Summer Vacation Approacheth

Now that June is here, my kids have been ticking off the days left until summer vacation. My daughter’s last full day is next Tuesday. After that she only goes in for exams. School officially ends on June 21st. That is the morning of my son’s moving up ceremony- his final day of middle school. So as the countdown narrows, I am taking a few minutes to reflect on what summer vacation means from different perspectives.

First of all, there is no doubt that kids love summer vacation. I still remember some of the lyrics to the song my friends and I sang on the way home from the last day of school: “No more pencils, no more books…” (I’m sure you can fill in the rest, even if you liked your teachers). I think the carefree attitude of summer is conveyed perfectly in the soothing, lullaby-like melody and lyrics in George Gershwin’s “Summertime” from “Porgy and Bess” :

“summertime and the livin’ is easy

fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high”

[found on http://www/lyrics.com]

Doesn’t that create the picture of kids running through the fields, or casting  a line in the water, like Huckleberry Finn?

Or how about kids splashing in the mud?

Now, obviously, not all parents have that same feeling of ease when it comes to the length of the summer break. In the month before school ended many of my friends, both working and stay-at-home parents, scrambled to patch together a series of day camps for their kids to attend- either out of necessity or because they dreaded having to entertain them all day long. I totally understood how they felt, since I taught little kids for ten months of the year. It is challenging to keep them happy and out of trouble at the same time.

However, I actually looked forward to the summer. I saw my kids’ vacation as my chance to spend more playtime with them. We often went to the playground or pool where we would just hang out for the afternoon. Sometimes we would participate in a family nature program at our local park, or they would take swimming or tennis lessons. We would take trips to the museum on hot days and usually a week or more would be spent at the beach- collecting snail families or building sand castles.

Before we knew it, summer was ending and we were doing our back to school shopping.

When they got older, they became interested in going to day camps with their friends. I would let them choose 2-3 week’s worth of activities, but after that we would mostly invite friends over or travel somewhere. A few times they brought a friend camping

or we would take a group to an amusement or water park.

I tried to keep the fun, unstructured feeling in summer; but coordinating with other families required making a schedule, which eliminated the laid-back spontaneity I wanted. My friends who worked through the summer, however, appreciated my willingness to have their kids over and drive them to activities. I always felt it was the best of both worlds.

All the grandparents also looked forward to summer vacation. To them, summer meant more time with the kids. Whether the whole family was visiting, we were taking a vacation together, or the kids were staying with them alone summer was an opportunity for extended bonding, when no one was rushed or preoccupied with schoolwork.

There have been many ping pong matches, late night movies, shell collecting, baseball throwing and family story-telling. These are the experiences that make memories and reasons why summer can be delightful!

This summer, my kids have a 2-week period when they will be away from home. They have separate plans during the same time. This means that my husband and Iwill have 2 weeks to ourselves for the first time. Maybe that is my summer vacation from being a mom 24/7 and I should see it as a much deserved break. Or maybe it is a hint of what the empty nest will feel like in not so many more years.

That last thought makes me feel more strongly about the importance of family time during the summer months and the determination to keep it fun and filled with good memories, moments we can all look back on and smile, releasing the happy feelings from our hearts, “those were the days”. We can never get too old to enjoy our summer vacations.

That’s me, the second from the right, with my sisters and cousins at a family reunion. It is always fun to get together!

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Day 9- A”Maze”ing Mykonos

Today we arrived in Mykonos, a popular Greek island for tourists. Everyone was excited to get out and explore after our previous day at sea. Hillary and Susan wanted to walk through the town together, shopping and sampling the local food. Mike, Amy and myself planned to take the kids to a beach for some swimming in the lovely blue Mediterranean waters.

We had done some research the day before and decided on a beach which was slightly farther away, possibly less crowded. Mike wanted to give David a thrill by renting a scooter for touring around. Amy and I planned to take Megan and Kate on the bus and meet up later.

