Tag Archives: vacation

Not all vacations are created equal

Meet Frugly. (A frog so freakin' ugly, I thought he was cute.)
Meet Frugly. (A frog so freakin’ ugly, I thought he was cute.)

Not all vacations are created equal.

It was around day 4 that I realized this vacation was different from other vacations we had taken with the girls. They’ve always been good travelers, willing try new foods, explore the sights of wherever we may be, and complain very little. We have traveled with them via car, plane, and boat. We’ve used buses, trolleys, rafts, and trains to explore new countries, cities, and towns. We’ve stayed in tents, hotel suites, rustic cabins, and the simple, small room of a pensione. Each experience has woven a memory into our collective family cloth. And, each memory has bonded us tightly together as a family.
That’s one of the beauties of vacation–the memories that are created. These are the stories that are told and retold so often they become identifiable by just a word or short phrase. In our family, I can say, “running bear snack” or “snow in Grand Canyon” or “Frugly” and immediately we travel back in time together. These words become the portals to a secret world shared only by the 4 of us. Sure, we can tell friends and family the stories associated with these “code words,” but the feelings that are conjured when the tales are shared are ours and ours alone.
More often than not, we are “movers” on vacation. It matters not if we are exploring our own backyard during a staycation or discovering the treasures of a new state or country, we make the most of our vacation time and get up and go. We take the largest bite we can with the time we have when on vacation. We are unconcerned if we’ve been there before; we savor the experiences and treasure the time together.
This vacation, however, was different. Unlike the cattle ranch cottage or the rustic cabin we rented for a week in Jellystone, I didn’t need to entertain small children. This time there were no planned tours, no sightseeing, no grand travel days or naps to accommodate; there was no schedule of any kind other than arrival and departure dates. There were no wardrobes to plan or complex (luggage) packing plans. There were neither tickets nor passports needing to be checked and rechecked in my obsessive neurotic way. And in that, this vacation has been perfect. Sure, I love the “big trips”, but I’ve loved this, too, and will cherish these memories.
In the last week, we have laughed together, hiked together, nurtured each other as a mild stomach bug passed from one to the next, and above all, just sat in silence and in comfort while we read together. Each of us finding our own nook to settle into, books have been ploughed through, discussed, and shared with one another. There have been mother/daughter walks, father/daughter walks, and husband/wife walks. Each of us has had opportunities to share time with each other privately and as a family, and each of us has had private time to hear our own thoughts and listen to the gentle sounds of the forest. Together, we’ve played games and searched for familiar constellations in the night sky. We’ve shared the flora and the fauna of the forest, pointing out deer sightings and wildflowers with the same enthusiasm. Traveling with older children brings is own special gifts. There are deeper conversations and more time for each of us to “just be still”. Our tones have softened, our pace slowed, and our love grew all because we had no schedule.
And, as always, memories have been added to the fabric that weaves this family together. So, I’m off to do my “boob dance” (don’t ask) and laugh about the memories created with my almost grown children.

What weaves the fabric of your family together?

(I wrote this the day we returned from our summer vacation and came upon it as I was doing research for our next family vacation in the spring. The memories it triggered made me smile and giggle. Those are the memories I treasure.)

Easier said than done.

Vacation contraban
Vacation contraband. For one week, there were 4 phones in the bowl and 2 additional laptops left off.

Many things are often easier said than done. Childbirth is an obvious example. Another is planting a summer garden. I’ve done both and both were, and are, a lot of work! If any woman truly contemplated the labor involved in delivery, no woman would ever become pregnant. If farmers really considered the hours of tilling, amending, and watering the soil in hopes of a precious sprout, most of the nation would go hungry. Good thing the backbone of the human spirit is rooted in optimism, perseverance, and a heaping dose of naiveté.

