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'Gather 'round," the wife and I ordered the offspring a few weeks back. "We've got some fine news, some real fine news. This summer we're all going to Slovenia."
"Slow-what," said my daughter, incredulous that her intense lobbying efforts for a summer trip to the States were going up in smoke. "What's that?"
"It's a country in Europe," I announced, ready with all the pertinent information needed for a conversation just like this.
"It's just to the right of Italy, directly below Austria," I said. "It's got 2 million people, 500 Jews, no kosher restaurants, a bunch of caves and a big lake called Bled. Next January it will take over the rotating presidency of the EU. And the really special part is that their doctors, architects, journalists and university professors aren't boycotting ours."
"Oh, that's just great," said the daughter. "Can't we go to Eilat instead?"
"I'm not going to Slovenia," piped in the eldest son. "Go ahead without me."
The lad's reaction, actually, was far more annoying than my daughter's, because he was the impetus for this trip. Our firstborn is going into the army in July, and the wife and I thought it absolutely imperative to have one more extended family excursion before he goes in.
"Can't we just go to a place in Europe where normal people go, like Holland or Spain?" the boy queried. "How'd you pick Slovenia? Who has ever heard of Slovenia? What is it, cheap, or something?"
Well, yes, actually.
For instance, for the price of one ticket to Denver, four of us can fly to Slovenia. For the cost of a double room for two nights in a decent Eilat hotel, six of us can stay three nights in a mountain chalet near Bohinj (wherever that is). And for what we would have to pay for two cups of espresso and four Cokes in Rome, we can buy food for a full day to take to Ljubljana.
But it's not only the price. Slovenia - with ample trees, mountains and hiking trails - seems a most fitting location for a family consolidating experience.
And that's how I've decided to refer to the trip - a family consolidating experience. It's more honest than "family vacation," a phrase that creates unrealistic expectations about having fun.
COLOR ME cynical, but family vacations are oxymorons. The first American Heritage Dictionary entry for vacation reads as follows: "A period of time devoted to pleasure, rest or relaxation; especially, such a period during which a working person is exempt from work but collects his pay." Okay, the second clause - the part about pulling pay but not working - is pertinent, even with family.
But "pleasure, rest or relaxation?" Granted, during those fleeting moments when everyone is happy, content, not hungry and keeping their hands to themselves, being all together with the family can fairly be described as a pleasure. But, really, how much "rest or relaxation" is there in a family trip, especially when the kids are young? How rested and relaxed do those folks with a brood in tow look when they board a plane in New York for that return trip to Tel Aviv?
Family vacations are among those things that look great on paper but are always vastly different in reality - like entries in a computer-dating data base.
Family vacations are also among those experiences that people reflexively praise afterward, regardless of the truth. When was the last time someone who shelled out $7,000 for a family trip to Euro Disney went home and said the trip was "dreadful, just dreadful - the weather was muggy, the French were snotty, and the lines were too long."
People take family vacations because they feel they must; because they feel these trips are necessary to give their children lasting memories. But the premise that positive, long-term memories are only fashioned by a week at the ocean, and not during the routine drudgery of everyday life, is a troubling one.
I have stronger memories of sitting around the kitchen table as a kid talking to my mother than I do of walking with her through Butchart Gardens during a summer vacation in Vancouver.
When my kids were young, I preferred staying home with them and watching The Lion King (again) rather than shlepping to Tiberias for a dip in a crowded, dirty and warm lake. But shlep up north I did, because I felt I had to; because I felt that was what normative, functional families did. Only losers buy their kids creamsicles and stay in their air-conditioned living rooms watching old movies (my ideal vacation).
AYE, BUT I was so much younger then. Now I realize that the purpose of family getaways is not to have a good time. Indeed, major disappointment awaits those who set that up as the goal.
No, the purpose of these trips is to be together without distractions, without one kid scrambling off to youth group and the others running off to the basketball court. The purpose is to come together, to coalesce, to experience something new with one another. If, in the meantime, some fun is had, that's great, an added value - but it is not the overarching aim.
Which, by the way, is a great way to sell the trip to the kids. "We are not going to Slovenia to have fun," I explained to my children, whetting their appetite for this trip. "That is not our purpose."
"Good thing," my daughter replied "because if we wanted fun we would just go to Eilat."
"Wrong," I countered, "if we wanted fun we'd stay home. What we want is a family consolidating experience. And for that, Slovenia is tailor-made."