Among my most memorable vacation moments with my kids was the phone call I made from a peak in the Grand Tetons one summer. The boys were 7 and 10, and they had not taken to the majestic scenery with quite the enthusiasm I'd hoped. I believe the word "bored" was uttered once or twice, and someone actually whined "are we there yet?"
This gave me a flashback to my own childhood -- the Alps, not the Tetons, but the same lack of appreciation from the back seat. "Can you at least grunt your appreciation so I'll know you're still there?" my father had asked, and my siblings and I did so, all the way up that mountain, and back down.
Which is how I came to call my Dad from a Wyoming mountaintop -- and apologize.
Travel with children is not always a postcard. There's the getting there, and the being there, and the getting back home. This involves gear, planning, and patience in quantities unimagined before you started bringing them along.
And yet, my parents persevered, taking us with them for several weeks every summer. They brought us along through the pack-a-separate-suitcase-to-entertain-them-on-the-plane stage. They didn't give up during the "there's-nothing-more-mortifying-than being-out-in-public-with-my-parents-why-can't-I-just-stay-home" years. And next month we will gather in New Orleans for my mother's 75th birthday, children and spouses in tow.
I have long been glad they "dragged" me to the ends of the earth, but it wasn't until the day in the Tetons that I fully understood what I was grateful for. Until then I'd thought only of what the travel had given me as an individual -- the sense of comfort in new places, the knowledge that there was a great big world out there. My call to my father was the first time I appreciated what the trips had given us as a family.
We were never more a family than when we were away from home. Every day in the back of a rental car, every night negotiating who got the cot, my brother, sister and I became a unit, relying on each other for entertainment (heck, the TV spoke a different language). Back home we had separate orbits -- different friends, teachers, activities, bedrooms. Away, we were in sync. In each other's way a lot, yes. Grunting some of the time, true. But also dissolving in what we thought were silent giggles between those grunts up the mountain, delighted at our private joke.
"I'm sorry," I said to my father 25 years later during a crackly cell phone call from Wyoming, while my sons, freed from the back seat, clambered over rocks.
"That's one of my favorite memories," Dad replied.
Now that I think of it, it's one of mine, too.