Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Vacations Past

On vacation ca. 2002
I may have already used this picture in a blog post. It's one of my favorites and has been hanging on my refrigerator for as long as I can remember. But it came to mind again this week when the lovely Swistle asked for opinions on family vacations.

Leaving aside the question of whether you work hard and deserve a vacation, Swistle asked, what is your family's philosophy? Do you go on big fancy (expensive) trips every year? What is a reasonable amount to spend for a vacation?

Oh, Swistle, I do have Opinions on this.

First of all, no one "deserves" an expensive vacation, any more than someone "deserves" a fancy car. These things (like large-screen video systems and brand name puppies) are luxuries. Taking on debt for luxuries is stupid. (Please, MomQueenBee, tell us how you really feel.) But vacations taken within one's means are a gift you cannot fail to give your family.

When I snapped today's picture, Husband and I were poor professionals. Husband was a full-time faculty member at Small College and I was a full-time gestator/lactator which is a great investment in the future but does kind of the opposite of paying the bills. But we LIVED for vacations. Both of us had grown up traveling with our families, and then (as now) Husband couldn't hear an airplane go overhead without wondering where it was going and wishing he were on it. My own childhood memories included listening to the moon landing on a transistor radio from the steps of my family's camper.

So the year Boy#1 turned two and Boy#2 turned four months, we took our first camping trip, pulling my parents' pop-up trailer behind a borrowed station wagon. We were out for something like three weeks, and went through 12 states, including going as far as the first rest stop in Pennsylvania so that One and Two could claim them on their lists of visited states.

If this blog ever stretched the truth even a tiny bit I would say that we had a wonderful time, but in the interest of full disclosure I will say that it was the Worst.Vacation. Ever. I don't mean the worst vacation in the history of our family, I mean the worst vacation since Adam suggested maybe Eve would like to take a walk-about outside the Garden of Eden.

It was hot. Record-breakingly hot. It was hard work, and made me realize that my mother had to have been some kind of sorceress to be able to make camping look so effortless during my growing-up years. It was dangerous, with One not even remotely rational about staying close to the camper or not playing with the campfire or OH MY GOSH, GET HIM AWAY FROM THAT ANTHILL! It was a million miles of driving followed by night after night of sleepless babies with a dash of I-hate-this-more-than-you-can-imagine,-my-best-beloved attitude thrown in.

And yet...

We lived for vacations. With the camping corollary of childbirth amnesia kicking in, a few years later we again tried pop-up travel with more children and lowered expectations. And to our surprise, we found we loved it. Because there is no way we could afford to stay in hotels and eat in restaurants, we discovered the joys of state parks and pulling into a place and staying put for days. We went on theme vacations--one year we traveled to every place Laura Ingalls Wilder had written a book about, one year we didn't leave the state but drove more than a thousand miles to visit every fort in Kansas.

At night after everyone had gone to bed I would read aloud using a flashlight, and Husband would use his own flashlight to make shadow animals on the tent walls.

We did take one magical, wonderful, expensive vacation: When all four Boys were old enough to be rational, we went to Costa Rica. I felt like a proud mother cat taking her beautiful kittens home when I introduced my husband and sons to the dear families who had been my family during my Peace Corps years. We spent one week on the Peace Corps Memorial Trek, riding in buses and staying in pensiones, and one week in Rich American Tourist mode at beach resorts and hotels with hot water. Boy#1 turned 15 on that trip and he's almost twice that old now, but we still talk about the amazing zip lines and that time the lady in the store said Boy#4 looked like a Christmas doll.

So, Swistle, to answer your question about vacations--do we deserve them? No. We scrimped all year so that we could swelter in the heat and scratch mosquito bites somewhere else. We did everything we would do at home, but it was harder because we didn't have a toilet. We never made it to Disneyland.

But did we love them? And would we do it all over again? Oh, my, yes. We did and we would.


  1. Favorite parts:

    1. "I was a full-time gestator/lactator which is a great investment in the future but does kind of the opposite of paying the bills."

    2. " the interest of full disclosure I will say that it was the Worst.Vacation. Ever."

  2. Oh my. So love this. We, too, have gone on some of the hardest camping trips ever!! In fact, we are initiating my sister and her family this August. I warned her it won't be anywhere near a "vacation." She gets it. My favorite part: I-hate-this-more-than-you-can-imagine,-my-best-beloved attitude thrown in. So funny!! I've thought and said the exact words.
    Thanks for the chuckles. :)

  3. Oh, yes, and we were there WITH you on some of those beloved camping trips! Mudball balloon slingshotting, cooking breakfast in a downpour. Cooking supper in a downpour. Trying to find Copan Lake in the dark after an all day Webster field trip to the State Fair and the Cosmosphere. And we have the best memories, too! Probably the best time of my life was being a full time gestator/lactator. Weren't we good?

  4. Oh, I am so not there with you :-)

    As a kid, we only ever took one vacation. It was to a cabin on a lake, and in retrospect, my mom worked so much harder than she did at home (I was 15 at the time).

    Being a geologist, I had to do a lot of camping. I hate camping. As an adult, we ended up on five acres of wooded land --a fire pit, the stars, nature, and getting to crawl into your own bed afterwards. Totally a good idea. Vacation always involves hotels or rented flats :-) Even if that means we can't take one every year!

  5. Camping is not my thing AT ALL. Paying lots of money for vacations is also not my thing .... and wasn't my parents' thing either. So when young we visited family. (11 cousins camping in my Aunt's living room was the closest we got to actual camping.) Now, with my kids, *surprise* we visit family also. With most of my family scattered, and we like each other enough, this works. I don't miss not going to Disney or Cancun or wherever, and my kids seem well adjusted enough without those same vacations, so I guess we're doing okay.