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Why Family Vacations Aren’t Fun

October 9, 2012

We were racing from tree to tree along the idyllic streets of San Luis Obispo, Samuel on my shoulders reaching for leaves and Manoah by my side attempting to establish his credentials as an incarnation of Sonic the Hedghog, while Samuel on the other hand was laying claim to Lightning McQueen. Anjuli was not far behind holding our little angel baby and strolling gracefully (as she is prone to do) in the early autumn warmth. I thought to myself as the moment passed, “this is the quintessence of existence.” Now some of you may think, does he really think in such obtuse language, who even uses the word quintessence anyway? The truth is, I do think this way, and I claim it as a matter of pride the way a Trekkie might claim fluency in Klingon, but I digress.

These are the Instagram and Facebook moments of family vacations. They are like Disney advertisements, showing the pinnacle of family bliss – an intact nuclear family gleefully skipping through streets. It ultimately is an incarnation of a sort of law that, instead of encouraging us in family vacations oppresses us with the burden of having to make family vacations be full of such moments. What Disney doesn’t tell you (nor would photos of our family skip-fest) is that if you keep your kids up all day, pushing them to the utmost limits of childhood experience, cramming their faces with highly addictive stimulants such as funnel cake and candy, running them ragged across a massive theme park you will invariably lead your children to a sort of psychotic break. You will become “that family” with the kid in full-on meltdown mode, and it will invariably strike at the worst possible, most public moment. Kids have a keen sense of how to publicly shame their parents.

Our family vacation was a mixture of moments of sheer familial wonder to unnerving moments of children whacking random strangers with their recently acquired balloon swords as they pillaged farmers market from beginning to end. It included various meltdowns, tantrums, disastrous meals out, and the invariable tired kid who pee’d his pants in sheer exhaustion (and no he wouldn’t let me change his pants even though we were at a wedding – seriously you try wrestling a three year old to the ground and take off his clothes in a very public and formal setting and tell me what you’d do). Nobody takes pictures of this. Disney never advertises this. They don’t tell you that they guarantee a meltdown if you pay an absurd amount of money to stay at their hotel, eat their food, and do their version of fun. Nobody would ever go to Disneyland.

If we think the point of family vacations are to have fun then we are guaranteed to be oppressed by the law of constant demand for fun. As we were driving home at 2 a.m. it struck me that family vacations are merely an intensification of normal life. Normal family life is an admixture of pain and pleasure and family vacations merely elevate both, that is to say family vacations take us more deeply into what it actually means to be a family – for good and for ill. It’s  Kristina Braverman (of Parenthood fame) insisting on having a meaningful final week with Haddie only to see all the meaning stripped away by the mere attempt to be meaningful. It’s Clark Griswold insisting on Christmas being special, or the vacation being fun.



The question came to me: do I want my family for what it is or for what I wish it was? If I welcome my family for what it is I am paradoxically welcomed into grace. If I force my family to be what I wish it was I paradoxically lose the family I am attempting to fashion. Perhaps Jesus said it best, “anyone who would save his life will lose it, but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.”

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Leonie permalink
    October 10, 2012 8:06 pm

    I love this. So well written and thoughtful. I love that you think in big words. I love Parenthood, the show.

  2. October 18, 2012 2:38 pm

    Nicely done! Parenthood…we watch this as well! 😛

  3. Ron permalink
    January 5, 2013 11:29 pm

    Sam, I don’t know you, but anyways, your blog posts are deep and many over my head, however, this one is apt and I surfed on in from a suggestion from Anjuli’s blog. (ICFers, Ron & Katrina and Jana, too)

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