It seems for many August has become “vacation” season. For those with kids, it is the last few weeks before school starts. This year, my household once again returned to our favorite destination in northern Michigan. It was a happy time for my wife and me, as all our kids were again under one roof. I jokingly keep the actual destination secret – as we Webster’s are trend setters and reservations get harder to schedule each summer. In truth, each of the Lake Michigan beach towns we visit in Michigan are a “must-see” destination for us. In my Illinois house, we love “Pure Michigan.”
In my mind, we have had some great vacations as a family. Having daughters, most of these trips were tied in some fashion to a dance competition destination. We have gone to all the “popular” domestic destinations. Only once, while on a cruise, did we actually leave the U.S. I always figured we have not seen all of this amazing country of ours to consider wandering further abroad.
With one daughter out of the nest, another chomping at the bit to finish college and a third glad to now have her own bathroom, getting together as a family is harder these days. This was an unusual year in which the time was right for us to schedule two trips with all the kids. We had a long July 4th weekend in Branson, MO and the late summer trip to northern Michigan. When we visit Branson, it is usually to enjoy the southern Missouri heat. It is a trip packed with visiting the pool, lake activities at Table Rock and of course, a show. Our Michigan trips are 180° opposite in terms of action. We enjoy a slower pace with gorgeous views of Lake Michigan and visits to charming beach towns.
I asked my family which of these destinations they preferred. I figured my Millennials would all be for the more action paced Branson. To my surprise, they all chose Michigan with its colder water but more relaxing pace. I was actually pleased to hear this. That generation was raised with cell phones and constant noise. They go at such an unhealthy pace that I worry they will miss opportunities to kick back. After years of working too many hours I have become much better at kicking back. My wife still disapproves of me checking work email while away. I remind her that I am still a work in progress in this regard. Furthermore, not coming back to an unexpected crisis helps me relax. As I get older and watch my kids’ generation race about I am realizing that no engine can run on full throttle all the time. As little kids I told my daughters to never miss the opportunity to stop and watch a Lake Michigan sunset. As Dad, I laugh at myself after saying these things knowing that my pearls of wisdom are often missed in the noise of a Millennial’s life. Perhaps they actually heard me this time. It is time for me to listen too.
One evening while away, my oldest daughter asked what our favorite vacation over the years had been. I paused, going over the destinations that came to mind. Many great memories surfaced. I told her I had too many good times to rank. So, our family conversation switched to favorite memories, such as the tragedy of losing a favorite pair of yellow sunglasses in the ocean, parental terrorism of making them trek the 1.8 miles along the beach it takes to visit Big Sable Point Lighthouse, and my least favorite as a dad – walking into a tree while looking at boys driving by. Family events are always at their greatest when they return to telling stories of our lives.
The truth is, however, that I lied that night. I had my destination answer before we even left on the trip. A few years back, in order to ease the expense of bringing the family on vacation, my wife started preparing our vacation meals at home and packaging them up days before our trip. It saved the expense and unhealthiness of eating out during our travel. It is a lot of work for her, but I think she also secretly enjoys again preparing and trying to include some of our family favorites in her menu. It has become a vacation tradition for our family with a wonderful unintended consequence – each night we gather together at the kitchen table and share a meal together. In our hustle and bustle world, such an important family gathering is becoming all too uncommon an occurrence. Here on vacation, it occurs for me almost every night.
My answer: My favorite vacation destination has become the kitchen table and eating together as a family.
Dinner with the family is the vacation destination that I’ve come to cherish. Each Sunday at Mass we gather as a family of believers at the Lord’s Table in praise and thanksgiving. As a society, we have all but forgotten the importance of gathering at the table in our domestic church as well. In our laughing, arguing and being together as a family we are reasserting that nucleus that holds us together. The table is where family business is discussed, memories are recalled and loved ones are again remembered. The family dinner is not about a meal but a bond; a bond of blood, commitment and soul. As someone who has been downsized several times, I’ve learned from the bruises that jobs come and go. Family has your back. The family dinner is where we solidify this bond.
My mother and father always told stories how in their day their whole extended families came together for a meal on Sundays. As a kid I marveled at the stories and secretly wished I had not grown up so far away from relatives to miss out on such gatherings. Booking a vacation is not the ideal way to schedule a family dinner. Yet, in 2016 if that is what it takes, so be it. We take the Gospel to the people, not the people to the Gospel.