So one of the things I've done in the last 2 months (since last writing) was go on vacation. Two adults, two kids, one car, 3,000 mile round trip.
What is your first reaction? Is it something like: 'You're crazy!', or is it more like 'I can't wait to do that with MY kids!'?
Actually my kids were amazing. My wife was on the phone and I was driving when the trip mile counter passed 1,000. The kids were in the backseat laughing with each other. It's hard to ask more of them than that! So anyway, the discipline part of the trip was pretty easy. I'm not going to write about how to pacify kids on a road trip.
The more important question that comes up, at least in my mind, regards how important experiences like this are. I have memories I will take with me from this vacation: having to dive under a wave with Natalie on my shoulders then miraculously finding her sunglasses in the ocean over a minute later, listening to a master storyteller at the local library, listening to the 4 cousins on the baby monitor as they pretended to sleep, Jonah getting really excited about gas stations and hotels...and many others.
But will my kids remember any of it? What is the biggest benefit of going on a trip like this with them?
I would suspect that most people would say it is quality time with our children and even if they don't remember it per se they are still bonding with us and their quality of life increased.
In fact, as I think about it, I think these events become an integral part of the fabric of who we are as a family. We know who we are as a family because of the stories we share together. The things we do as a family end up defining us. It's not altogether different from how they used to talk about God in the Old Testament. They always emphasize His actions: "The God of our fathers, who brought us out of Egypt..."
In the end, we do the same thing with our families. When we get together with our grown brothers and parents we retell the same old stories over and over--not because we don't know them but because that's where our identity comes from. ('Hey, do you remember that one time when we set off the alarm at grandpa's house in our swimsuits?' 'Or how about when your brother got stung by a bee rolling down that hill?') We are a family because we have a shared narrative that gives depth to who we are.
If we are not focusing on creating memories with our children, we are failing to give them this gift. If we are not giving opportunities to actually SHARE life together with them we will lose this extremely important part of what it means to be a family. I sincerely hope that when my kids get older they don't think: "Dad was gone all the time working" or "my childhood was so boring..." I hope they get together as adults and retell the stories of our family. Their individual identities will be better formed, paradoxically, by the events and stories they share with the whole family. These stories are a far more important gift than anything material I could give them.