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Laundry, packing, planning, more laundry, more packing…preparing for a family vacation can be a taxing business. By the time the suitcases are full and the backpacks bulging, many parents really feel the need for some rest and relaxation. Before we even set off, we often wonder if all the work and preparation is worth the hassle.
This April our family took a mammoth trip during the children’s spring break, stopping in four different states in a 10-day period. During the first leg of our trip we drove down to Kelly’s family in Virginia. As many can confirm, a 10-hour car ride with kids is always filled with incident.
Our youngest is prone to carsickness, so we made sure she sat by a window and didn’t eat too much junk food. Seeing blue and purple fruit snacks the second time around is enough to make anyone feel like losing their lunch.
We also had to be patient when our 6-year-old announced that he had to use the facilities for the fourth time in three hours—and we had just passed the only rest stop for the next 30 miles. After three boys, we’ve learned from experience to stow away empty water bottles for just such occasions. You’re probably thinking, “That is gross, with a capital G,” but in a pinch, you do what you’ve got to do!
Before we started our van was pristine because Alan always insists on a spotless car before heading out on a road trip. But 20 minutes into the trip, muffins were ground into the carpet and apple juice had dribbled down the seat. Thank goodness for wet wipes!
Another leg of our trip included a plane ride to Utah to visit Alan’s side of the family. Whenever we fly with young children, a nagging fear haunts us that someone is going to have a meltdown during the flight. We can’t think of a purgatory worse than spending four hours trapped in a metal canister with a few hundred people forced to witness the crying jag of your willful 2-year-old.
Those of us who have been there know you reach a point when you have used every trick in your bulging backpacks and have to resign yourself to a situation you can’t change. If only the other passengers could realize how desperate a parent feels with each frustrated sigh and impatient glance hurled over the shoulder. Kelly swears she is going to be one of those older people with candy stowed in her big, crocheted “I love Grandma” bag for parents who are at their wits’ end wrestling with a testy toddler.
Is it all worth it? By the time you arrive, you’re stressed and wondering why you didn’t just hire a sitter for the little darlings and hightail it to Jamaica for a second honeymoon with your spouse.
But who can deny the warm fuzzies of watching your children’s faces light up when you turn onto their grandparents’ street and they see Grammy and Gramps waving a welcome from the doorstep? Or the feeling of togetherness while cheering on a gaggle of cousins playing backyard softball with their uncles?
Even if you’re not visiting relatives, there are benefits to spending an extended amount of time with one another as a family. For instance, the reward of witnessing new sights through the eyes of your children. A couple of years ago we traveled to a renowned aquarium in Oregon. The wonder of seeing puffins for the first time lit up our 3-year-old’s face and made our outing worthwhile. Discovering a hidden room in our rental house on the beach was a treasure our children still enjoy recounting.
Maybe that is the key to why vacations are so important for families. When we look back on our own childhoods, there are bright spots we can recall, especially on visits to our families. Alan still remembers a trip he took with his family from their home in Colorado to the nation’s capital as a 5-year-old, and Kelly recalls walking on the white sand dunes of southern New Mexico with her brothers and sisters.
These memories represent shared experiences with siblings and parents. When we have family reunions, we love telling stories of vacations we went on as children. The stories always start with “Remember when…,” and revisit sunny days at the beach or vacations spent in another country or times spent huddled up in a camper playing board games while it rained outside. Regardless of the actual experiences, the memories always seem to become sunnier, brighter and more magical than they were when we lived them.
So, when we look ahead to the next family vacation penciled on our calendar, we remind ourselves we are planting seeds for childhood memories filled with vacations spent with loved ones.
Alan and Kelly Taylor and their five children just headed out on another long road trip: They left their Liverpool home for relocation to Greenville, N.C. Kelly holds a master’s degree in family studies; Alan was until recently an assistant professor in Syracuse University’s Department of Child and Family Studies. To comment on this article, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.