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Betsy Block

Stories without recipes

Family Vacation

Coming in July 2008 from Algonquin Books:
The Dinner Diaries: Raising Whole Wheat Kids in a White Bread World

And now, The Dinner Diaries website is up! Check it out!

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(I wrote the following story a year or two ago - time means nothing anymore - and I thought it would make sense to run it now because we're thinking of taking another trip. I really thought we'd never take another family vacation, but hope springs eternal, I suppose. Or fools suffer gladly. Or something.)

I should have known there was trouble brewing when, while packing to go away for a week, I'd finally found our suitcases, but they were dotted with a white, sticky, web-like substance. Apparently, while we weren't using them, someone else was.

Andy runs his own small company, which makes it hard for him to take time off. But a couple years ago, realizing that we hadn't created any family vacation memories for our kids, we rented a house by the beach, just an hour's drive away. It had worked out well enough that we were willing to try again. Last year, though, tired from a decade of motherhood, and desperately craving rest, I planned on parking myself on a blanket under the soul-soothing sun.

The first couple of days didn't exactly pan out that way. The kids were "adjusting," as my friend Robin kindly put it. Nothing was good enough, no one was happy, Zack was bored even after we'd only been in town for an hour. A quick trip to the nearby Old Company Store for bags of penny candy took care of everyone – I thought for good – but the joy only lasted until the sugar buzz wore off. We needed our next fix.

Fortunately, we had one more trump card: Zack's best friend Michael was coming to stay with us for two nights. Andy and I love Michael like a son – well, like a son who listens and answers us with respect. Maybe Zack would finally be happy once Michael had arrived. He was; in fact, he was so jazzed to get the party started that the first morning of the big sleepover, he felt compelled to wake poor Michael up at 5 a.m.. which was sleeping in compared to the next day, when he got everyone up at 4. "You guys get up early," Michael said, yawning.

Desperate for at least one of the adults to catch some z's, I whisked the kids out of the house and down to the beach. It's not a bad time of day, dawn, if you've chosen to greet it. I hadn't. By 7, the kids had played catch, looked for creatures, and pronounced themselves bored. "How is this a vacation?" Andy whispered to me over breakfast.

For some reason I wasn't relaxed yet. Not like Mr. and Mrs. Fun from New York, our neighbors for the week whose idea of a vacation seemed different than mine. We first met them as we were leaving the beach for the second time that morning, and they were just getting ready to have breakfast on their deck. The next time we spied them, a few hours later, they and their two boys were returning from a bike ride. Finally, at the end of the day, we saw all of them smiling and waving at us as they canoed into shore with flushed, healthy-looking cheeks.

Then I learned their secret: That night, Mom and Dad would be driving back to New York for the week "to work." No wonder they had so much energy. Mr. Fun's parents would be in charge, and it soon became clear that Grandma and Grandpa's approach to childcare was to let the boys, eight and five, go down to the beach by themselves – or with us.

At the end of the week, Zack innocently (and shockingly) said, "Next year, can we go away for two weeks?" Clearly, he hadn't understood the seriousness of the situation as well as his four-year-old sister who, when asked by a family friend how her trip had been, sadly answered, "We're not taking any more vacations."

"How do you know?" our friend asked, shocked.

"I just know," Maya said, shaking her sweet little head.