When I found our summer vacation cabin rental online, I studied the description carefully. I had created a checklist to ensure everyone’s comfort:

  • Secluded and heavily wooded; check.  (See the proof in yesterday’s post.)
  •  3 bedrooms and plenty of nooks to afford “alone time” for each of us; check, check
  • A large window seat for many cozy reading hours and watching wildlife, a comfortable kitchen, and a large table for sharing meals and family games; check, check, and check.
  • Not on my list, though listed in the description, was a large TV and Wi-Fi ( in case a week proved to be too much togetherness); eh, OK, check

Many years ago, when the girls were small (3 and 6) and we were new to Colorado, we had taken a long weekend to escape town. We rented a small, rustic, 1920’s farmhouse cottage situated on  a working cattle ranch. In description, secluded would be an understatement, but perfection would be too. Our getaway came somewhere around the end of September/early October. Though I no longer recall the specific dates, I remember it was at the time of year when snow was possible but too early to be common or predictable. The drive was clear and the roads easy. We entered the cabin with great enthusiasm, excited to be away from the stressors of jobs and for the chance to step back in time. Upon entry, I disappointedly noticed the TV. It wasn’t large but it was there, and I quickly covered it with a blanket before the girls caught site of its “rabbit ears antenna.” They never noticed. We spent the entire weekend without technology. There was no phone in the cabin and, though I had a cell phone, texting and “mobile data” were not yet routine, nor were Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter. “Unplugging” wasn’t difficult then, simply because the technology of today didn’t exist. We never missed the modern day intrusions. I read D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths aloud until I was hoarse. On our second day, we awoke to a dusting of snow, limiting our time outdoors. We wandered out only long enough to say hello to an occasional passing cow before retreating to our isolated wonderland to play games and read some more.

I don’t recall many details beyond these, but above all, I remember the feelings of connection to my children, my husband, and myself. And more importantly, so do my girls, which is why, when discussing our plans for this family vacation, C proposed a “no technology” week—no TV, cell phones, or internet. The motion passed without contest.

It’s easier  to unplug when children are small. They demand it. Diapers can’t (or shouldn’t) be changed while updating a status on Facebook. No one from Pinterest makes house calls when a child is teething, going through a growth spurt, or trying to master the monkey bars. Well, it was easier to unplug when mine were small and the various flavors of social media and email weren’t available on the playground.. or while changing a diaper…or at a remote rustic cottage.

Today, it is harder for us to unplug, all of us, regardless of our stage in life: student, single, married, or parent. The internet, despite its many wonderful attributes, is addicting and far more like a spider’s web than any could have predicted two decades ago; once caught, it can be daunting to escape.

Unexpectedly, I found myself still ensnared when we arrived at our secluded cabin in the woods. The cabin I had searched for to offer a respite from the 24/7-availability-to-the-world I had grown weary of and from.  The cabin that had (I thought) promised Wi-Fi in its listing had NONE, I discovered upon arrival. Despite our many family discussions of leaving technology behind, I panicked. I admit it. I panicked, and I’m not proud of it. However, after a few deep breaths, I settled down and settled into idea of morning coffee sans internet. It’s like going on a diet, I resolved, and getting rid of all the junk food in the house. Sometimes, success is easier without temptations and plugging back in would be far too easy with a wireless router at my disposal. I dropped my phone into the week’s designated “phone bowl” and secretly reminded myself of my convenient mobile data plan.

On day 2, while everyone slept, I slipped out into the crisp morning air and flipped on my mobile data. Yes, I know I was being sneaky, but it was all for not when I (painfully) discovered  my 4G phone could barely muster out 1X of connectivity at our little paradise in the woods. Quietly I pleaded, “Can you hear me now?”  I wandered around the deck, trying my best to become a 5’4″ cell tower, standing on chairs, reaching my arm up into the air while I toyed with the idea of wrapping foil around my outstretched hand. Nothing.  My stomach knotted and my teeth clenched as I thought about all those unopened emails. I felt like a skydiver free-falling with a jammed ‘chute; I was free-falling into the realm of  “truly unplugged”–and I wanted nothing more than to post about it on Facebook.

Defeated, I sat down, journal in hand, and pondered my reaction.  Had I been able to connect, a quick email check would have causally become a visit to Facebook, Pinterest, and various news sites.  And, the sounds of the birds and the gentle babbling creek  drowned out by the sound of tapping keys; my week away would have  expired without the benefits I had sought. So, too, would the opportunity to capture those feelings and memories created once upon a time at a picturesque cottage on a cattle ranch.

Like so many of life’s surprises, there was no mistake here, only blessings. A week without WiFi gave me plenty of opportunities to connect with the people in front of me rather than behind a screen, reminding me that real connections are often made when connectivity is lost.

What unexpected mistakes opportunities turned into lessons in your life?