July 14, 2010

The Importance of Family Vacations

Family vacation means a lot of things to a lot of people. To Mom it means a chance to sleep in, wear less makeup and take an obscene amount of photos—none of which she'll be in, mind you, because she's wearing less makeup. To the Kids it means swimming in the hotel pool, getting cookie crumbs in a giant hotel bed and showering with funny little bottles of shampoo that are just their size. To the Hotel Staff it means more towels to wash. And to Dad it means … well ... after my first full family vacation as a Dad, I learned that it has one very specific, important meaning: Plenty of free ice.

Let me explain.

Family vacations are expensive. Plain and simple. Hotels cost money. Food costs money. Events cost money. Even money costs money (damn travelers checks).

It's important to understand that before I was the patriarch of Team Klems, I'd grown accustomed to a certain frugal vacation lifestyle. Back then vacations weren't "vacations," they were "road trips." They'd involve 7 guys crammed into one $40 room ($6 a person) at a hotel that was so disgusting it offended the one-star hotels around it. Lunch and dinner consisted of happy hour Miller Lites, while breakfast was a continental smorgasbord of Tums, Advil and water (which we brought from home). If it weren't cheap, we wouldn't buy it. If it weren't free, we didn't do it.

So when we started planning the family vacation, my wallet started to cry. With each mounting expense—like booking the hotel, filling up the minivan with gas the night before the trip, getting "vacation clothes" for the girls—tears rolled down its leather exterior. When we arrived at the hotel I tried to comfort my wallet the best I could: It'll be OK, my friend. I promise. I'll order water for breakfast, just like old times. You'll see. But he wouldn't listen. He was too busy shaking in fear as he watched both my girls touch, poke and jump on everything in the hotel room, daring something to break.

It was with that I had to take action. So I turned to my girls and, with as much excitement as I could mount, dangled the question: "Who wants to go to the ice machine and get some ice?"

They stopped touching. They stopped poking. They stopped jumping on everything in the room (except for my feet) as they hurried to the room's door. My wife nodded as we exited, giving me her Thanks-For-Taking-The-Girls-And-Letting-Me-Get-Settled-For-A-Moment look. It's a look that will pay off later, when she's thinks twice before giving me the I-Can't-Believe-You-Didn't-Put-The-Plastic-Bag-In-The-Ice-Bucket-Before-You-Filled-It-Up-You-Dirtball look.

As we made our way down to the ice machine, my wallet sighed in relief. My eldest daughter, Ella, pressed the button and sprayed ice everywhere. My youngest daughter, Anna, watched in amusement. My ice bucket, Ms. Ice Bucket, made inappropriate passes at my wallet. All three of these items concerned me.

This moment didn't seem that particularly important or impressive to me at the time. In fact, we hit the ice machine for about two dozen more fills with similar results. So it wasn't until the day we returned home from vacation that I realized how deeply I'd been touched by the free ice moments. And not just because they paid tribute to my "road trip" days, but because ...

... Every time I think of the ice machine, I remember carrying the bucket back to the hotel room—where my wife, my girls and I put on our PJs, ate Twizzlers in bed and read Curious George Goes to the Ice Cream Shop until we fell asleep in each others' arms.

... Every time I think of the ice machine, I remember passing it on the way to the elevator—which would lead us toward the Children's Museum where Ella built sailboats to float in the lagoon … and the Zoo where Anna waved to the giraffes as if they'd been long lost friends … and to dinner, where we ordered cheese stick appetizers, smilie-face-shaped French fries and milk to toast.

... Every time I think of the ice machine, I remember filling up the cooler with drinks and snacks for the car ride home—where we sang songs, asked each other what our favorite parts of vacation were and smiled (a lot).

And every time I think of the overall cost of the vacation and all the money we spent, I remember the magical ice machine, the piles of free ice it shared with us, all the memories, all the moments, I start to smile. Then I turn to my wallet and say:

My friend, I think we got a hell of a deal.

To which my wallet replies, "That ice bucket was a real pervert."

The Life of Dad is updated every other Friday (barring the call of family duties). Thanks for stopping by and following my attempts to be a good dad, husband and co-ed softball player. I hope you visit again. -- Brian