For me, there was no question about how I spent my summer vacation, it was clear each week when I wrote the checks to camp and daycare. However, if my elementary-school-aged sons were asked to write this traditional back-to-school essay, what would they say, I wondered.
We didn’t have a real vacation this summer, meaning the kind where you pack things and leave your home for an extended period of time. Though I’d taken one week straight off from work and had grandiose plans for a road trip to Niagara Falls with a friend and her kids, those dwindled to going to Maine for part of the week, to simply taking day trips.
We called this our “Daycation.”
One of our day trips was going to be to a large amusement park in another part of the state. We had set aside either of two days for this. Though, as the days drew near, the weather forecast was like a cold black cloud coming down. Additionally, given that it was a two hour drive (the drive time being what caused the reduction in road trip length initially: spending time in a car with three boys thrashing, poking, jockeying for position, and asking me what time is it, when are we gonna get there, how many more minutes, what does the GPS say, is highly undesirable), we chose to go to a more local amusement park on a different day altogether.
Unfortunately, it seemed that everyone else had the same plan. We had to park at a remote lot and be shuttled to the park, which meant my strategy for taking a break midday and eating the carefully prepared food I had packed went out the window. I wound up buying fried food, soda, cotton candy, ice cream and all manner of naughty and costly things.
My kids were hot and grumpy and this was one of the occasions during the week when I said out loud, “Maybe we all would’ve enjoyed our week more if you stayed in camp and daycare and I took a week off by myself,” though I had surely thought it numerous times.
As the day wore on, the crowds thinned. My youngest and I were sitting on the Sky Ride, which is a gondola-type ride that travels high above the length of the park. I pointed out that it was a good thing we hadn’t come any earlier (as the kids had lamented) or we wouldn’t have been able to last all day to see the magic show and the fireworks.
“Mom, what’s gravity?” he asked, ignoring my insight.
As much as I would have liked to engage in a grave discussion of amusement park physics, I told him, “Uhmmm. That’s a good question for your dad, honey. He’s a physicist.”
We sat in companionable silence, and I reflected on some of the life lessons that were illustrated that day. Aside from physics, and practicing patience by waiting in long lines, “black diamond” attractions at amusement parks such as roller coasters show us that life includes ups and downs, twists and turns, and sometimes an upside down part. The water park reminded us that occasionally things get dumped on you unexpectedly. Riding the Ferris Wheel was a good example of how when you’re on top of the world, you can see the big picture, but when you’re down in the weeds, you can only see what’s in front of you. My youngest’s inaugural experience on the bumper cars taught him that when you hold on too tight and try to steer things your way, you end up spinning in circles, but when you let go, you move forward with ease.
Technically, the fact that summer was a break in the usual routine – and as Dictionary.net defines a vacation: “being free from a duty or service – we had been on vacation for the whole eight weeks. (At least the kids were, as they were free from the duties of school and scouts, but my duty and service simply shifted from helping them with merit badges and homework to shuttling them to camp and summer sports. Maybe next year I will take that solo week off.)
As the season of summer wound down, we had a few more days off before the start of school. We spent these last days in a frenzy of activity – mostly baseball related, with a mix of laser tag and backyard fun with friends thrown in – before we had to settle back into our school-year routine. The kids’ teachers’ letters had already arrived in the mail with the foreshadowing, “I’m looking forward to hearing about your summer adventures.”