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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Teaching My Baby Dog to Swim at Beaver Creek


I might have sounded like a crazy person at the beach yesterday. The weather was perfect. I decided to take an afternoon off and help my dog Annie learn to swim. At Ona Beach, just a little south of where I live on the Oregon Coast, Beaver Creek ends in a wide, relatively shallow finger of water that runs into the ocean. To get to the beach, you have to walk a long trail from the parking lot through the picnic area and a bit of woodland. Then you cross a small wooden bridge and finally hit sand.
I talked to Annie all the way along. I usually do. In between discussing my life with her and giving commands—No! Off! Don’t eat that! This way!—I found myself teaching her. “This is where we had that picnic. That’s Salal. Those people are from New Mexico. That’s called a velella velella (blobby creatures on the sand that looked like yellow Jell-O).
And then we got to the water. Annie’s a little nuts, so I don’t dare let her off the leash. If she swims, I swim. Annie splashed into a shallow area that isn’t deep enough for swimming and flattened herself in among the rocks. I urged her up and led her to deeper water. She got anxious and pulled me back out. Standing on the shore, I pointed out tiny fish swimming along the edge of the water. She was busy with a smell in the weeds. Eventually I lured her back into the creek and started toward the deep part.
The cool water rose up my shorts, but I didn’t care how wet I got. I was busy shouting encouragement. “Come on, girl. You can do it. Just a little more.” As her paws left the ground and she started to dog-paddle, I was screaming, “Oh, look! You’re swimming! Look at you! I knew you could do it!”
A family nearby watched us. “She’s swimming!” I called. Soon everyone within earshot was watching. Some teenagers came down close. I know it’s not that big a deal. Most dogs can swim. The human kids were having a good time in the water already. But this was Annie, and I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time. Our weather is usually too cold, and I’m usually so busy I don’t get to beach nearly as much as I’d like to.
Annie clambered out, shook water and sand on everyone, and accepted some petting from her admirers. Then she led me on a long walk across the sand. I felt wonderful, young, alive, and happy. I did not miss having human children or even a husband—Fred didn’t like the beach much anyway. Too sandy.
Walking back across the bridge, I got into a conversation with a woman from Los Angeles who was hunting for agates. “I guess the dog needs her walk,” she said.
“Oh yes,” I replied. “And so does her mom.” It didn’t seem the least bit weird.
Dear friends, I’d love to have children and maybe you would, too, but life without them doesn’t have to be all grief and regrets. I would love it if you would share some of your happy childless experiences here in the comments.