Is summer vacation all about ‘families’?

Ah, summer. Here on the Oregon coast, it’s sometimes sunny, sometimes cloudy, sometimes wet, but warmer than the rest of the year. The wildflowers are blooming, the blackberries are beginning to fruit, and the local bear is raiding garbage cans. Streets, restaurants, and beaches are loaded with tourists, many of them toting children. That’s what happens when you live in a vacation destination.

Meanwhile, the people who live here are doing the family thing. This is the time of year when half of my church choir runs off to babysit the grandkids, go camping with the older kids, or attend family reunions. The calendar in the music room is loaded with the names of people who are taking time off while the offspring are out of school. Which leaves a few of us to pick up the slack.

Wherever you work, I suspect something similar is going on. It’s time for family vacations and entertaining the kids. While our mother-father co-workers are running off to the water park or Disneyland, guess who’s staying behind to do the work? The childless ones. It’s a good thing we’re around, but it’s hard not to feel resentful sometimes. Right?

When my husband was alive, we used to travel in the spring, usually around our May 18 anniversary. In addition to his regular work running community centers in San Jose, he was a licensed tax preparer. From January through April, he rarely looked up from his tax forms, but come May, it was time to spend some of that money on a great vacation before the kiddos were set loose. Over the years we went to Hawaii, Portugal, Costa Rica, and British Columbia. We cruised the Mississippi on the Delta Queen from Nashville to St. Louis, visited Tucson and Las Vegas, and explored many places closer to home.

Because our lives weren’t centered on the school calendar, we sometimes found ourselves unwittingly surrounded by families, like the time we visited the Grand Canyon during spring break. Don’t do it! Too crowded. A two-hour wait for a table at any of the restaurants. And those tables were full of kids.

Ours were adult-focused trips. We liked touring historical sites, wine-tasting, nature hikes, local theater performances, visiting galleries and museums, and meals at posh restaurants, stuff that doesn’t go well with children. We were spared amusement parks, Happy Meals, and kids who’d rather play with their electronic devices than see the wonders of the real world. Mostly. There were a couple fun trips with my stepson. We had good times fishing, splashing in the waves at the beach, and playing games. He was a good traveler, still is, but mostly it was just the two of us.

Now it’s just me, but that’s another story.

As I have traveled back and forth to San Jose this summer to be with my father, I have often found myself surrounded by parents and children. They’re at the airport, the rest stops, and the restaurants. It’s their time. God bless the parents trying to wrangle several kids and all their paraphernalia through airport security!

No matter how frustrating it might be, the parents are lucky to have this chance to show the world to their children. I’m sure there were times when my own parents would have loved to dump us somewhere and travel by themselves, but they always took us along. To make it affordable, we camped, mostly in California. My brother and I both grew to love nature and its simple pleasures, the lapping of a lake against the shore, a Stellar’s Jay squawking above the picnic table, the feel of soft dirt under our tennis shoes, and sitting around the campfire under the stars.

I’m getting lost in nostalgia. It’s July. People with children and grandchildren are busy spending time together. Where does that leave those of us without children? Are you doing double duty at work? Are you traveling now or waiting until the kids go back to school? Are you sad or glad about “summer vacation?” Please share in the comments.

 

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Childless by vocation: a valid choice?

As I watched the naming of our new pope on the TV in the church office with our pastor and other members of our liturgy committee this morning, I got to thinking about people whose vocations require them to give up marriage and children. Whatever our new pope, Francis I, may be, he is not a biological father (although when he was a priest, people called him “Father.”) About 50 years ago, when he was a young man, he took vows that required him to remain single and celibate for the rest of his life. Catholic nuns and brothers take the same vows. The idea behind this is that they can’t devote themselves fully to both the church and the families they might have.

One might argue (I often do) that women should be allowed to be priests, and that priests should be allowed to be married. I don’t see that happening anytime soon, and I do see some logic in total devotion to the church. In fact, a female Episcopal priest I interviewed for my Childless by Marriage book is allowed to be married but says she decided she couldn’t be effective as a priest if she was torn between church and family.

We’re not all Catholic, of course, but let’s think about giving up family for vocation. When priests or nuns vow to be celibate, nobody calls them selfish or deluded as they do with us lay people who announce that we’re not having children. Nobody speculates about their fertility. Religion isn’t the only vocation where it’s hard to do one’s work and raise a family, too. I know of many people in the arts and sciences, for example, who have decided to devote themselves to work rather than having children. When I had other people to take care of in my own life, I always felt torn between their needs and my desire to focus on work.

Until modern times, a woman’s only acceptable role was to be a mother, but things have changed. The jobs of priest or pope may be not be open to us, but most other careers are and they might not mesh with motherhood. Is it valid to decide to give up family and focus completely on work? What do you think? Do know anyone who has done this?

There’s a great photo collection on Pinterest of childless/childfree women who have achieved great things. Click here to see it.