summer holidays – making memories?

It took me a few years to get it, but I have now accepted the obvious – namely, that summer holidays aren’t about me. Vacations aren’t about me lounging in a hammock as I read a series of novels or about me leisurely exploring the natural world with camera in hand. Of course that doesn’t mean there’s nothing for me in the summer months, but I have realized that summer holidays, for the foreseeable future, are centred on the kids.

But having accepted the obvious (resistance was futile!) there’s another question that has dogged me this summer. The question whether summer holidays are essentially or primarily about “making memories.”

IMG_0379Over the past five weeks I have come across that phrase everywhere: in a PEI tourism brochure, at a Canadian interpretation centre on the St. Lawrence River, in the Facebook posts of friends, and in everyday conversations along the way. Summer vacation, it seems, is about making memories – for the kids, of course:

Your kids will remember this holiday.
The kids will have great memories of this place.
Isn’t it wonderful that you’re creating memories for them.

At some level, I get it! The emphasis on “making memories” reflects the fact that many of us have our own fond memories of childhood holidays. We delight in the remembrance of fun times with family or friends, in recalling days of discovery and exploration, and in thinking back to simpler and less burdened days. We want the same for our kids. I have many of my own happy, holiday memories!

IMG_0097Yet there is still something about that phrase that dogs me – something about it that leaves me unsettled. There is a quotation that circulates on the internet that starts to get at some of the challenges around that phrase:

We didn’t realize we were making memories, we just knew we were having fun.

I think this is true of my parents and of our family vacations growing up. We camped and hiked and swam, we (mom!) cooked meals over the camp stove, we visited provincial parks, we took in national landmarks, we visited far-flung relatives… And I have fond memories of much of this. But I don’t think my parents were trying to make memories for me and my four sisters – rather, I think they were try to bring us joy, to widen our experiences, to help family on the rockus learn, and to be sure we grasped something of the natural and cultural world we inhabited.

The over-emphasis on “making memories” is perhaps driven by the contemporary embrace of nostalgia, a preoccupation nowhere more evident than in the faux aging of photographs that is basic to Instagram. Simply apply a filter and suddenly your recent trip feels like it happened a lifetime ago – you can get your nostalgia fix with one simple click, now!

This captivity to nostalgia seems to reflect a deeper malaise or lack of purpose in the modern context. That is, our fixation on warm characterizations of past events likely betrays the stress we experience daily, the doubts we have about life’s meaning, and our ambivalence about possibilities for the future. One of the few things we have left to hold on to with any degree of solidity is our past, so we persistently manufacture nostalgic recollections about that past, in the present.

An unfortunate and inevitable side-bar to our nostalgia-driven present is that it demands a smoothing out (an editing out!) of the conflict and frustration and unhappiness that are inevitably part of summer vacation. Family holidays are rarely, if ever (!), a singular source of happy exploration and conversation. There are arguments and worries and fatigue and home-sickness and the list goes on. And the contemporary emphasis on “making memories” for our families can only encourage a kind of remembering/forgetfulness in which experiences become different and less than they were – memories are flattened out and made less human.

Summer holidays, I think, are not primarily or even substantially about making memories for our kids. Summer holidays are about piquing their curiosity about the world, opening their eyes to the beauty and diversity of God’s creation, allowing us to experience daily life from a different vantage point, praying and worshipping in a new context or a different community, and beginning to re-imagine our lives and faith in the light of what we have seen and done and struggled with together.

Warm memories might (might!) be one of the side benefits or results of summer vacations, but the forming of possible, anticipated  memories must always be secondary to the life we live together with Christ in the present. This kind of commitment to the present will not only displace “making memories” from the centre of our expectations, it might also change the kinds of holidays we propose to take. But that’s a blog post for another day…

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