When I was four, my parents took my sister and me to Walt Disney World’s Fort Wilderness Camp. Chip and Dale and Winnie the Pooh showed up at our evening campfire. My sister and I played at the beach in matching Minnie Mouse swimsuits. We spent days wandering around the Magic Kingdom. A classic family vacation if there ever was one.
What do I remember best about that trip? Getting my own can of grape soda in a hotel lobby.
The memory is vivid: sitting in a sun-lit room surrounded by green plants and soft music (the Polynesian Resort, perhaps?) clutching my VERY OWN can of grape soda, next to my sister who had her VERY OWN can of orange soda. Dreams really do come true.
We are starting to plan a family trip to D.C. While my twelve year old has been burning to go for some time, we are working on boosting my seven year old’s enthusiasm. “I want to go back to South Dakota,” she said a few weeks ago, referring to last summer’s excursion.
“Why?” I asked, expecting her to reminisce about the herd of buffalo right outside our campsite, or Jewel Cave, or the presidential heads.
“So we can go back to that candy store.”
Candy store? I don’t even remember a candy store. It might have been some grubby little gas station we stopped in along the way. That’s what she loved best?
So why take a family vacation at all? We could save a whole lot of money staying home sipping grape soda and buying gas station M&M’s. Why bother loading up the van and the kids and heading across the country when you know- know- there will be at least one blowout fight?
Because there’s so much to see! Traveling gives our kids (and their parents) a point a reference; that thing we read about or heard about or saw on TV, is suddenly real. Venturing beyond our backyard proves that our little corner of the world is just that- a little corner of the world. And let's not underestimate the lessons family vacations impart, often against our will. Lessons like:
things-will-never-go-exactly-as-you-plan (our flat tire in South Dakota) or
right-now-we-all-need-to-quit-whining-and-pull-together (trying to set up camp in the rain) or
this-is-a-map-so-don’t-ask-me-again-when-we’re-going-to-get-there-look-for-yourself (just about every trip)
I love to travel. I didn’t always. My parents like to tell me about the fits I used to pitch in the back seat. But somewhere between toddler and teen, I developed a love for traveling and I attest this to my parents’ commitment to take my sister, my brother, and me to see places like Yellowstone and The Grand Canyon and the giant sequoia trees in California. Traveling is addictive; it builds on itself like a snowball. You see a little of the world, you want to see more. You see the west coast, you have to see the east coast.
And at the same time, as a parent, I need to consider that my most vivid childhood memories are simple, tethered to home: going to the city pool. Taking family bike rides. Playing in the back yard. Maybe because these were not one time memories and sheer repetition has made them stick. These types of memories will be engraved in my own children’s minds. Oh, they’ll remember the big trips too, but I don't want to underestimate the everyday, either. Pausing to help my daughter cut out windows in her cardboard box house may seem like nothing to me, but it’s a big deal to her.
I have assured my daughter there are candy stores in D.C. But not only that, one of the museums has Dorothy’s ruby shoes. (Now there’s a dangling carrot.)
So she’s ready now. Ready to see the world. And all the candy stores she can find.