Remember those childhood summers, when you didn’t get up until noon, or when you got up before dawn to go fish down at the dock; when you spent the whole day just reading on the porch, or when you did nothing but wade down a river as far as you could get; when you spent a week with your siblings accomplishing nothing more than racing each other in Mario Kart, or when you helped your grandparents mow hay on the farm; when you went to camp with the same friends for the fifth year in a row, or when you worked with your uncle on his commercial fishing boat.
I know that not everyone has great memories of summer vacation when they were young, but I certainly did, and I run into many people with similarly beautiful recollections of having all that time, without long term responsibilities, without even the immediate pressures of school or real jobs or real relationships or, well, anything. It wasn’t (I don’t think) that any of the things we did was so magical in and of themselves. It was that we had all this time and freedom, so even ordinary things, like summer jobs and video games, seemed that much better.
In my early years, my father would take my brothers and me to live for weeks at a time in a Manitoulin Island hunting camp, where we cut trail, and busted up beaver dams, and cooked bannock over the fire. Later, after my parents divorced, he took us on canoe trips, where we ran the portages, played gunnel bobbing, and learned to drink our coffee black. What we had in both places was time, and the freedom to fill that time pretty much as we chose. Our minimal schedule was set by eating when we were hungry, sleeping when we were tired, and doing the few things that needed to get done whenever we got around to them.
If we wanted to sit in the shade and read a book most of the day – fine. Wander down to the water and have a swim – great. Go fish the stream or the lake – perfect. Spend the day cutting trail to nowhere in particular – if it makes you happy.
There was no schedule of dates that we needed to keep, nobody there to provide amusement, no screens to keep us occupied. We had to find ways to amuse ourselves, or better yet (at least for me) to relax and just experience the gift of not having to do much of anything.
And that’s an experience that’s difficult to achieve at any time but childhood. When we vacation as adults, we tend to bring our worries and our stresses and our responsibilities with us, even if we manage to leave our actual work behind. It’s hard to keep all that stuff at home and just be at rest.
That’s why, when I take the family away on vacation, I try to leave as much behind as I can. Will the kids survive without their devices for a couple weeks – they don’t think so, but they’ll be fine. Will you survive without your own devices – you don’t think so either, but you’ll be fine too. Leave your work behind. Leave your schedule behind. Leave your need to accomplish things behind. Leave your worries and stresses and responsibilities behind.
Wake up each morning without a plan. Make it up as you go along, as a family. If your daughter wants to sleep in – amazing. If your son wants to stay up and watch the stars – awesome. If your spouse wants to read a cheesy detective novel all day – perfect. If all of you want to grab an ice cream – make it happen. Cook something new together. Explore the area around you by foot. Play a stupid game together. Go for a canoe. Or, best of all, sit around and do nothing. Push past the feeling of boredom that we’re trained into (really just our addiction to doing things), and rest.
It’ll be good for your kids, even if they don’t think so at first. Spending those lazy summer days will make far more beautiful memories than the days they spend swiping through social media and being scheduled into endless day camps. And it’ll be good for you too, even if you don’t think so at first. You’ll head back to your responsibilities far more refreshed for having really left them behind for a time.
It’s not easy to vacation like a kid anymore, not even for our kids. It takes some work to leave our work behind. But it’ll be worth it.