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Amy Pybus: Solving the riddle of family vacations

KEVIN GUTTING
Amy Pybus, for Gazette column.

KEVIN GUTTING Amy Pybus, for Gazette column. Purchase photo reprints »

But it makes it almost harder to see the unhappy families barely tolerating each other, if not outright battling.

I don’t know if I can totally blame parents though. Our culture sucks all the fun out of parenting. We spend so much time worrying about doing what’s right, following the rules, judging other parents and feeling judged by them, that “being a parent” becomes a burden.

My mother and I laughed at the anachronistic bulletin board at the front desk of our hotel. It listed poolside Popsicles at 4 p.m., a family movie at 6, ceramics at 7 with Nancy, the 7:30 Just Dance Tournament, all capped with 8 p.m. s’mores and bonfire at the BBQ pit. She looked at me and, quoting a Patrick Swayze line from “Dirty Dancing,” said, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”

It made me think of how and why the good old days of resort vacations worked so well. Because parents would go have a drink and play canasta while the kids did all those events. They didn’t have to micromanage their children.

Unfortunately there are valid reasons for this change, but I don’t think parents have adjusted to it very well. Some resorts offer childcare and camp activities for kids, but not everyone can afford those. And you’re supposed to want to be with your children all the time.

So some angry parents are spending lots of time with their harassed children, and there’s no better example than at the hotel pool. Parents get passive-aggressive in these spaces, especially when kids of different ages are trying to function together.

We are often a target because I have two large boys. Large boys scare people like nothing I’ve ever seen. And I let them jump in the pool. Not because I’m too lazy to discipline them, but because play is how children learn.

They should be able to go a little too far sometimes and figure out what they did wrong, because how else — and where else — will they figure it out? We have boundaries (fun is different than reckless), and if you ever hurt anyone you’re out.

In the meantime, we had math dad and his daughter in the far corner of the pool learning about fractions. He was showing her the numbers on the wall and explaining, “This is three and a half, and between three and a half and four there’s another number called three and three quarters.” Ugh.

Then loud mom who yells everything (constantly) from her seat in the corner arrived. Pretty soon she was yelling at her kids loud enough for me to hear and know that I was being admonished, “The sign over there clearly says No Jumping!” Liar. It said no running, diving or horseplay, but jumping was not on the list. She was trying to get her kids to obey by making me change the behavior of my kids so hers wouldn’t want to do what mine were doing.

Jump away, my boys.

Finally, we had the stony-faced mom. She and her husband could barely look at each other and it appeared that she’d rather be getting eye surgery than standing in the shallow end of the pool with this child. The only time I saw her smile was when her daughter adorably jumped from the edge of the pool into her arms.

No jumping! As I listened to the barker yell at her kids and watched the sad and serious faces of the other parents, I remembered my Australian friend chucking his daughters (both under age 3) off the end of a dock into a lake. They screamed with delight and begged for more.

Parenting might be more fun in Australia.

If you ever sit back and watch a group of mixed-age kids, they generally know what to do. They move through and around each other without taking much notice. Sometimes they collide but that’s life. We get knocked down, we get up.

You might even see an older child take interest in a younger one and help him out. But they won’t learn this interaction unless their parents take themselves out of the picture once in a while.

Later that day, at the amusement park, my older son noticed that two little boys were separated from their mother and crying. He told them where she was and took them to her. All on his own, without my help, without being asked or told to do so, he saw little ones in pain and helped them.

I told him he did his good deed for the day. As we went on to the next ride, my heart filled with pride for the independent kid he is, and deep gratitude for the many moments of joy you are given as a parent.

Amy Pybus of Easthampton writes on family life issues in a monthly column. She can be reached at opinion@gazettenet.com and blogs at www.sittingonthebaby.com.

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