Almost 40 years ago, a filler in Reader's Digest turned out to be a source of inspiration for me and my future family. A father told a story about his family:
"Every year my wife and I would save money to remodel the bathroom and every year we would use the money to go on a ski vacation with our children instead. The bathroom never did get remodeled.
"Recently, our oldest son went away to college," he continued. "In one of his first letters home, he wrote. 'Now that I'm away from all of you, I realize how much I love and miss you. I have great memories of when we were kids
and all the things we did together. But the best memories of all are of the ski vacations we took together.'
"That made it all worth it," the father wrote. "Somehow I can't imagine his writing home and saying, 'My best memory is what a great bathroom we had!'"
I was in my mid-teens when I read that story and it made a lasting impression on me. When I met my future husband, I told him the story and, although I didn't
know it at the time, it stuck with him, too.
It was important to us to spend a lot of time with our three children from the time they were small. My husband's job required long hours away from home, commuting to and from his office, spending 12 to 14 hours at work and traveling to Kansas, California, and many other parts of the country.
"Sometimes I feel like a divorced father," he would complain. "I only get to see my kids on weekends."
But he made the most of those weekends. When he left the house on Saturday mornings to go shopping or to visit his mother, he wasn't alone. A small figure would be clinging to his hand as he walked down the driveway.
After attending church services on Sunday, the children would play with their friends for a while and then come in at noon for a long, leisurely Sunday dinner. Their friends couldn't understand how it could take them two hours or longer to eat a meal. But, since we couldn't always be together for weeknight suppers, this was a time for the five of us to slow the pace of the previous week, catch up with each other's news, discuss any problems, and make decisions and plans for the future.
Sometimes after dinner we would visit friends and relatives or take long drives into the country, causing my son, after a few years of looking at the trees, mountains, and farms, to declare, "When I grow up I'm going to be a research scientist and find a cure for Sunday rides!"
Vacations were mostly day trips around our home state when the children were very small. As they got older and we bought the typical suburban station wagon, our trips expanded. Together we huffed and puffed up cross-country ski trails and spent many summer days among the breathtaking rides and carnival music of a nearby amusement park.
The family outings and trips continued with a few Mom-and-Dad-only vacations in between, until the children reached what my daughter calls "the rotten teenage years." Like most of their peers, they could barely tolerate living in the same house with us, much less actually be seen getting in the car and going somewhere with us.
As each child edged toward the age of 18 and rejoined the human race, the old question began to pop up.
"Where are you two going on vacation this year? I'd like to go."
All in their early 30s now, busy with careers and in their own early stages of marriage and parenthood, they still travel with us occasionally.
We know that increasingly Mom-and-Dad-only trips will be the norm. But we know too that, like the young man in the Reader's Digest story, some of their best memories will be of vacations together.
Parents: To submit a first-person essay on your own parenting solutions, send an e-mail to email@example.com, or write to Parenting, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115.