We didn’t get away often. Dad had to be in the pulpit every Sunday morning with few exceptions, so family vacations were a rare and treasured opportunity for my family to rest and make memories together. And, after 18 years of vacationing on a pastor’s budget, we have made vacation memories that might have permanently traumatized a less resilient family.
Often our vacations involved long car rides to visit family members. Those were great, but there was nothing quite like my parents and my sister and I taking off on an adventure away from everything and everyone.
One particularly memorable week, we headed for the mountains of North Carolina where we enjoyed the rare luxury of staying in a hotel. I will never forget pulling up to the Black Bear Lodge and thinking, “Wow… THIS is living!”
The next morning we learned that whoever had previously stayed in our hotel room had ignored the “no pets” policy… a fact that would’ve been great to know BEFORE we slept all night in flea-infested beds! Everyone in the family woke with with minimal damage, except me. I woke with flea bites all over my body – we stopped counting at 100. This was the first opportunity I had to learn that I am allergic to flea bites. And what better time to learn this fact than a hot August day riding in the backseat of the family car?! My parents watched in horror as I rolled around like a maniac trying to itch all the swollen bites at once. A visit to the pharmacy threw off our travel itinerary slightly and I spent the next five days covered in anti-itch cream, but other than that, I think we had fun.
A few years later we decided to go camping together. I should note here that we have never exactly been a “camping” sort of family. We didn’t have camping stuff and we borrowed a tent from a friend. Early on in our rustic adventure, our parents decided to recycle the white-hot charcoals used for grilling our supper and poured them into the fire pit to jump start our campfire. It seemed like a great idea, since we had looked forward to roasting marshmallows on the fire all day long! After the coals were dumped into the pit , Dad leaned down in the ‘push-up’ position to blow on the coals. Unfortunately, one hot coal had gone astray and fell on the exact spot where dad put down his hand to blow on the fire. After a howl of pain from Dad and a panicky response from Mom, a charcoal-shaped blister began to form on Dad’s hand that would definitely require a visit to the ER. My sister and I waited in the hall of the closest hospital, thankful for the air conditioning and clean bathrooms.
A night or two later, just as we were starting to drift off to sleep, we heard a scratching outside the tent. Dad unzipped the tent slightly and poked his head out just in time to see a raccoon and a skunk fighting over the trail mix we had spilled just outside the tent! His mind raced ahead as he wondered how we would ever remove the skunk smell from our friend’s tent… but by some miracle the skunk didn’t spray. And he was even kind enough to help us finish off the trail mix so we didn’t have to smell bananas on the way home.
We could probably write a book of vacation mishaps and near-misses, but suffice it to say that our most vivid vacation memories are comprised of the unplanned, imperfect moments… not the idealistic things most parents hope for on a vacation with the kids. And this might sound a little crazy, but I can’t be sure we would’ve even remembered family experiences that came off flawlessly. We remembered being survivors together. And isn’t that really what family is about?!
I used to think vacations were about getting away from the pressures of life. But I know it’s more about setting aside time to be accessible only to those you love the most and loving each other through whatever else happens. And nothing says “I love you” like holding your loved-one’s singed hand in the ER!
Imperfect people who live in an imperfect world have imperfect vacations. But take them anyway! And let me offer this advice: get the trail mix without banana chips.