What goes wrong can be funny later Glitches: Problems on trips usually provide the most vivid memories, so keep your cool and your sense of humor.

Taking the Kids

March 10, 1996|By Eileen Ogintz | Eileen Ogintz,LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE

Here's a new way to liven up the next vacation-video viewing session: Start talking about what went wrong on your last trip.

Pretty soon, everyone will be in stitches. That's because what went wrong is always funnier in retrospect anyway than what went right.

It's at least more memorable. "We remember things that are outside the ordinary. It's the way memory works," explains Dr. Bennett Leventhal, a child psychiatrist and chief of psychiatry at the University of Chicago. "And then the stories get told and retold."

When it comes to family trips, there should be plenty to talk about.

"Vacations are a microcosm of life. There are always changes and curves," says Virginia family therapist Alan Entin, a past president of the American Psychological Association's family psychology division.

Once, at the last minute, my husband couldn't leave his job for a long-planned Western vacation. Another time, each of us, one right after another, got sick 3,000 miles from home in a rented cabin without any spare sheets or nearly enough towels.

It's rained when we expected sun. It's snowed so hard we couldn't ski and couldn't drive anywhere to do something else, either. We've gotten lost more times than I like to remember. And these days, I hold my breath when I check into a hotel for fear they've lost the reservation again.

The glitches, I've realized, tend to make the trips more challenging as well as interesting, as together we struggle to overcome the obstacle of the moment. These challenges have led to lots of unexpected adventures and laughs.

Dr. Leventhal's sons still talk about the time they arrived on a small island only to discover not a single car was available, though they'd reserved one well in advance.

The family was stranded in the middle of the night an hour from their destination. Then unexpectedly, an airport worker offered him a ride. "He told us stories about the island the whole way," said Dr. Leventhal. "An experience can be good or bad," he's convinced. "It all depends how you handle it."

That's true even when it seems everything possible has gone wrong. Consider those times a chance to show the kids some creative problem-solving. Overcoming an obstacle together especially away from home can draw the family closer together.

"There's definite bonding that takes place in times of adversity," believes Oregonian Marsha Goodman. The Goodmans won't ever forget the driving trip to Disneyland that included getting lost on the way to a hospital emergency room, a campground so awful they had to pack up and leave in the middle of the night and the locksmith who, despite his best efforts, couldn't open their car door after they'd locked the keys inside.

"Mention locksmith in our house and everyone still cracks up," Ms. Goodman says. She adds, "We don't talk about our more successful trips nearly as much."

"That may be because such a misadventure becomes a unique experience only the family has shared," suggests Dr. Janine Roberts, a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts.

Her advice when plans go awry on vacation: Keep your cool. Keep laughing and keep focusing on the stories the kids can tell five years later. "That might give you the space to separate your emotions from the situation," said Dr. Roberts.

Pub Date: 3/10/96

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