Out There: Memories of summer’s end

Summer trips mean listening to the kids fight about who sits next to whom in the car, who gets the dreaded middle seat, who has to ride with their feet on the cooler.

Summer cartoon. 370 (photo credit: Pepe Fainberg)
Summer cartoon. 370
(photo credit: Pepe Fainberg)
Many and varied are the reasons I miss the kids being young and small. I miss the feeling of their tiny hands in mine; I miss tucking them into bed; I miss the awe in which they looked at the world.
I miss it so bad that sometimes I find it difficult to look at pictures when they were toddlers or in elementary school. I miss it so badly that when I look at those pictures it actually hurts.
I miss not having to argue with them about not hitchhiking, not going to Jordan, going to college. But one thing I don’t miss, I don’t miss summer vacations.
A work colleague told me at the beginning of the month he would be out of the office for a couple of weeks in August, taking his wife and three small children – all under nine – up north for a number of days.
“Wow, that sounds so nice, great fun,” I said. “Good for you guys.”
“Oh man, what an exhausting nightmare,” I thought. “Poor guy.”
HAD MY colleague told me he was going to stay home for a few days reading stories to the tots, watching animated videos, licking popsicles and doing the occasional barbecue on the porch, I would have had that tinge of longing, even envy. Ah, those were the days. But hitting the road again with small kids? Been there, done that, and not interested in going back.
It is not that those types of trips are not important for family growth and bonding; for the accumulation of memories; for child and parental development. They are, and everybody should have the good fortune to be able to take such journeys. But two weeks up north with small children? Not exactly something that gets the mouth watering.
First there is the preparation. I’m not even talking about having to slab peanut butter and jelly into a stack of pitot, or cut a dozen carrots, or stuff everything into the cooler, or pack everyone’s suitcase, or schlep it all down to the car, or try to figure out how to get everything into the trunk.
I’m just talking about the pre-preparation: looking for a place to stay, a decent place for parents and four kids that will not empty the bank account and make it financially impossible to actually do any activity once you get there. That search itself takes hours.
And then there is the physical preparation, and the chore of actually getting out of the house and into the car.
“What time should we leave,” The Wife would typically ask on the eve of one of our journeys.
“I don’t know, we should aim for about 7:30,” I’d reply, adding – John Wayne-like – “We don’t want to burn daylight.”
We’d be lucky if we got on the road by 10. Leaving the house quickly is not something I ever mastered. No fireman am I, and that is even without taking the kids into consideration.
Today, with the kids all big and grown, it still takes me an inordinate amount of time to get my stuff together. I have to find the phone, then the wallet, the keys, the pen, the notebook, the computer, the cord for the computer, and then the adapter that has fallen off the computer cord.
Then I need to use the restroom, drink some water, find my hat, get some Kleenex. By the time I get to the car I’m worn out, and that’s even before running back upstairs to the apartment because I forgot the headset to the phone.
And if that is the case when I only have to organize myself for a daytime meeting, imagine throwing four small kids into the mix and the need to get their stuff ready for a week or two away. That small chore becomes an almost overwhelming burden – not one I now pine for.
THEN THERE is the added element of having to secure the house: shut the windows, close the trisim (shutters), make sure someone is bringing in the newspapers, ensure that the stove is off, check that the faucets are not dripping, and set the lights on a timer to fool all the burglars (a trick I learned from my grandparents).
One year we hosted my sister’s three kids for a few weeks – their first time in Israel – and one of my nephews complained constantly about how late we used to leave on our trips. Sounding like my father, he kvetched, “You spend half your life getting out of the house. I’m not seeing the country, there’s nothing left in the day.”
He was right, of course. But now he has three small kids of his own, and I enjoy being smug when mocking him.
Summer trips mean listening to the kids fight about who sits next to whom in the car, who gets the dreaded middle seat, who has to ride with their feet on the cooler. Then there is the unloading at the hotel or youth hostel; keeping the antsy kids from destroying the hotel lobby after being cooped up in the car for hours, and trying to contain their initial excitement at the entrance to the hotel room, when all they really want to do is jump up and down on the perfectly made beds and explore any new gadget they haven’t seen before. (“Wow, look at that, a hair dryer in the bathroom!”)
AND, OF course, there is the question of what to eat.
In an ideal world, going on a vacation means you don’t have to cook or prepare food. But regular folks, dealing with three or four kids, can’t generally afford restaurants for the family twice a day for a week or two.
Feeding the children, therefore, is a constant chore.
You want the kids to fill up at the breakfast provided by the hotel. But how many pieces of herring is it reasonable to expect an eight-year-old to eat?
“Eat more matias herring, damnit,” I yelled at my son one time, in an eruption that haunts me to this day. “We won’t be eating again until dinner.”
And, finally, there is having to figure out how to entertain the troops once you get them there: what activity is affordable, and will keep them happy? And when you are dealing with a number of kids, affordable is not easy to find. Horseback riding for all? You might as well buy the horse. Some go-carting? Cheaper to buy a Hyundai. Rafting? Great, if you want to fight the long August lines.
And when you do finally find something that is doable, one kid is inevitably bored, the other tired, the third kvetchy. If you are lucky, one is actually enjoying himself.
So you hike, because hiking is free.
But it’s pretty hot in this country to be hiking in August. Also, many hikes here necessitate two cars – one to take you to the trail head, and the other waiting to pick you up at the finish line. Having to hitch back to the car after a long, blistering hike has a tendency to suck the joy right out of things.
There’s always the beach, that’s fun – but then you’re dropping big bucks on Cokes and ice cream. Also, you can’t exactly stretch out on the sand and just close your eyes like a character out of a Jimmy Buffet song.
One eye needs to be constantly glued on the toddler who has run off to build a sandcastle, and the other on his brother frolicking in dangerous waves. That does not happen in Margaritaville.
Naw, I don’t miss those days. What I do miss is the end of the summer, when school starts again and an awesome feeling of relief, reprieve and liberation sets in. Now that is a magic moment.