If a teenager goes on vacation with a phone, is it really a vacation? And is it worth going on trips with teenagers, at all? Lately, I’m not sure. And sometimes, when our family goes away together, I think it will be the last time.
Summertime with my children was once so easy: a pail, a shovel, sand, and water were all they needed to have a great day. Occasionally, I’d buy bubbles or chalk at the dollar store, and everything felt right in the world for a while.
Vacations with my kids when they were little were so easy; now, not so much. (Shutterstock Iryna Inshyna)
Vacations with teenagers are just like that, only exactly the opposite. No matter where we go, my 16-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son are often with us in body only, their minds tethered to the friends and activities left behind. Their eyes glued to phones.
But I never imagined they would outgrow Lake George.
Every summer, starting when my children were five and three, we’d drive to a motel with a few neighborhood families. When we saw the Marine Village sign, it meant summer had finally arrived.
Private Beach Heated Pool
Kayaks And Paddle Board Rentals
(In the 1941 movie, Citizen Kane longed for “Rosebud” at his death, the cheap sled symbolizing childhood simplicity and comfort. Our “Rosebud” will always be Lake George.)
When my children were young, being brave enough to jump off the motel’s dock into the lake was an accomplishment worth repeating dozens of times. My husband or I would stand in the shallow water, ready to catch them, until the year they could do it alone and no longer needed our help.
Both children learned to swim in the motel pool, eventually removing their bright orange water wings and making them further away from the wall. When they weren’t swimming, a swing set that was part of a small playground kept them and their friends entertained for hours.
One year, a dad we were traveling with had them hunting an imaginary animal called Snipe, and my son burst into tears each time we narrowly missed its capture. A summer week at the beach with young children was like stopping time.
Kids now and then at Lake George. (Photo credit: Kim Brown Reiner)
There must have been tantrums and arguments, but all I remember now is that rare feeling of complete happiness that eludes me more and more now that I live with teens. As they grew older, they outgrew the trip and, at times, everything else that had to do with childhood, their dad, or me.
But this summer, a year before my daughter heads college, we returned to Lake George. During the car ride there, my daughter and two friends sang along to rap music for nearly three hours, the kind that makes parents feel very, very old.
We talked about fake IDs, which my daughter said she didn’t have, but if she did, there was nothing to worry about because it hardly looked real.
When we pulled into the parking lot, the girls looked up from their phones to ask where we were. The other parents and I had waited too long to make the reservation, and Marine Village was full, so we chose a similar motel.
“What are we going to do here?” my daughter asked.
“Swim in the lake.”
The girls did swim in the lake, but not for long. On our second day, they spontaneously got third ear piercings in town with the fake IDs they didn’t have. My eyes filled with tears when my daughter showed me her new earrings, but it wasn’t about the piercing.
It was because Lake George meant eternal childhood. And now, that is gone.
Instead of swimming and risking infection, the teens spent many hours in the room making TikToks, watching Shameless, and looking at other people’s vacations on Instagram. The night before we left, one of the girls texted from town, asking for a ride back to our motel. They wanted to be picked up at Marine Village.
When I arrived, they were talking on the dock without their phones, maybe sharing the same memories I do when I miss having young children at home: the first cold plunge in a lake on a sweltering day, soaring in a swing, a too-large ice cream cone dripping down a tiny hand.
I sat in the car alone for a while so they could finish telling stories. Because summer has always belonged to kids, and we needed to let go.
“Did you have a good time?” I asked my daughter the next day on the car ride home. Like so many things in her life, I could no longer tell. And I didn’t know.
“The best time,” she said.
And maybe, the last.
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An Open Letter to My Kids About Summer
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