Under normal circumstances, I would consider myself a rational and intelligent woman...but allow me to share with you my family's most infamous and dysfunctional vacation details. I do not know what possessed me to even consider taking my then 13 year old son, 12 and 10 year old daughters AND Grandpa on a minivan road trip from Pennsylvania to Disneyworld. I can only plead the insanity defense at the time of this crime.
Just reading these sentences sends chills up my spine like finger nails on a black board. I will spare you most of the gory details. I'm certain your most vivid imagination about this week from hell will not even come close to the horrors that actually occurred...the youngest with her car sickness, my son finding himself in the middle of an armed robbery and Grandpa's farts were just some of the highlights. But of all the horrible events, the whinning rivalries and back seat bickering was by far, the greatest evil of all.
Bear in mind, this mom was an only child. I never had brothers and sisters with which to argue. I did pretty well playing referee and keeping it all together until the evening of day 6. Yes, I admit it...I had a total and complete "Mommy Meltdown" smack dab in the middle of the happiest place on earth. Right in front of Cinderella's castle I transformed from loving mother into that character from the Exorcist. I had the kind of legendary meltdown that makes children snap to attention and puts the fear of God into 75 year old war veterans. I don't remember too much between the tears and sobs other than the threat to "Never, never, EVER, take this family ANYWHERE TOGETHER ever again!!!!!"
In retrospect, this trip was simply too overwhelming for me to handle. Each child wanted and deserved individual attention. I was so stressed about logistics and making sure everyone behaved and had fun. Needless to say, this was NO vacation for yours truly because I was outnumbered.
When it came time to plan our next vacation, I sat my kids down and told them I was going to make good on my threat NOT to take my family away on vacation. I told them I would instead take each child on a separate vacation starting with my son who was the oldest. While we were away, the remaining kids could plan a fun week staying with family or friends so that nobody felt left out. Admittedly this was one of the most monumental and best mothering decisions I have ever made for our family.
My son is an artist. He's quiet, very intelligent, loves history and traveling. He chose to go to London. Having his choice of vacation destinations empowered him. He was very involved with all the planning and day to day itineraries. Normally getting him engaged in any shared activities was like pulling teeth but this was different. While in London, We visited the national galleries, the Tate Modern, sat sketching on the Thames, visited Stonehenge, Bath and Canterbury, even ate squirrel pie at a local pub and slept one night in a windmill. When he and I returned, we found the girls anxious to hear our stories and share their "separate vacation" details with us. TAKING SEPARATE VACATIONS ACTUALLY BROUGHT OUR FAMILY TOGETHER!!!
The following year my daughter decided to follow in her brother's footsteps by also visiting London. She and I shopped till we dropped, spent hours on Portobello Road and Carnaby Street, even longer in Harrod's hat department and eventually found THE perfect tiara for her prom in Covent Garden. We spent one night at the theater, one night riding the London Eye and another night bowling with some new friends we met along the way. This London experience was completely different than the one I shared with my son.
When it was my youngest daughter's turn she decided to keep with tradition and again headed to London. Her trip was all about royalty. Guess we knew what we were doing when we nicknamed her the Princess! She and I visited Castles and even did the Queen's wave back at her majesty herself. We connected with her London penpal and visited with her family. As she loves tennis and the finer things in life, we topped it all off with a visit to Wimbledon and high tea at the Dorchester.
Three kids, three completely different vacations, one destination and one very big lesson learned...Separate family vacations gave me the chance to celebrate what makes each of my children unique. Those are memories that I wouldn't trade for anything in the world. Had I tried to take one trip together it most likely would have broken the bank as well as my ability to cope. Putting the spotlight on each child made them feel special and got them totally immersed in the travel experience. Professionally it taught me how important experiential travel; how planning a trip around a child's interests can make that destination appear magical instead of boring.
I am happy to report that since the "London Vacations" we have since vacationed all together as a family. The difference is a new found respect and cooperation; a tolerance for individual tastes. Perhaps this simply comes with maturity but I tend to believe separate does tend to make the heart grow fonder.