We are heading south this week, shunning the fickle spring weather in hopes of a truly warm Spring Break. I’d say we are going on a family vacation, but I learned long ago that using the term vacation when traveling with small children is setting oneself up for disappointment.
When I think of a vacation, I think of sitting on the beach reading a book while the sun beats down on me. I think of sleeping past 7 a.m. and then enjoying breakfast without someone sitting on my lap. I think of hopping in the car and going anywhere without dirty protests from the backseat. To me, a real vacation is a total departure from real life. A family “vacation” is none of those things — and that’s OK with me. But to save myself the mental agony — I thought we were going on vacation — I simply call them family trips. Problem solved.
Now a family trip is an idea I can get behind. I was fortunate to grow up taking regular trips to my grandparent’s cabin on a lake in Montana, not too far from Glacier National Park. It wasn’t a fancy set-up compared to some; the cabin was a double-wide manufactured home on an unmanicured lot. But it was right on the lake and we had a boat and a satellite dish with the Disney Channel and a cooler on the porch that was always stocked to the brim with sugary beverages. In short, it was kid paradise.
In the summer, we went tubing and waterskiing and kneeboarding. We snorkeled for hidden treasure and hopped in the paddleboat determined to paddle across the lake … only to turn back after a few minutes. In the winter, we’d head up to Big Mountain to go skiing. We took ski school and spent time in one-on-one tutoring with my grandpa, who’d carve trails for us to follow down the mountain. We ate gigantic brownies at the base lodge when it was time to refuel and on really wet days my grandma would break out her hair dryer to warm our hands and gloves. When there weren’t any adults around to tell us otherwise, my sisters and I would ski recklessly down the mountain without a care in the world.
These family trips are some of my favorite childhood memories. I’m sure it was a ridiculous amount of work and money for my parents and grandparents, but as a kid those things aren’t even on your radar. I got to spend entire weeks in a swimsuit without showering and eating sugary cereals my mom would never buy at home. I was in heaven.
I’m so glad I can call these memories to mind when I’m in the middle of packing for a family trip and it looks like we’re prepping for the zombie apocalypse. Food, clothing, shoes, beloved blankies, board games and reinforcements for when things go sour on the road (think DVD players and ear plugs) are shoved into every possible crevasse of our minivan. If we’re going someplace that requires additional gear, like hiking backpacks or snowsuits, we’re probably rocking the car topper, which really puts a National Lampoon-esque spin on things.
On a recent trip to go skiing in Montana — an attempt to capture some of the beloved memories of my childhood — said car topper decided to rebel against us and made the most hideous, high-pitched sound for the first few hours of our drive. Shoving a blanket underneath the contraption was the only thing that made it stop. So we cruised around the entire trip with a denim quilt accenting our car topper. I’m sure it was quite the visual for other drivers and it was humbling for us, to say the least.
Despite the hiccups we’ve had on our trips — our son throwing up all day at Sea World, our daughter crying nonstop while we drove around Yellowstone — we’ve made some pretty great memories with our little family. Playing in the sand on Laguna Beach, watching World of Color in Disney’s California Adventure, hiking through redrock at Zion National Park. And, most recently, skiing the same slopes I did as a kid with our kids.
Maybe in a few years, when my kids are old enough to eat at a restaurant without spilling the drinks everywhere, I’ll realize my dream of sitting on a beach with a book while they play. Then we can start calling them family vacations. Until then, we’ll stick with family trips.