I could almost feel the cold, hard stare on the back of my head. I did not glance up into the rearview mirror. Doing so would not turn back time. The question could not be un-asked.
School had just let out in mid-June and my medium-sized daughter, Robin, was in the backseat with a good friend. The endless summer stretched out ahead of us like the road on which we were traveling. Even though I had patently removed this question from the lexicon of friendly small-talk years ago, something came over me. Making polite conversation, as parent chauffeurs are prone to do, it just spilled out.
“Got any trips planned for the summer?”
We just aren’t a vacation family. A weekend here and there, a camping getaway, visits with friends or family throughout the year – sure. But as far as taking an entire week (or longer) away from home, it’s a long-held tenet among self-employed folks like me and my husband: When you take time off, there’s no one else to do the work. Furthermore, we’ve discovered we’re not a beach family either. Perhaps one of the easiest vacations to plan (if not always to finance), between fair skin and food allergies, the beach might be the last place in the world we should spend a week. To affirm this, a spring break trip, wholly sponsored by her best friend’s family, landed daughter number one at a doc-in-the box with second-degree burns on her legs. First-world problem, I know. But still.
Even as I write this, I can picture the eye-rolling from my women children. They’ve heard it all before. But like it or not, it’s the truth. It’s also the reason I stopped asking people in general, and my daughters’ friends in particular, about their plans for summer vacation or the winter holiday or spring break.
The thing is, when you ask someone a question – especially one that elicits the kind of positive energy that emanates from the mention of travel – they usually want to give you an answer. It’s not that my kids minded hearing about their friends’ vacation plans so much, as it started to annoy them that they could rarely counter with anything more awesome than, “Um, we’re going to Grandma’s.”
I’ll say this about that. Over the years, we have received very practical training in diffusing what I call the one-up. I’m talking about that very human urge we all have to share the bigger, better thing. Kids do it. Grownups do it. Some days, I feel like Facebook was specifically developed so we could all do it – easier, late at night, and without making eye contact. “Oh, you’re spending a week at the Outer Banks? How exciting! We’re going to the French Riviera!”
In any case, this year was different. We did take a slightly longer trip together. The four-night getaway was absolutely perfect for the family whom, according to our kids at least, never goes anywhere. Ever.
And during this trip, which included the theater, history, outdoor recreation, and a plethora of fine dining options, we bonded and we laughed. We even played board games instead of watching TV. And as far as vacations are concerned, ours confirmed something I’ve suspected all along: There really is no such thing as fun for the entire family, at least not all at the same time.
So back to the car that day. Maybe I was feeling a little full of myself thinking, Hey, we’ve got a trip lined up this year – and a visit to Grandma’s, too! Or maybe I was genuinely interested in this very nice kid’s family vacation plans. Or maybe I lost my head and completely forgot my unwritten Don’t ask, don’t tell! vacation policy. Either way, when I asked Robin’s friend, “Got any trips planned for the summer?” he quickly responded that he would be visiting family, just like us, and left it at that.
Only when I pressed him for details and shared our plans to visit Robin’s grandma in West Virginia, did he tell us about his grandmother, what a wonderful woman she was, and how much his whole family was looking forward to visiting her. Oh, and by the way – she lives in Hawaii.