We had all been informed by the cruise director that Mykonos was originally designed with natural foils- winding streets and alleys which were not laid out in any logical manner- in order to prevent capture by invaders. He promised us that we would get lost. Sure enough, while searching for the bus depot, we seemed to wander in circles, passing points over again until we got lucky enough to spot the buses.

The schedule was complicated to figure out and led us to believe we had just missed the bus to our destination and would have to make other plans. Just then we saw Mike and David filling up their gas tank nearby. We told them our new plan and they said they would meet us there.

When the bus arrived a few minutes later, we saw that it was in fact going to the beach we had preferred to visit. Oh well, so much for meeting the guys. At least they had a scooter and could get around on their own. We were stuck with where the buses went.

We had a comfortable ride up and down the coast of the island and could appreciate the layout of the different beaches. We arrived at our stop about 20 minutes later. The turquoise water was very inviting and the warm sand felt soothing between our toes.

We plunked our towels and backpacks down and went for a swim. Kate and Megan had a great time splashing and diving together. It was nice to see them having so much fun. And that was the point of taking a relaxing beach day where we weren’t focused on seeing the historic attractions. Amy and I lay on our towels, soaking in the smell of the salt air, the rolling sound of the waves and the glow of the sparkling sunshine on the waters.This was close to Paradise…

Unfortunately, our reverie would soon have to end in order to catch a bus back to our cruise ship. We collected our things and headed to the washroom. When we walked into the cafe, lo and behold, Mike and David were sitting at the counter having some sandwiches!  Apparently they had gone to the beach we told them, discovered we had not made it and decided to come here anyway. The funny thing is that they had not even considered looking for us on the beach,because we had stayed close to the moped parking area just in case.

We had to get going though, so we headed to the bus stop and then took the return trip back into town. Now all we had to do was rewind our steps through the maze to locate our loading area. At one point we came to a fork in the road. We were not sure which way to go and Amy suggested walking out to the water to get an idea of where our ship was. We passed through an outdoor cafe to the seaside lookout. We spotted our cruise ship and knew the general direction to head.

As we walked back through the cafe, Megan spotted her Grandma and Nana sitting at the table an arms reach away! They were so surprised when she gave them a hug! We pulled up some chairs to join them and told them about our earlier meeting with Mike and David. Of all the places where the reputation was for getting lost, we had some pretty remarkable encounters!

We spent a half hour or so, sharing our adventures over some Mojitos and lemonades. It was funny to think what the chances of meeting up were, especially if Amy had not insisted on looking for the ship. When we got our bill, we were dismayed to learn that our Mojitos were outrageously expensive (12 Euros each). Fortunately, the ambiance of our gathering- surprise, family, view- made the whole experience “Priceless”.

Day 1- A Venetian Family Reunion

The various members of our group arrived separately, from Boston, New York, Tucson and Victoria BC. Everyone was exhausted from the trip, but excited to connect and begin our vacation. Hillary had flown from Tucson to pick up her granddaughter, Kate (11), whom she was escorting to Venice with her daughter’s blessing, envy and set of instructions. I had flown with my husband, Mike and children, Megan (15) and David (12) [a.k.a. the Cruise Family]. We had all crossed paths at JFK the night before and exclaimed “See you in Venice in 12 hours!” before went to our separate gates. Susan had flown in from Boston and, unlike the rest of us, managed to get a row of 3 seats to herself and was able to catch a few winks. Amy would not be able to join us until the following day, but her arrival from British Columbia was much anticipated.

The Cruise family landed at Marco Polo airport  and were excited to see a familiar face awaiting them on the other side of Immigration. Mike’s mother, Susan/Nana, held her arms open as Megan and David ran to greet her! Then we all boarded a bus headed for Piazza Roma in Venice.

