The beach saw our family grow, evolve

July 09, 2006|By SUSAN REIMER

IT IS A FREQUENTLY REPORTED statistic in the study of how Americans spend their leisure time. (Yes, people actually have jobs where they study people who are not working.)

That is, American workers have fewer vacation days -- only about 14 -- than their counterparts in other industrialized nations, but they don't use them all.

According to a recent report in Time magazine, the average American will fail to use about four vacation days. That adds up to about 574 million days a year, Time reported.

I don't know about you, but I am not one of those people. I not only take all my vacation days, I'll take yours, too. I will take the 574 million.

And I will take a bunch of them together. Starting now.

My extended family and I are heading to the beach for what has been an annual tradition of more than 20 years.

My husband and I got engaged at the beach. I was so newly pregnant with my first child that I could still wear a two-piece bathing suit at the beach. I was so morning sick with my second child at the beach that the smell of fried dough sent me reeling.

For a while, we traveled with my husband's parents. When their energy flagged, we started going with his younger brother and his wife.

Every couple of years, they added a kid until there were three. I think a couple of them went to the beach in utero, too. And Rudy wasn't a month old when he made his first trip.

We changed beaches -- moving slightly south on the Atlantic Ocean -- when there grew to be too many of us for our first location. But we have been going to essentially the same stretch of sand for all these years.

The sameness seemed to be important to my kids. Or maybe it was important to me. Hard to tell. But there is a lot of comfort in the predictability of our beach routines.

A few years ago, we started taking those 14 days of vacation all at the same time. Only 14 percent of Americans do that, according to Time.

We used to go for just a week. But it seemed to us that the grownups would cease having those work-stress dreams just when it was time to pack up and go back to work. And the kids would stop whining and learn to entertain themselves just when it was time to go home.

When vacation lasted only a week, a rainy day was a disaster. We had to rush to hit all of our favorite stops.

Even with careful planning, a two-week vacation brings us to the brink of financial ruin. But it is worth it in ways that are hard to describe, much less quantify. It is just that I think family vacations are more important to kids than private school tuition or SAT tutoring or year-round lacrosse team fees.

I guess I will learn soon enough if that is true. My son will have only three or four days with us before he leaves for military training. And my daughter has a job -- actually, three jobs -- that will keep her away from the beach for all but a few days here and there.

For years, we have made jokes about the next phase in the trajectory of our beach vacations. Soon enough, we tell our young nieces, who once spent the vacation in Snuglis, you will have to push your aging aunt and uncle along the boardwalk in wheelchairs.

They think we are kidding, but my husband and I know better. We never imagined a beach vacation without our kids, and that day is upon us now.

Neither child appears to be sad that they will miss most of the family vacation, although they are making a good effort to get there for part of it. They are busy beginning their adult lives now, and I am sure our beach vacations are, to them, a sentimental remnant of their childhood.

I carry my memories of our beach vacations around in my head like a tattered photo album. I am hoping my children carry those memories forward into their own lives, deciding a family vacation is something that is fun, that is worth the trouble, that is important.

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