Unlike my own childhood, where vacations were a yearly thing, my children have been on only two vacations. We just returned from number two. Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t grow up gallivanting off to the tropics or ski resorts. My mom and dad dragged us all over the United States in a station wagon with a pop up camper chained to the back, a camper they borrowed money from their parents to buy. We ate canned food and roasted marshmallows. A stop at the Waffle House was a big deal. Red Lobster was living large. If we stayed in a hotel, my dad always took a picture of the bathroom stating, “Look at these big, clean restrooms!” He was in awe of the luxury at the Holiday Inn. The idea of free donuts at the continental breakfast blew his fucking mind. These are my favorite memories. Mt. Rushmore was okay. Glaciers? Pretty cool. But learning how to love life is what I really took away from our travels. And this is why I sometimes feel sad that I can’t afford to take my children on regular vacations.
Yet I can’t say my children are deprived because we don’t take them on trips. Our life is good. We have enough. We do not, however, have a whole bunch of extra. Vacations require extra. I like to think we are a typical American family, whatever the hell that means. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis, the annual average wage salary/ disbursements per job in America in 2012 was $48, 301. I won’t tell you how much our family earns, but I will say that we are well above average, and yet we don’t have the kind of extra necessary for vacations. Now I know that for some of you, this 48K seems like chump change, hardly a living wage at all, but for others, it seems like a windfall of cash! I guess that’s why the concept of average is so misleading. Average? I know what it means, but still it’s so odd. And it confuses my kids sometimes. They do want to go on vacations. They really want to go to fucking Disney World and they won’t shut up about it.
Recently, I was in the car with my kiddos and we got talking about money, and this led to a conversation about vacations. Why don’t we go on vacation? My kids wonder why, if we are above average in income, we aren’t able to do more, have more, etc.? I told them not to be fooled by averages. I used the average age of the people in the car as an example. I did the math and asked them if they felt the average age of 21 truly represented those of us in the car, (age 43, 13 and 9). Obviously they said no. They want to go to Disney World, they want to see the ocean, but at this time in our lives, a few days in a rented beach house in Michigan is more our speed and in keeping with our budget. But someday, I promised, we will go to Disney World, I would show them the ocean, we will work harder on making time and saving money for vacations. I promised. They promised to help me remember. Such nice kids…..
A few weeks later, we packed up the mini-van and headed to Union Pier, Michigan to stay in a lovely house on the beach. The last trip we took as a family was in 2007, so it’s been a while. We swam, made S’mores, did some paddle boarding, built sand castles and buried each other in the sand. We relaxed and ate a ton and laughed until we cried. I woke up early each day and sat on the beach with coffee and a book, soaking in the beauty, totally in awe of my good fortune. My father modeled this behavior for me. He taught me to see the miracle and beauty in everything, to realize just how unbelievably cool everything is if you keep it in perspective. In Michigan, we enjoyed good food and good times with good friends! I know my kids had a blast, but I also know it wasn’t Disney World level fun. At least not for them. The lake wasn’t the ocean. They weren’t complaining, I did what I promised and we were on vacation of sorts, but still it’s hard for them to understand and they wonder when we will take a “real” vacation.” So I told them the story of the Big Fish. I told how their grandpa was much like the character in the film.
My father was a big fish. On the evening of his wake, the line of visitors wrapped around the funeral home and out the door. My mother, brother and I greeted people for hours and hours, listening to stories about my father. He had moments with people. Many moments. No matter where my father was, he saw the magic in every experience. He raved about flavored potato chips as wildly as a world-class steak dinner he had with business associates at pricey restaurants, and celebrated my base hit off a tee as enthusiastically as the 1980 Miracle on Ice Olympic hockey victory. It was all the same to him. He was just so grateful!
He loved the ocean, but he was just as in awe of the pond near our home when it froze over. To him, every bit of life was exciting and he devoured every second. He made moments into vacations by seeing the mundane seem miraculous. He was a big fish who taught me make swimming in the smallest of ponds a sensational experience. Instead of being lured to the surface to take the big, juicy bait on a shiny hook, my dad taught me how to go deep, to explore the unknown and find a lasting source of nourishment. I tried to explain to my children, that we were on a real vacation. As real as Disney, as real as the ocean, as real as the trips they hear about their friends taking, that it’s all how they perceive their circumstances.
My kids love hearing about the grandpa they didn’t know. And as we watched the sun set over the lake, they were mesmerized, sitting next to me in the sand. They had previously been jumping into the waves as they crashed loudly into the shore, leaping and shrieking with joy. I promised them again that someday we would go to Disney and see that we would swim in the ocean together. They nodded, but stayed silent and snuggled up with me. Neither one asked when we would see Mickey Mouse or say they wished we were somewhere smelling the salty ocean breeze. Maybe I’m delusional, but they seemed content. Hell, they seemed happy! I am grateful for that moment. I am hoping that no matter what the future brings, no matter where we go and what we see, that our moment on the beach will help them grow into big fish like their grandpa. That kind of nourishment is something money can’t buy, the ability to see awesome in the average, miracles in every moment.
But I can’t believe I fucking promised to take them to Disney World…..
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