For me, a family vacation's always a bit like my Moroccan chicken: I'm never exactly sure how it's going to turn out.
Just a few days ago, my husband and I returned from a trip to the Caribbean with our three kids, ages 14, 16, and 19. We toured historical sites, went kayaking, listened to live music, walked on the beach, and ate scrumptious seafood almost every day. Yet, the best part of the week had nothing to do with absorbing the destination at hand. Rather, what I enjoyed most was watching my querulous teens with very little enthusiasm for family time -- in the regular world -- morph back into their childlike selves, amused by the smallest things -- and especially by each other.
I've often compared the interminable chatter created by email, tweets, and Facebook postings of daily life to a car alarm that never goes off. Our normal hyper-connectivity is one reason my husband and I schedule at least two or three technology-free vacations every year. By taking all the pressure to surf, "like," and Snapchat out of the mix, my family eases into a slower pace, our attention spans extended.
And, most importantly, my teens are much more likely to indulge in silly, crazy fun.
Parents of small kids may not fully appreciate this but, as the mother of three teens, I truly understand how fleeting the early years really are. Try as I might, I can barely draw out of cold storage those memories of my teens as little ones, learning to read and write, losing their first teeth, calling me "mommy". And this is precisely why watching them revert to old habits on family vacations is always such a treat.
By day two of our holiday, my teens were gently squabbling over the most mundane of issues, such as who gets to sit where at the dinner table or in the taxi. They also were carrying each other on their shoulders in the ocean, laughing as if they were 5 years old again. While away, my oldest son and I read the same book, "The Goldfinch" by Donna Tartt, and engaged in long conversations about the characters and plot line. My other son and I searched high and low for the most unusual seashells.
My 14-year-old daughter -- obsessed with finding the perfect "boyfriend jeans" only a few weeks earlier -- played "fitness center" most mornings, a game that had her brothers performing a series of exercises in the pool, on cue.
Gone was the hormonal soup of angst the teenage brain can bring about; in its place were the wonder years of ice cream, silly faces, and messy sandcastles.
For me, there's nothing better than eliminating the temptation of technology while on vacation. The mere fact that the phrase "digital detox" made its way into the Oxford Dictionary online last year proves that a lot of us need to take a breather. Without access to our devices, we actually talked over meals, even breakfast. We lazily watched our fellow travelers and tried to guess their stories simply by observing body language and relationship interactions. We teased and joked with each other, as only family members with no distractions can.
Nora Ephron once opined that all parents of teenagers should get a dog so that "someone in the house is happy to see you." And it's true. Parenting those between 14 and 19 isn't always the easiest of experiences. But one of the greatest pleasures of parenthood is watching your offspring experience pure, unadulterated joy. During our vacation, I did just that.
What about you? Did you disconnect this summer? Tell us about it in comments.