March 16, 2012

Family vacation

By Deacon Patrick Moynihan *
I did a lot more thinking on our recent family vacation than I had expected to do. I realize that vacations by their very nature often lend themselves to quiet reflection, but I was still surprised by how many times I found myself deep in thought during our week at the beach. It wasn’t a negative experience by any means—just different than I had anticipated.

Mostly, I reminisced about my childhood family trips and my parents, especially my dad. Since I am nearing fifty, I am familiar with sudden flashes of mid-life nostalgia. This, however, was something different altogether. It was more prolonged. It was like experiencing two vacations at the same time—one live and the other relived. One experience enhancing the other.

Frankly, I was not prepared for the emotional impact of seeing our two younger children play in the same ferocious Atlantic waves that I had enjoyed playing in as a child with my sister. I also had no idea how dodging, jumping through and riding those waves again myself would start me thinking about the past. The jolting waves not only rejuvenated me; they literally took me back to my childhood.

Several times during the week, bits and pieces of past vacations in Florida came vividly to mind. I remembered the annoyance of sand burs and an earache from trapped water that my mom cured with warm oil and the nipple of a baby bottle. I remembered catching a puffer fish with my dad and watching my brother paint on the beach. I remember forming sand between my hands.

Some memories I saw from a new perspective—as a parent. Mid-week, while handing over my MasterCard to pay for another round of groceries, I thought about how difficult it must have been for my parents to plan financially for our family vacations. In those days, you couldn’t just charge up your credit cards and pay it off later. You had to have cash up front or pay with a check. I made a mental note to ask my dad how he did it. I also wondered if we were not a healthier nation when we vacationed on cash instead of credit.

While washing dishes alone after dinner, it also occurred to me that I had no memories of what my parents did by or for themselves on our family vacations. Part of this could be because I was the youngest and always outside playing. In a family of eight, there were plenty of ad hoc babysitters to watch me. I wasn’t with my parents alot of the time, so I can’t be sure what they were doing.

However, the real reason I think I have no memories of what my parents did on our vacations is that they did nothing—at least nothing out of the ordinary. They parented. My mom cooked. My dad drove us around to activities and made trips to the airport to retrieve or drop off coming and going siblings. I don’t think they even went out to dinner by themselves.

As silly as it may sound, it had never occurred to me before that my parents were not on vacation on those trips—we were. They took us on a family vacation—not themselves. I left the beach this last week with a real appreciation for my parents’ commitment to family vacations as a priority over their own needs for personal time.

As a child, of course, I missed this point as I played in the sand. Now, looking from the other side, I can appreciate the details and sacrifice that went into making all that fun possible for me and my brothers and sisters. What a privilege it is to be a member of my generation—the generation of the family vacation.

Deacon Patrick Moynihan graduated Culver Military Academy in 1983, from Brown University with BA in Sanskrit and Classics in 1987, and from Providence College with an MA in Religious Studies [Theology] in 1999.

He taught Latin and English in a Catholic High School from 1987 to 1990, traded commodities, futures and options for an international trading company from 1990 to 1995 and directed a free Catholic mission school in Haiti for academically gifted children from the poorest areas around Port au Prince from 1996 to 2006.

Deacon Moynihan was ordained in October of 2001 as a permanent deacon for the Diocese of Rockford [IL] where he was the director of formation and later the Office for the Permanent Diaconate from 2001 to 2006. He has since gone back to Haiti and is currently the president of The Haitian Project.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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