Memories are made in the summer. From biking, to swimming and sleepovers children live for the excitement of the school-free months. Studies are increasingly emphasizing the need for parents and children to take a break from the everyday pressures and ongoing stresses experienced throughout the year. Cue the much needed summer vacation, a time for family bonding and new adventures.
Vacations today are a stark contrast from those of our own childhood. Fancy hotels, room service and extravagantly planned outings are commonplace, and all in exotic locations. Week long beach vacations are wonderful. Disney adventures are magical. Mountain hikes and sightseeing are grand. The elaborateness we all strive for, however, is not necessary for experiencing relaxation and providing life-long memories with our children.
On a recent long weekend to Chicago, we took the utmost care in planning kid-friendly activities and running them ragged seeing all the city had to offer. What did our two boys take from all of our effort and report back to teachers and grandparents once they returned home? The tub in the hotel room they took a bubble bath in “was amazing.” And the hot dog from a street vendor was “soooooo good!” That was it. They failed to mention the swanky hotel pool, performance at the aquarium or the themed restaurants we visited.
A few weeks later, to celebrate our oldest son’s fifth birthday, we attempted a different kind of escape. We embarked on one weekend of enjoying the simple pleasures of summer. Grandparents were essential in the coordination and execution. For $22, we took an Amtrak ride (kids ride free in the summer) to set up a two-night camping excursion. The kids were giddy on their first train ride, most excited to hand over the ticket to the conductor. Forty-five minutes later we arrived at our destination, and stopped for hand churned ice cream on the way to the site (aka Grandma and Grandpa’s backyard). The days were filled with water balloon fights, treasure hunts for lightning bugs and worms, fishing, bike riding and a friendly game of baseball. Dinner consisted of roasted hot dogs and s’mores. The kids could not have been more excited to sleep in a tent, tell ghost stories and wake up next to us in a sleeping bag.
What did I take away from both of these experiences? Togetherness is all our kids really crave and desire. The simple act of sharing media-free fun is more important to them than the fancy trip. Am I saying vacations should be marked off the list all together? Not at all. They have their place and are important for introducing our children to different cultures, experiences and sights. Must they be exquisite in every meaning of the word? Not in the slightest.
The weekend where we explored our own community, and took part in pure old-fashioned fun was talked about for hours and hours. Embracing the “staycation” for our family was eye opening. Putting the steep price tag aside, traditional vacations are a ton of exhausting work, for parents. The packing, the traveling and tired kids who are off schedule make for a less than relaxing time for the adults. A staycation weeds out the grueling parts and provides more time for the fun parts. Even though my husband and I were not sipping cocktails next to a pool all weekend, we still returned home rested, relaxed and ready to take on another week of work and worries. No plane ride or passport needed.
The amount in our bank account should not dictate the happiness and memories we make with our children. Your summer can be filled with smiling faces, and a time for creativity and innovation. No need to idle away the days, instead stretch your own ideas of fun and experience all the wonder within your own surroundings. Use these three months of freedom, and encourage resourcefulness. They will remember it.