The family vacation

. August 2, 2012.
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How did you spend your summer vacation?

It's the social pop quiz of the month. And in the Midwest, where summer weather is a fleeting occasion, it's more like an exam — answer wrong, and your dad cool-factor is gone faster than you can say 'minivan.'

As a kid, summer meant a trip to my great-grandparents farm in Manassass, Virginia. This 200-acre piece of land was a dream for a young boy — rolling hills, a meandering river, and a pond with a mythical large catfish that I spent a great deal of time trying to catch. Even the trip there was an adventure. My mom and dad would load up our family vehicle — a 1968 Ford Galaxie 500 convertible  — making me a special place to sleep just behind the back seat where the convertible top was stored when it was down.

My memories of childhood include vivid recollections of that car, certain roadside stops along the way that became family traditions, and all the adventures on my great-grandparents farm. In so many ways it has been the standard by which all my vacations since have been measured. The Galaxie was sold a long time ago; my great-grandparents have been dead for almost 30 years; and the farm has since been consumed by the outrageous growth of Northern Virginia.  

It's hard for the vacations of today to measure up. Beyond the demise of my childhood summer playground are other changes that have occurred in travel, technology and my life. My ideas of summer vacation are also now influenced by my wife’s plans. A large convertible has been replaced with a minivan. Kids can’t just be thrown into a car now, but must be strapped into child seats. Books and sign games have been replaced with books on disc and movies on DVD players. So the memories of years gone by cannot be repeated in the same way today — things are a little more sterile.

This year my wife suggested that our family vacation be at a flute camp — she wanted to be certified as a flute instructor. To say this was not my idea of a rollicking, memory-creating trip would be an understatement, but I played along. Since this camp was in Minnesota, I made plans for a trip not consumed by the destination, but thoughtful about the journey. We took the ferry across Lake Michigan, stopped in several places in Wisconsin and visited a children’s museum, zoo, and carousel. I thought we would create great memories for all of us along the way.

The reality was that the camp was just as fun and memorable as my well-planned drive to get there. I have to admit that telling people we went to a flute camp for our summer vacation does lead to some groans. It may not win the ‘best summer trip’ prize, but it did create memories that we will never forget and introduced us to people who will always be friends. In the end, the best answer to “How did you spend the summer?” is that I spent it with my family.