When it was over, we packed up the car and started the two-day drive from sandy
southwestern Michigan back to Vermont’s Green Mountains. The trip back would be punctuated by a fender-bender (the second of the vacation), a stop-over at a motel whose accommodations would remind me of another family vacation 35 years earlier (in Peru), and a brief flirtation with Murphy’s Law as we took a detour through Niagara Falls, NY.
The detour was ultimately more of an adventure in controlling the dog in a squirrel-infested park after a protracted search for a $10 parking spot, rather than seeing one of the wonders of the natural world. But it was not all bad. We did get to see the falls, and hour stood out for its lack of disasters. But as we got in the car to fight our way back to the interstate, I wondered (again) if the best vacation would have consisted of staying home while hi
tting the pause buttons on the phone and the mail service.
Then I wondered if I was alone in my ambivalence toward the great American institution known as the Family Vacation. After all, I can’t be the only one who looks at that week on the calendar with a combination of fear and anticipation. Who doesn’t experience some trepidation at the thought of two days of playing bumper cars at 80mph while ignoring the bedlam in the backseat?
We took turns driving the rest of the day. As we traveled, I wondered if we’d drive the vacation’s disasters into the dark corners of our memories. The rest of the trip was uneventful. I couldn’t write it down if I tried, but the calamities are clear in my mind. There were, to be sure, there were some significant bright spots on this one: a boat ride, a day at a museum, a night out. They do not always take center stage, but I wondered if the triumphs would be as vivid without the backdrop of the mishaps.
And, in the end, we didn’t learn a damn thing from the triumphs or the trials. I know this because as we pulled into our driveway we were already planning the next one. We were already laughing hysterically about the miserable hotel and the first car accident. But, our little tribe was feeling tighter. So, then again, maybe we did learn something.