Summer time. Family vacation, or a chance to pack the kids off to sleepaway camp so Mom & Dad can have some peace and quiet?

Traditionally, we’ve done the family vacation. The truly classic American summer family vacation is the camping trip. Below, Rocky Mountain National Park.

The #1 advantage of the family vacation is the togetherness, which is also the #1 disadvantage. Everyone shivers until the fire is built, presumably everyone pitches in to help build the fire. If not, the laggard is shamed by the others into learning a sense of civic responsiblity. In my experience, boys love fire. Period. Building fires, messing with flames, making torches, toasting marshmallows, poking ashes, brandishing glowing-tipped sticks at each other, and dueling with kindling – what’s not to like? Another time, I will post about the hard-wired pryromania of boys. For now, suffice it to say that getting a fire ignited tends to be extremely popular.

If it’s raining, everyone plays games in the tent and goes to sleep at 7:30 PM, which is all very cozy and novel. The kids learn how to help make and break camp. They meet other kids and go exploring.

Long car drives often fail to bring out the best in each family member, but thanks to “isolating technology” like iPods and portable DVD players or built-in TVs (which we don’t have, but some of you lucky people do), peace can sometimes reign in the car. And that is a godsend, no matter how spoiled you think children are today.

On family vacations, you also get some great photos for Christmas cards. I love this one of Hugh: “Twizzler and Glacier.”

Family vacations mean learning new things and making memories together. In England, we gained knowledge about Stonehenge, the pound, and double-decker buses. We visited relatives and had a lovely Easter Egg hunt with some English cousins. Like Madonna, Malcolm even picked up a posh accent. But on this trip, mostly we learned never to take our loud, energetic American children to England ever again. If you’re going aboad with your children (after the dollar strengthens, of course), for God’s sake, do not go to England!!! Take them to Italy where children are adored!!! If you must go to Great Britain, do NOT stay in a B&B, where the owners will wring their hands and fuss over every suspicious bump and thud. Stay in a chain hotel, expense be damned!

The advantages of sleepaway camp are obvious. The family unit is broken apart which provides, presumably, a refreshing break for everyone, with affections restored upon reunion. You can do the Grand Gesture, like friends in Washington DC who turned the guest room into a dream bedroom for their middle daughter, who expected to bunk with her little sister until high school graduation. The thrilling surprise she received at homecoming was made possible only by her rather lengthy absence.

You can have time for Serious Contemplation. Friends in California send their children to sleepaway camp in New England where they can come to know something of the East Coast, ancestral home of their dad. The mom tells me that during the peaceful break when the children are gone, she can think clearly and deeply about each one – their lives, their friends, how to support their interests, how to guide them – in the calm stretches of unbroken time when there is literally distance for reflection, and none of the day-to-day chaos. I love that point.

And sometimes it’s simply not a good idea for parents to try to teach their kids new skills. A camp counselor is a neutral party who, theoretically, doesn’t arouse as much scorn from his or her students as do the parental units.

This year, we are doing a little bit of each approach. We will camp as a family with friends on the St. Lawrence River, and two of the boys are going to sleepaway camp. Your family’s plan/thoughts/summer memories welcome! Emily & I love to hear from everyone, whether we know you personally or not.

Happy Summer!

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