At least twice a year, I led a large crew of teenagers to Myrtle Beach or St. Simons Island for a week’s vacation. I’ve often taken my two kids and their two buddies. Other times I’ve taken four 14-year-old girls or three 15-year-old boys. In April, I rented a large van equipped with a TV/VCR/CD, picked up five16-year-old boys and drove them around the coast a week.
When my children were younger, our vacations were a very important bonding time for us. When they moved with their mom to Charlotte seven years ago, this time became even more sacred. I knew while I could not be involved in their daily lives as much as I would’ve preferred, I had to make the most of the time we were given. When I had the opportunity, I made a point to clear my work and personal schedule and spend my energies focused on Sally and Thomas. I would usually plan elaborate vacations to keep them interested. But as they became teenagers and friend-focused, I reluctantly accepted that our family vacations must include their buddies.
At first this past month’s trip seemed to be going similarly. Sally was finishing a particularly tumultuous year: moving to Atlanta, then back to Charlotte to finish her senior year, back to Atlanta in March and then back to Charlotte to take a final summer school course. Her graduation ceremony was scheduled for the day before our vacation. We had all hoped friends could go to the beach with us, but it didn’t seem to be working out. At the last minute, Sally decided to stay home and celebrate with friends.
Thomas surprised me with his decision. “I’ve seen my friends a lot this summer and I have a lot of summer reading to finish,” he said. “I think I will just go with you.” We rented movies, went to movies, cooked dinner, went out to dinner and just hung out all week. Each day, we wandered to the beach with our chairs, books, frisbee, football, cooler, CD player and his choice of music.
Somewhere near the fourth day, I had to laugh at how much my life had changed and yet, how much it had not. Thomas is 16. When I was 16, I was at the beach with my buddies, listening to much of the same music Thomas had selected, throwing a frisbee amidst the waves, sand and sun. Bob Dylan’s strange 35-year-old lyric kept ringing in my head and suddenly it made more sense to me: “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”
As the tide washed around our chairs, we had great talks about girlfriends, high school, college and family. He asked a lot of questions about the future of my business and I discussed how sometimes it is hard for an entrepreneur to work in a corporate environment. He admitted he hoped he could work for these newspapers one day.
When our week was coming to a close, I noticed sadness was beginning to emerge. I felt as if I had met a new best friend and he was going to leave soon.
“Thomas, I know it wasn’t planned this way, but I’ve really had a wonderful time just hanging out with you this week,” I said.
He thought for a moment and then said, “Yea, I might like to bring my girlfriend next time if her parents will let her. But in the future, I think we should also plan some trips with just you and me. Sometimes when I bring buddies, I don’t get to spend enough time with you.”
I know parents can spend a lifetime working for their families and never feel as if they are appreciated. While I await a similar moment with my daughter, I knew I had just received such a gift from my son. And for that, I am eternally grateful.
Photo: Thomas and me as we are preparing for a trip to the beach