Family vacations

When my partner and I handed off our 10-year-old grandson to his father late Saturday afternoon, we collapsed onto our couch and sat, entirely still and silent, for quite some time, utterly exhausted by our week of adventures with him.

An honest assessment of the holiday would be that it was not a total success. Lots of the responsibility for that rested with us: we planned a trip that involved far too much car time – for a 68-year-old woman as well as for a 10-year-old kid. We didn’t involve our grandson in the planning, thinking it would be fun for the activities to be a surprise to him. That doesn’t work so well for a kid who tends towards the anxious. We under-estimated the challenges of keeping a very particular eater happy when travelling in rural areas with only limited restaurant options.

On the upside, we discovered what an enthusiastic and skilled player of Yahtzee, Qwirkle and Mexican train dominoes our grandson is, as we engaged in daily competition to determine the ultimate champion in each game. He demonstrated a strong arm and keen aim when he and my partner tossed a frisbee around on the beach and at highway rest stops. My wit seemed to be just right for a 10-year-old. As long a fresh baguette and some salami (no butter, mustard or mayonnaise, thank you very much) were available, he was content.

Seeing the world

When I was a kid, my family vacationed ferociously. Every summer, my parents would load up however many of us there were at the time into the back (seatbelt-free) seat of our car and head off for a camping trip. Many summers we camped our way, first from B.C. and later from Ontario, to Nova Scotia, where we spent time with my dad’s family. Other summers, we camped at various provincial parks in Ontario. One year, we travelled to Washington D.C. to see the sights. On that trip, we stayed in a motel, which thrilled all of us kids no end.

Our biggest family adventure was the year we spent in Europe while our father was on sabbatical. There were five kids by then and, given the extent of my exhaustion after a modest one-week vacation with one child, I must say that I cannot even imagine how my parents pulled it off. We flew to London, England, my sisters and I in outfits sewn especially for the occasion by our mother, where we picked up a VW camper van, with the steering wheel on the correct side for driving in Canada. Needless to say, this caused some challenges for my father, who was the primary driver, while we travelled around England. We based ourselves in Exeter, where my father’s brother and family lived, and travelled from there throughout England, Scotland and Wales, as well as making two long trips to western Europe.

I was 15 years old when that trip began and 16 by the time we returned home. Like most kids at that age, I was in a constant state of embarrassment about the rest of my family, and I spent much of the trip walking half a block behind them just to establish to any interested onlooker that I was a very hip local and definitely not associated with those weird, nerdy tourists just ahead of me. In hindsight and with the wisdom gained through my own experience as a parent, I must commend my parents for their general forbearance with this idiotic behaviour.

We spent our days visiting art galleries, museums, castles and other important sights, but our evenings were for playing cards. Our father, who later became a highly skilled competitive bridge and poker player, was a card-playing fiend. Once the supper dishes were washed and put away, he would light up the kerosene lamp, and we would sit around the campsite picnic table for a game of Hearts or, perhaps, Auction 45, which our father had grown up playing. Other times, two people would immerse themselves in a round or two of cribbage. Often, our mother, who had been the chief child minder and cook during the day, would excuse herself from the card game to enjoy some quiet reading time on her own.   

Lifelong memories

My siblings and I have been reminiscing about that grand tour this summer, sharing old and often somewhat embarrassing stories and photos. Our memories, even of shared events, are remarkably different. I suppose that shouldn’t be a surprise, given the more than 50 years that have passed since we had those adventures.

However different our recollections may be, there’s little doubt in any of our minds that our parents gave us one of the greatest gifts possible by taking us out of the safe cocoon of our lives in Waterloo, Ontario, for a year of exploring the unknown.

Given the vagaries of memory and the grace offered by the passage of time, I hope our grandson’s adult tales of his adventures with us will leave behind things like my ill-advised attempts to make him eat a carrot one sunny afternoon. Why did I bother? After all, he wasn’t likely to die of malnutrition in a week.

Instead, may he only remember the high-wire exploits of the Cirque du Soleil performers, the humpbacks he and my partner spotted during their whale watching excursion, the beauty of Montmorency Falls, the magical fun of the flying greenhouse we saw at the Montreal Botanical Gardens and, of course, the fact that he repeatedly bested us at Qwirkle.

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