I do not remember having any bit of input into any singular plan during my youth. This was true whether the decision should have involved me, even if the decision should have involved me only in theory. I took piano lessons for ten years that would have been easier if served at Rikers. When the lessons began, I do not recall sitting down with my parents to discuss the merits of me taking piano lessons. I only remember complaining about the lessons. I remember going to the lessons, first with Miss Marie then with Mr. Mark. I remember how silly I must have sounded when I told the teachers that I had been practicing, because my stumbling fingers proved my lie. I remember the intense nerves of piano recitals, where I would breathe deep and the air rushing over my teeth felt like a dentist’s drill. These are my experiences of piano playing, and no where in my deepest memories can I pull forward a conversation where my parents asked me if I wanted to play. It’s because they were my parents and I was their son, and if they wanted me to play, I played. This is how it all used to work.
In the summer, I mowed lawns. At the time when I turned 12, maybe 13, I do not recall any parent meeting wherein I was asked if I felt I was ready to mow lawns. I was not with when my dad bought a very used, very orange Simplicity tractor. I did not have breakfast with him where we talked about which lawns I should mow, which ones I thought might be too big for me at that tender age, and which days of the week I wanted to have off to play with my friends and ride my bike around town. I was simply told which lawns to mow, and the expectation was unspoken but clear, so I added more lawns to my route and emblazoned my name and number on the side of the small trailer I pulled behind that tractor. One summer, I decided that I wanted to spend the semester abroad, learning at those temples to academia in foreign lands. My parents considered the idea, and after several family meetings they agreed to fund the trip, because I really wanted to go. Just kidding. I mowed lawns.
Family vacations were singular, annually. We went to Detroit Lakes, Minnesota for two weeks each summer. This, as I’ve come to learn, had two purposes. One was to vacate the house so my dad could rent it and use the money to help pay his taxes. I cannot remember what the second reason was. I jest, it was so we could spend time together as a family, with my parents napping and then with the kids napping tortured, forced naps. We went there on vacation because we all liked it, and we had fun and I fished and met girls, including one who is now my wife. But at no point did we sit down over an Olive Garden lunch and plan our summer vacation together. We didn’t each write our preferred trips on a scrap of napkin, and we didn’t then add them to an upturned hat, and then no one picked the winning destination, and no one was then surprised. We just went to Detroit Lakes because that’s what my parents said we were going to do.
We went to Disney World once. It was 1985. I was 7 years old, and in this old dim I cannot recall much of the event. I was exposed to the ocean for the first time, to that kelp-filled angry sea. I rode Space Mountain and have never ridden a roller coaster since, not even a teacup at the fair. When we planned the trip, I wasn’t around. My brothers weren’t either. My parents planned the trip, and we were pulled from school to go. We had a great time, but we didn’t discuss which rides to go on and which day we’d go to the beach to see the kelp. We just rode in the back seat of that rented Lincoln, and we took it all in. We were passengers in the truest sense, along for the ride that was engineered to create memories that we might one day recall 30 years later when typing at a computer far more futuristic than anything Epcot Center could have imagined.
Today, I see things differently. I see my life, and I see that I plan vacations with my kids’ input, even if I listen and don’t act on that input… I tell them now that we’re going to go out to dinner, and I hear them whine. They wanted to go somewhere else. I still tell my son to mow the lawn, but at the age of almost 12 I cannot imagine he’d be able to ride a tractor around town and mow lawns for strangers. On vacation, they tell me where they want to eat dinner, and they tell me when they want to leave because they miss their own beds. I ask if they want to fish with me and they tell me that they are too tired. They tell me what they want to do during their summer days, and when I interject that the lawn must be mowed I feel more like a peer asking them to please consider the chore, rather than a parent directing the chore to be completed on time and under budget. Things today have changed.
We are coddling our children, maybe too much. When my kids jumped and swam from the piers on Sunday, I couldn’t help but think about customers that ponder a vacation home purchase and pause, thinking about their children. If we buy this home, where will my little princess swim? This is what they wonder. With no beach, and no pool, how will they learn? How will they survive? Or it’s the other problem, of little Jimmy’s baseball practice, and then his games. We can’t come to the lake this weekend, because Johnny has that baseball game on Saturday morning, and then another one on Sunday afternoon. I’m sure I missed some things when we went on vacation every summer. I’m sure piano lessons were skipped or baseball practice was missed. But none of that mattered, because my dad was in charge and we did what he said we were going to, without debate. Perhaps we need to add a bit of old school parenting style to our playbook. Our kids will someday look back and appreciate that we made then swim from piers, and skip Saturday morning baseball for Saturday morning boat rides. Besides, your princess needs to learn how to swim better and little Johnny is horrible at baseball, everyone knows that.