Words with You

Dear Summer Vacation,

I’d like my time and money back.

Sorry to be so blunt. You know I love your sunshine, long daylight hours and ease of unstructured time, but after this summer trip, my hopes dropped to the level of my sandal straps.

Be it the green pines surrounding Lake Tahoe, the waving palms on Hawaii or honking horns echoing throughout New York City, as the cliché goes, we take ourselves with us wherever we go. The notion that taking a trip serves as a paintbrush gliding over the not-so-colorful parts of ourselves is lovely, yet not realistic.

Don’t misunderstand. I treasure my family and the time away from home we get to have with one another. I love them. It’s just that sometimes we roll so differently, making those differences as contrasting as the bright stars against the dark, night sky.

If I can remember to recall basic truths relative to personality differences in our growing family, including maturity levels and temperaments, chances are good that I can head off at the pass those minor irritations that strap me into a negative mindset. You know the ones, Summer. They often become catalysts for such thoughts like, “I need a weekend away with just the girlfriends!” (Which, by the way, is not a bad idea.) Resolutions and goals are often born from spaces that having time away creates. There’s nothing wrong with using the free space we have in our heads to set goals or decide we are going to infuse something new into our lives.

Being a parent has given me the experience and awareness of how our family works best (without having to pursue an MFT license). Making a momentary decision to grab a snack in order to ward off inevitable crankiness that low blood sugar levels create, deciding to linger longer at a museum exhibit, step to the side of a trail, or sit on a bench by a fountain to eat ice cream, gives freedom to nix the “pack-it-all-in” mindset.  Delays, interruptions and sidetracks are part of living in real time. Seeing what is in front of us can not only be enough, but rich in simplicity. Not every sight has to take my breath away.

I had thought that being on vacation might mean less bickering between my daughters, but there we were, seated at a beautiful restaurant on Father’s Day, only to have the meal gobbled up by disregard for one another. As my temper grew hot enough to reheat the coffee in the lovely porcelain mug set before me, I was left with no choice other than to simmer down. I can’t mandate a “No traveling till everyone grows up,” ordinance but my husband and I can continue to teach thoughtful communication (even when “on vacation”) and fight for the importance of taking time to repair and restore brokenness, rifts and other rips that tears connection. The opportunity to happily look back on our trips and time together will hopefully be in the foreground of our memories with trivial matters set into the distant background. With that understanding, when a great time of relating ironically takes place at a dingy, hole-in-the-wall eatery, I won’t be blocked by a wall of rage preventing me from enjoying a beautiful moment.

Sight-seeing has its moments as well even if it doesn’t transfer to retaining vasts amounts of information.  My kids may not return home inspired to become archaeologists after hiking alongside stunning rock formations nor ace history because they walked the Freedom Trail in Boston. Exposure was given, impressions created and learning curves do continue over time. Images are deposited into the memory banks, camera (or rather, phone), and become new reference points. Grabbing pieces of information over a lifetime can be just as educational as viewing something in its entirety.

Will we process aloud all that we have seen over a summit discussion-like manner around every meal the way I would like? No. When it’s time to download and share everything from the day that struck us, not all tabletop time is going to be filled with stimulating conversation the way I would prefer. (I need not project the professional aspects of working at a talk radio station onto my family!) My family would be better served by my supporting those who require quietness in order to recharge, as much as those needing to speak. As much as I want others to have tolerance, I need to have it as well.

And speak they will. My growing girls are no longer without self-direction but have opinions and preferences. They are now forming their own views and beliefs. Summer, you provide opportunities for honoring and respecting one another’s differences and interests with patience and respect—a mantra I’ve been chanting in our household as often as, “say please and thank you.” We still don’t have this down to a perfect science, but you’d be proud. My girls understand that traveling isn’t just about feeding personal wants, but processing what we haven’t chosen to do as much as what we have chosen. There’s something to take away from all experiences, even if the ones we aren’t drawn to. My husband and I are teaching our girls the importance of prioritizing each person’s interests, as this builds respect and acceptance for the tastes of others, hopefully open-mindedness, and an opportunity to learn something new outside one’s own interests.

During our vacation, when we were visiting my parents on the East Coast, my father needed to be hospitalized. As we tailed the speeding ambulance to the Emergency Room, I was  thankful to be present given I live 3000 miles away. My daughters witnessed the unplanned and frightening parts of life that don’t come from roller-coaster rides nor from encountering wildlife on a hike, and got to be at their grandfather’s side in the uncomfortable space of the ER where much of what is not so beautiful, takes place. Even in the joys and pleasures of life, even on vacation, where all is hoped to be perfect and plentiful, there can be interruptions, the unexpected, unthinkable, and sometimes, the sorrowful. These moments are hardly the pleasant side of what you have to offer, Summer, but necessary ones that deliver the urgent reminder of what truly matters beyond a trip.

Even as a grown adult, you have a lot to teach me, Summer, and your purposes don’t lay solely in seeing as much as we can fit in and having a problem-free itinerary.  The security of smooth and simple is not always as growth-filled and purposeful as rough and real.

Maybe, Summer, I really don’t want my time nor money back. Beyond the rays of your sunshine, there are truths you shine in the wake of its shadows; principles that unlike frequent flyer miles don’t expire,  but that remain with us long after the vacation is over.

Until Next Year, Summer. With gratitude and thankfulness,