My family didn’t take a lot of what some would consider vacations when I was a kid. An annual trip camping for a few days in the nearby mountains was about all we managed most years. There were also times when we packed up to go somewhere more exotic like a national park, or to visit relatives far away. Among the memories of these trips I have shadows of memories where my parents were stressing about them — both before and during. I sometimes think a lot of the stress was financial, but the root cause is somewhat immaterial. The bottom line is that I’m not sure vacations were all that fun for my parents.
Universally, the half dozen kids in our family would argue non-stop over petty little things, we’d complain about whatever it was that they had planned for the day, be unhappy with the food they prepared, whine about being tired, and generally do almost anything we could to be ungrateful little twits. It wasn’t enough that we made ourselves miserable… We seemed to feel a need to make or parents miserable too. As I look back, I’m convinced we met with a great deal of success.
As time passes I think I understand better what my siblings and I put our parents through. Liz and I plan vacations and do our best to give the kids great opportunities and memories, but along the way it seems the best they can muster is to whine and complain about almost every aspect of the trip. Take them to one of the greatest wonders on the planet, and the walks are too long, the food we packed isn’t what they wanted, they actively try to irritate each other at least every ten seconds, and just want to sit back in the room and watch mindless cable shows all day. To ice the cake, I’m a stingy and unreasonable jerk when I don’t want to waste money on gift shop trash that I’m likely going to get stuck carrying all day and will certainly be thrown away and forgotten in a few days.
Along the way, I have to keep a calm voice and try to keep the peace as one after another of the party decide it’s time to suck the oxygen out of the room and burn everything to the ground. It’s exhausting, and has happened everywhere from Washington DC to Zion National Park. The hardest part is not burning it down myself.
Now, I have several fond memories of the vacations we took as kids, and have only really understood the burden they were on my parents as I’ve grown older. Because of this, I have hope that I’m not just wasting my time and even more limited energy. However, it is often trying. Pressing forward, hoping that we can keep it together just enough that the good memories float to the top and drown out the bad, is hard to do. It’s a bad day when I’m ready to go back to a job I don’t really like just to wind down from vacation, and I’m just about there again.