Family Vacations: Making Memories

Family Vacations

Have you ever curiously flipped through a calendar or book of “awkward family photos”? You know, the ones that contain page after page of photos of families with big hair, wearing matching ugly holiday sweaters, posing proudly in what could be construed as questionable or compromising positions, and inappropriately clad holding exotic animals. Such photos make us chuckle and scratch our heads. “What were they thinking?” we ask ourselves.  (If you are looking to laugh, you don’t have to buy a book, just Google “awkward family photos.”)

The family photo above is from one of my family’s vacations. It might just make an “awkward family photo” compilation. You can fill in the blank and decipher for yourself what one teenage sister did to another teenage sister moments before the automatic timer clicked the photo of our family relaxing blissfully in the sun by an over-chlorinated pool!

We won’t likely be venturing far from home anytime soon due to health concerns related to the current Covid situation. This will be the first year in many years that we haven’t had a National Lampoon-type summer adventure. No matter where we go, our family vacations include a large puzzle and a trip to the grocery store to buy “vacation food,” the stuff we never buy because it’s not good for us, but secretly crave all year long. Our vacation grocery cart is usually heaped with brightly colored, tiny boxes containing sugary cereals and triangular-shaped tortilla chips covered in zesty orange powder.  Of course, we also indulge in sightseeing excursions, outdoor adventures, and swimming and relaxing near water: a lake, the ocean, or a pool. All of these experiences provide ample opportunities to capture pictures of our uber happy, ultra-connected, well-relaxed family (see photo above).

Time away from our day-to-day responsibilities of work, school, household chores, errands, etc. can provide families with wonderful opportunities to relax and recharge while reconnecting with each other. I’m always amazed by hearing my children recount their euphoric family vacations.  As a parent who bore the burden of saving for, preparing for and executing their happy memories, I have a unique perspective of family vacations as compared to my children. I’m glad they have these happy memories and I also have (mostly) fond memories of our vacations.

Most people will attest to the fact that when family members gather, there is the potential for drama and chaos. Even while on vacation, people get sick, tension flares and squabbles erupt. Sometimes there are hurt feelings when someone is left out or left behind. Despite this, year after year we keep up the tradition of taking a family vacation because we all need a break from the daily grind, and truthfully, we enjoy being together as a family.

We save all year for a one or two week fling where we gladly pay overpriced admission fees and splurge on high-priced restaurant meals and buy cheap souvenirs and fancy drinks. Sure, our wallets take a hit and our kids get tired and have meltdowns and tantrums. Those are the details that tend to fade with time and we are left relishing our perfect vacations with our imperfect family. We feel a tinge of sadness as the time approaches for us to pack our bags and we realize that our time away is coming to an end. Inevitably, the magic moments expire and we return home to pick up where we left off and start our daily routines again.  Periodically, we reflect on our family vacations and reminisce about them. We talk about them throughout the year during holidays and family celebrations. We hold on to the cherished memories of our family time until we can all get away and make more memories together.

As you reflect on past family vacations, how do you recall them? Are your memories mostly positive?

Mama, Why Can’t Our Family be Normal?

“Create blog entry for Just Families NC” was on my to-do list for a while. It was right after “sign-up for a writing class,” nestled among a bunch of other less interesting tasks. Despite my good intentions, writing kept slipping farther and farther down my ever expanding list. “Create a blog entry” is an abstract task, and it wasn’t until my 12 year-old daughter gave me the inspiration I needed that I was able to begin writing.

Our whole family was driving to a holiday gathering when my youngest child, age 12, blurted out a statement that I credit as inspiration for this blog entry. I should mention that my children, all girls, are 24, 21, 20, and 12 years old. We aren’t a young family anymore; the older girls are on their own or in school and one has a child of her own.

There we were, the 7 of us, strapped in the family mini-van TOGETHER. As our journey progressed and we all settled in, people began talking and sharing. New details about each other’s lives and about our family emerged. Some details hadn’t been disclosed, and some had not been discussed with our entire family until that car ride. Nonetheless, everyone took the revelations in stride and we seemed to enjoy being together. Then, perhaps feeling dismayed and a little overwhelmed by all the chatter and new information, my youngest daughter shook her head, rolled her eyes and said, “Why can’t our family be NORMAL?”

“Of course we are normal. What makes you think we aren’t?” was my first reaction. Then I thought, “What does she think a normal family looks and acts like?” My daughter, like many people, likely has a fantasy of what a normal family looks like. They base their ideals on fictitious “perfect” families depicted in movies, on TV, in magazines and books.  Those families aren’t normal. All “normal” families have flaws. Along with experiencing joy, pleasure, and contentment, normal families struggle, make mistakes, have unmet expectations, and experience pain and disappointment. No family is ever spared some hardship. What makes families great is how they react and respond in the good times, and when they experience bumps in the road of family life. Do they come together and rally? Do they fall apart? Do they reach out? Do they run away or avoid problems when they arise?

The work of family life is to strive to nurture healthy connections while growing as individuals and encouraging others to grow. This can be difficult. Sometimes parents and other adults don’t have the resources or information needed. Sometimes there are conflicting demands. Parenting education and support is available to help guide and support parents throughout the years. Parenting doesn’t end when a child turns 18 and people don’t cease to grow when they turn 25, 40, or even 50 years old.  Having someone who is a good listener, who is knowledgeable about human development and the dynamic nature of family life can be helpful in achieving family goals, as well as getting through tough times. I’m here to help YOU, today, tomorrow and down the road.