Life Lessons I Learned on Our Summer Vacation

We’re just back from the big Anderson family trip to the beach, and now we’re into the recovery phase of vacation; washing all the swimsuits, putting away our gathered seashells, and processing the memories. And as we were taught in that great movie Meatballs, what’s a summer vacation for if you can’t bring back a few life lessons?

Worthless souvenir stores are not actually worthless: To you it’s a dingy mess of copyright-violating logo t-shirts and wind chimes made out of coconuts, but to your kids it’s a dadgum wonderland. Our kids mentioned the souvenir stores over and over as something they were specifically looking forward to, and they were not disappointed. If they can run around for a couple of hours being amazed by the cornucopia of stuff and all it costs me is the price of a couple of tchotchkes, it’s money well spent.

It’s good to have people in your life who can worry about you without acting like they’re worried about you: My son is at that most dangerous stage of learning to swim — he thinks he is a better swimmer than he is. The trick as a parent is to be ready to help him — to watch him intently and worry about him — without infecting him with my fear and diluting his courage in the water. It ain’t easy. But if I can pull it off, he has the freedom to jump into the pool with blissful reckless abandon. One day he’ll have to learn all about the dangers that make me worry, but I’m glad I can put that day off for a little while.

Morgan Freeman likes to golf: So I go to play golf at a course near the beach, and as I’m on the practice green getting ready for my round, I notice an older black gentleman putting a few yards away from me. Out of the corner of my eye, I think he looks like Bill Russell, but that’s silly; what would Bill Russell be doing here? I walk over to the starter to see if the first tee is open, and he says, “You know the actor Morgan Freeman?” Yes, I say. He tilts his head toward the white-bearded black man and says, “That’s him.” I look straight at the guy for the first time, and by golly, that’s Morgan Freeman. Apparently he goes to that course all the time. Everybody says he’s a nice guy.

Sometimes your memories of how good something was are exactly right: Good experiences often get blown up in your memory, getting better and better as time goes on. But sometimes, it really was as good as you remember. On a previous trip to the beach a few years back, we went to a local restaurant and my wife had a banana leaf wrapped fish entree. When she tasted it, she acted like it was the best food she had ever put in her mouth. Then she gave me a bite, and all at once I understood the true meaning of joy as all light and life converged in a morsel of buttery flakiness. Then we went back to the same place and had the same dish this year. It really was that good.

There is absolutely no substitute for grandparents: My advice is to marry someone who has great parents, because they will be great grandparents (and probably great great-grandparents, etc.). Then go on vacation with them and enjoy watching them love your kids. And then take advantage of their babysitting so you and your wife can go out and get some mind-blowing banana leaf wrapped fish.

Kids are lenses that focus the fun parts of life for old eyes: When you have kids, you discover that all kinds of things you thought were boring and predictable are really amazing. Elevators, sand, garbage chutes (“Where does it go?!?!”), Sprite, cheap souvenirs, and tourist maps are just a few of the things that brought us outsized delight on this trip. There is so much that I would take for granted if I didn’t have them to show me how wonderful it all really is, on vacation and every other day, really. If you want your vacation to be bigger, make sure you take some kids. If you don’t have your own, try to rent some when you get there.

Leave a Reply