Vacation with five kids? What’s the point?

At our mid-fall vacation

A redwood, with its bark fallen away, stretched from one side of the creek to another, perfectly meeting both ends as a bridge. I eyed the 8-foot distance from it to the shallow creek below.

“Can we go across it?”

“Better not. Or at least, not as far as the water. I guess we could go a little way. No? You don’t want to try. I’ll go a little. See? Does anyone else want to try? I bet your father would go the whole way across.”

Family vacation, days of togetherness, separated away from the world at a cabin with a deck where ravens fly overhead and a bear passed by midmorning, beyond the range of At&t cell phone service, layers strip away from family life. No laundry, few dishes, simple meals, no work or outside commitments. We see better what we are and of what our relationships are made. My younger son snuggles next to me at random and says, “I love you, mommy.” His younger sister imitates him. The pre-teen can barely contain her annoyance at the siblings just below her in rank.

During the vacation, my elder son’s adventurousness, his desire to explore, and his openness to experience came into view. One daughter’s interiority displayed itself like a billboard and another daughter’s creativity came ringing out in her lament over bringing only one notebook for drawing, and none for writing.

My husband’s eyes lit up as he shared his tasting notes following a solo visit to Hinterhaus Distillery in Arnold, Calif. My eyes did something of the same as my fingers ran along the embossed covers of hardback classics at Books on Main in Murphys.

The toddler got into mischief. There were behavioral ups and downs, and physiological ups and downs from sore muscles to growing pains to over-tiredness.

But we kept at it.

The three older kids and I approached a lady who was just finishing her walk. She told us of two possibilities for reaching the Arnold rim trail around White Pines Lake. “It looks like some people set down rocks so you can go across the creek to get to it, but it really is quite beautiful along the creek and only about 100 yards.”

We took the path along the creek, ducking under branches, stepping over roots and rocks, tripping here and there as if we were to spell bound by the storybook quality of finding fairies in under two-foot tall ferns, trolls under bridges made from the trunks of fallen trees, and magical powers hidden in mushrooms we know too little about to identify or touch. The light filtered through the tree branches; the creek pooled and sputtered around rocks, creating little pools of foam and miniature white waters.

My children are amazed at the sight of all this. Along with the height of the redwoods, we marveled at the size of the raven and its ability to answer back, the sounds squirrels make, and the way a deer stands on its hind legs to reach the tree branches early in the early morning.

And we marvel in our own ways.

My son discussed what he has seen, jokes, and anthropomorphizes them. Another child immediately set to drawing the trees and leaves and collecting specimens. The other daydreamed the hours away in quiet dissatisfaction or perhaps a satisfaction beyond my powers to discern. I sat and read and listened to the prattle of the little ones who felt a little out of sorts because we so rarely travel, but who by the last day never wanted to leave.

Still, upon getting home they felt so immediately at home in their own beds, as we did too.

There is no great revelation.

Only a series of observations, sitting with what I have seen.

I suppose that is rather the point of vacation – to stop, to be still, to be together, to be less about quantitative activities and make space for qualitative time. With so many to-do lists and projects, juggling all the things, we need to pause and stop progressing, stop working, stop meeting goals and learn to just be. “To be” means to exist. We are a family. We exist together in this space.

And sometimes, that needs to be all that matters.

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

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