A vacation journey from parents to companions

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It started at the airport. My mother and I, on our way to meet my dad in California, stopped at the coffee kiosk. I tried to pay for both of us, but Mom cast her veto.

"Mom, I have a good job, " I said. "I think I can afford a couple of cappuccinos."

Again, no dice. "You paid for your plane ticket, that's enough. Someday, when I'm an old lady on a fixed income, I'll let you pay."

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Fat chance of that. I remember witnessing the same struggle between Mom and her mother on shopping trips when I was a kid. Mom did get to pay those times, but not without a fight. I wondered if I was going to be treated like a 12-year-old on this vacation, even though I was almost 32.

My parents' invitation to accompany them came when, because of a change in company policy, I had to take some accrued vacation time or lose it without compensation. I called my friends, hoping to entice them into accompanying me to some sort of tropical destination, but they all pleaded poverty of time, money, or both. I called my mom to complain about my quandary.

Of course, she had a solution. She invited me to join her and Dad on their trip to the central California Coast. This was not the first time they'd invited me to join them on vacation, but I'd never taken them up on it before. I considered my family vacation days to be over until I had a family of my own.

My first thought was, "No way am I spending my vacation with my parents! Everyone will think I'm a pathetic loser with no friends."

My second thought was, "What are you, a high-schooler? You love your parents. Are you going to hang around your apartment watching television? Don't be stupid. Someone's offering you a cheap vacation!"

So I accepted their generous invitation without a second thought, until she pulled rank on me at the airport. "Oh, great," I thought. "I am now a captive audience for a barrage of unsolicited but well-intentioned advice about how I should conduct my life, from where I invest to how I can meet more single guys."

My parents usually give pretty good advice, but getting it without asking for it makes me feel inadequate.

Were they going to take the opportunity of having me to themselves for a week to "fix" me? Would I be able to tell them to back off gracefully, without turning into a sullen, overgrown teenager?

I needn't have worried.

Despite my belief to the contrary, my parents' world doesn't revolve around me. Apparently, they are fully functional adult beings with lives apart from their children and grandchildren. Who knew?

As the week went on, I found myself enjoying my parents' company. We talked about books and movies, the sights we saw, my mother's upcoming retirement, and the endless merger-and-acquisition activity of my employer. My dad and I took walks in the morning and discussed his poetry and my short stories. I spent a week of uninterrupted quality time alone with them, something I hadn't done since my brother was born 28 years earlier.

But the parent/child dynamic didn't completely disappear. I rolled my eyes and muttered "whatever" a couple of times when I was told, not asked, to unload the dishwasher or set the table. I did indeed receive some unsolicited advice about how I was conducting my life, but I treated it as I would anyone else's advice: took what I wanted and ignored the rest.

As much as it pains me to admit, the key to surviving the vacation was a little parental advice: If you don't want to be treated like a kid, don't act like one.

Once I was home and back to my adult life, I realized something I wish I'd learned earlier: I didn't have to miss out on a vacation with friends when I went with my parents. I could do both at the same time.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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