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Uh Oh, Here Comes Summer

As family vacations go, I’ve led a charmed life. Beach trips, lake respites, city explorations and recession stay-cations—you name it. I have CDs full of images of my kids mugging it up through the years and plenty of fade-resistant memories of them as toddlers, lugging dime-store buckets of ocean water to fill a moat.

So it might come as a surprise that I still approach vacations with a heavy sigh. It’s not that I don’t want to rest, visit friends, enjoy my family and make up nostalgic lies of our golden times together. It’s that doing so nearly kills me every year.

Never mind simple stuff like stopping the newspaper and arranging for dog walkers or even enduring the predictable argument with my husband over how best to pack the car. There’s a whole other layer of planning that has to happen when families like ours take to the open road. Whether you need to find a wheelchair that can groove in the sand or just give the hotel’s activity staff a heads-up, the fact is: your life is coming with you. All of it. Every food allergy, behavior bump and mobility issue slips into your suitcase, too. Not even vacation, it seems, offers time off from some of the tasks that tire us most.


“Couldn’t a nice pool membership do pretty much the same?” I ask my husband as I pack the Depends and all of my daughter’s meds. By now, I’ve already checked the Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality (www.sath.org) and poured over catalogues and travel guides, trying to patch together things that are interesting enough for my two younger teens without overloading Cristina completely—or worse, leaving her an observer to all the fun. Maybe we should rent a four-wheel surrey or go on the dolphin cruise? Can’t forget good cable TV and a big pool. And I’ll need museums and great food (but nothing “gross”), shopping—but only a little. And … and … and … .

Where will this leave me after seven days? Thinking that life alone on a deserted island wouldn’t be half bad. And I’m not alone. Americans come in last on Expedia.com’s annual survey of how much vacation people take in their lives. We have the least number of days available and we leave an average of six days per year unused.

“There’s a reason for that,” I tell my husband bitterly. “And it isn’t because I’m afraid of looking lazy to my boss.”

As proof, I point to the adult tri-wheeler that never, ever fits right on a bike rack.

Luckily, Javier is usually wise enough to buy nonrefundable tickets. I have no choice but to keep packing.

Somewhere along the line, I resign myself to the fact that there’s no turning back. I make a mantra of what experts say: that time away makes you more productive, that it will bring you closer to your family. I even embrace the sad fact that this is like being a wedding planner. Sure, you make a beautiful thing happen, but no, you don’t get to have cake and dance with the guests. It’s not your party, honey, just your party plan. This is why I suppose God gave us spas and girlfriend getaways.

In the end, we always manage to have a good time—or at least, that’s what we let ourselves remember. (It helps that I’m in charge of editing the pictures, too.) Our fun times will be tucked inside the parts of our trip that we never anticipated, like racing wheeled suitcases through the airport or laughing at Cristina’s chocolate ice cream moustache. Maybe it’s just about watching her roam the shore and suck the salt water from the ends of her hair as her siblings dive into the waves. And when we stop to see the cousins and friends we love most, we’ll sit in their backyards, eat burgers and let them marvel at how the kids have grown.

The truth is, we’ve all grown. It’s been a long trip together, indeed.