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Last week, my family went on vacation. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know that we don’t take the ordinary approach to summer vacations. Journey to a destination, check in, enjoy activities, go home. What kind of an adventure would that be?

During previous vacations, we’ve lost a transmission and had our car towed from the top of the highest peak in the northeastern U.S., endured the near-death of the replacement transmission the following year in a mountain pass where one is more likely to contact a moose than reach a human being via cell phone, and found ourselves rushing to the same Urgent Care two days apart and subsequently filling a shopping basket at Rite Aid with bandages and other supplies to care for our mother-and-son wounds.

This year, I’ll let Jerry Seinfeld demonstrate for you how our vacation began (substitute the word “cottage” for “car”):

With the Seinfeld clip in one hand and a vodka mojito in the other, by dinnertime I was able to laugh at the fact that when we showed up at the beach cottage we’d carefully selected and paid a deposit for in April, said cottage had also been rented to someone else–someone who’d gotten there before us and had already settled in.

Somehow, I managed to keep in mind the entire time we interacted with the proprietor that my children were with me and I wanted to set a good example of how to deal with a bad situation. I kept all the profanity in my head. I knew that demanding that the people who rented the cottage be kicked out would be as unfair to them as the whole situation was to us. So I (and my husband) focused on the person who appeared to have double-booked the cottage and made clear what we expected: a refund, compensation and an acceptable (to us) place to stay, found via her immediate effort.

Even with our deliberate moderation, our obvious irritation and insistence made an impression on eight-year-old “Emmie.” She isn’t used to public confrontation. So later, once we’d found another (not as nice) cottage and were settled in a restaurant, overdue dinner plates in front of us, my husband and I explained to her why it’s necessary to take a firm stance in certain situations. Then I showed both kids the Seinfeld clip. They laughed, we moved on and the vacation began.

Here are a few other highlights and lessons learned from our week at the beach:

  • Don’t let your fearful eight-year-old read the posted, generalized warnings about sharks before walking onto the ocean beach.
  • Stories are nice, but when you take an eleven-year-old on a nighttime ghost tour, he expects to see a ghost or two. Alas.
  • It is perhaps inevitable that in a family of four, one person will prefer an isolated cottage with some amenities and a quiet, protected salt-water beach; one person will prefer any accommodation so long as the beach is open ocean with high surf; one person will prefer a hotel with a pool; and the last person will prefer anything upon which the first three can agree.
  • Today’s kids can survive a week screen-free. They can even have fun without iPods, television, etc. But stay the heck out of those kids’ way when they return home and digital privileges are restored.

Summer vacation. Do we have to wait a whole year for the next one?

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