There are some memories that get left behind in childhood and some that stay imprinted in our minds. Not sure why some stay or go, but it’s been interesting to see how some of these childhood memories inform some of our decisions as parents.
I’ve written before about how we rarely traveled when I was a kid. From photos, it appears that my parents and I did a bit more traveling in my earliest years before my brother was born – I remember going to Niagara Falls; I’ve seen photos of us in Washington DC. But it seems that after my brother came along, the traveling became less frequent. I don’t know if it’s cultural and the influence of how my parents grew up themselves, but I’m pretty sure the whole notion of vacation didn’t exist under the circumstances of their upbringing back in Korea. I remember getting exasperated by their “why do you have to go there?” response every time I told them that I was going on a trip. They never understood why I wanted to leave NY when NY had everything. And visiting a destination twice? That was even harder for them to understand. But sometimes I also wonder if this was actually the norm back when I was a kid because I don’t remember any of my friends traveling either. Maybe it happened, but from my recollection I never heard of my friends taking trips to Florida or the Caribbean during Spring Break or going to Europe, or really anywhere. It could just be that I grew up in a working class neighborhood in Queens and people vacationed the way we did – occasional weekend motel trips to Montauk or the Poconos – or that vacation was an entirely different concept back in the 70s or 80s, but Spring Break and Summer vacations to us were playing in the back yard, playing with our toys, watching TV and yes, sitting around the house getting bored.
Those few trips to Montauk and the Poconos, however, are some of those memories that stuck around. They were never very long and they certainly weren’t fancy, but I remember that they were fun. We’d gather a few other families, sometimes cousins, aunts and uncles and sometimes family friends, and we’d rent a few motel rooms and all pile in for the weekend. I hadn’t been back to Montauk since one of those childhood trips so it had been a good 30 or so years since I’ve been out there. At one point a few years back, it seemed like everyone in our neighborhood was going out to Montauk. It had become suddenly hip and was on everyone’s radar. We decided over the weekend to take a spontaneous drive. It’s pretty far from the city, especially because of one lane traffic at the end of the island, but not a bad drive from where my parents are. We left early in the morning and stayed until the sun went down before our drive back. When we got to Montauk, nothing looked familiar to me – not the beaches or the town and at night, the whole place seemed to transform into a party (by the way, you want a sure fire way to make yourself feel instantly old? Realizing that all those teens and college aged kids spilling out of those house parties are much closer in age to your kids than you are should do it. I seem to be doing that a lot these days. I see a group of teenage girls and think, oh my god, this could be the girls soon. But I digress). It wasn’t until we got to the lighthouse at the end of the day that I felt a sense of familiarity. I remembered those rocks and I remember taking photos on that rocky beach.
Ironically, I was the first person in my family to take a trip outside of the states, overseas on a plane. It happened twice and both times I went without my family. The first was on a government sponsored trip to Korea when I was 10, the one and only time I had ever gone back since being born there and the second happened when I was 17 on a school chaperoned trip to London and Paris during Spring Break. Our high school conducted many of these trips to a few European cities every year. Twelve kids on a 9 day trip chaperoned by a nun and a biology teacher (I went to a Catholic high school). Pretty wild for this British music obsessed American teenager in the late 80s. I feel really grateful to my parents for sending me on those 2 trips and opening up my world. The first trip was hard because it really was a culture shock and I was away from my parents for 2 months at still a young age in essentially a foreign country (and that was the point of the government sponsored trip – to reacquaint Korean American kids with their home country. We were even on the news because this was the first program of its kind). The second trip was just pure fun – and yes, nuns know how to party, especially when they start drinking at dance clubs and uh, French Burlesque shows.
Because we’ve made travel a priority, I’m learning that fancy vacations don’t matter to the kids, just as I don’t think those childhood trips to Montauk would have been any more memorable had we stayed in fancier digs or ate dinner out at restaurants instead of cooking meals on a grill. Similarly, we’ve figured out how to travel fairly on the cheap no matter where we go (someday the girls might roll their eyes over stories of how their mom stuffed suitcases full of snacks to save money on food). I know we’re lucky in that we have family to visit in such nice places as Seattle every year – the girls look forward to that trip every summer more so than anything else. I also know that we’re lucky to have my parents’ house in the Long Island burbs to escape to on the weekends. It makes city living all the more bearable when you don’t feel so trapped in by concrete and crowds at all times. But despite what my parents have always told me when I was a kid, that there was no reason to leave NY, I think it’s important to show the girls that there is indeed life outside of NYC and that people live differently in different places. So we do what we can, and what we have is good.
I hope your summer is good too.