We decided to walk to our hotel  – advertised as a mere 10 min walk from the bus stop. Each person had one suitcase to manage, but David quickly realized his Nana was having trouble with her large upright. He offered to take charge and gave her his much smaller, towable bag. Needless to say, he provided plenty of entertainment on the walk (which was much longer than 10 min btw). Crashing the suitcase in to walls and tripping over it when it skidded on the cobblestones in the narrow alleys. But his efforts at lugging it up and down the bridges were much appreciated by his Nana as she could not have managed it by herself. “Next time I need to get a more portable suitcase!” she proclaimed.

We finally arrived at our hotel, Al Duca di Venezia, and were more than happy to freshen up in our beautiful rooms. Hillary and Kate had arrived earlier and were eager to get out and explore Venice. Within an hour we were ready to head out. We decided to go to Saint Mark’s Square – an obvious tourist trap, but a must see.

It was as beautiful as we had remembered (the Cruise family had been there 2 years earlier on a tour of Italy), but the lines to enter the basilica were so long that we decided to ascend the bell tower instead. Kate very much wanted to go up, but when she discovered there was only an elevator, she confessed that she was afraid of elevators and could not bring herself to do it. Her Uncle Mike thoughtfully patted her back and told her they could explore St. Mark’s square instead. Conversely, Hillary and Susan had assumed it would be a climb up the tower, which their knees would not be up for. They had already taken off to walk along the canals and people watch together. They were excited to use this trip as a chance to get better acquainted. They had always declared they would be best friends if they lived closer to each other.

That left me, Megan and David to ascend the bell tower. When we got to the top, we took in the breath-taking views of Venice! We looked down on the moveable clock and crowded Saint Mark’s Square and across to the dome of the basilica. All the way out to sea we caught a glimpse of our Holland America cruise ship. We became very excited to think of the long adventure that awaited us tomorrow.

    

Megan was looking forward to visiting many historic sites. David was determined to take full advantage of room service on the ship, and I was looking forward to spending some quality time with each and every member of the family.

When everyone reconvened at the bottom of the tower, it was time to head to dinner. Mike had looked up a favorite restaurant which the Cruise family had visited last time we were in Venice. He printed out a step by step set of directions which led us through 42 twists and turns on back alleys until we arrived at Casa Mia- only to discover it was closed for the day.

Shrugging off our disappointment (and hunger pains) and demonstrating how flexible everyone in this odd group could be, we wandered for a few blocks until we found another place to eat. At that point some salads, Margarite pizzas and a bottle of Chianti  (or Fanta) were all it took to make everyone happy. We finished off our first day with authentic Venetian gelato and fell into our comfy beds-  exhausted but relaxed. All the stress of planning this trip was over. Now we could enjoy the next 12 days!

The Sandwich Generation and family traditions

   When my kids were little, we had a family tradition. Every morning when they awoke (often before we were ready to arise), they would crawl into our bed and we would make a “sandwich”.Depending on where they squeezed in, or whether our family dog had joined us, we took turns being the bread, cheese, ham, turkey, lettuce or whatever else was on the sandwich that day.

   Some days we would be daring and have anchovies or pastrami; other days we had the safe fallback of

peanut butter and jelly. you could always tell what kind of mood they were in by their choices and infer what the day ahead might bring.

   The kids loved this tradition so much that they played it with their grandparents or aunts and uncles when we stayed at their homes. They came to know something about each others likes and dislikes (provolone or cheddar) and sense of humor  (“Sorry, we don’t have that”).  Rye, sourdough or basic white; smoked, honey roasted or southwest flavored turkey- exposed us to a taste for new things and a desire for adventure.

   The days of the sandwich game are long past. The kids are now sleeping in much longer than the parents, and besides it would be way too embarrassing for teenagers to consider crawling into our bed. I look back fondly on those days and think of the lessons we learned: closeness, working together as a whole but each playing an important part, and depending on each other. These are the lifelong values that continue to bind this family together and keep our connection strong from generation to generation.

   Who knows, maybe one day I’ll be playing “sandwich” with my own grandchildren….But for now, I am content to be the core of the sandwich- holding the bread and the toppings together.