I loved the movie National Lampoon's Vacation as a kid but I did not truly appreciate it until I had children of my own and experienced family vacations from the parent perspective. This perspective may have been most eloquently summarized by Clark W. Griswold when he finally snaps near the end of his family's journey to Wally World:
I think you're all [expletive deleted] in the head. We're ten hours from the [expletive deleted] fun park and you want to bail out. Well I'll tell you something. This is no longer a vacation. It's a quest. It's a quest for fun. You're gonna have fun, and I'm gonna have fun . . . We're all gonna have so much [expletive deleted] fun we're gonna need plastic surgery to remove our [expletive deleted] smiles! You'll be whistling 'Zip-A-Dee Doo-Dah' out of your [expletive deleted]! I must be crazy! I'm on a pilgrimage to see a moose. Praise Marty Moose! Holy [expletive deleted]!
[For a similar take on family vacations, you can also check out Louis CK who describes his personal "vacation" as the few seconds he gets between closing the door on one side of the car and walking around to the driver's side before getting in and starting the real "vacation."]
I was reminded of these, admittedly cynical, impressions of family vacations when I read a recent decision, Lang v. Lang, from the Family Part. In that case, divorced parents fought over whether the mother could take their six-year-old son to Holland for the summer. Sprinkled throughout the court's opinion were descriptions of the importance of family vacations, including the following:
Vacations provide highly unique and valuable opportunities for a child to bond with parents and other family members, while creating highly positive and lasting memories. The entire point of vacation travel is for adults and children alike to enjoy a invigorating break from the tedium of everyday schedules and responsibilities, and to mentally relax and rejuvenate by journeying to new destinations, experiencing new sights and adventures, and simply enjoying themselves in as carefree a manner as possible.
The court obviously has fonder memories of family vacations than I do. I remember turning blue while driving through the safari at Six Flags in a Dodge Dart with the windows closed and no air conditioning. Nothing too invigorating about that.
Regardless, the seemingly routine issue of scheduling summer vacations in Lang was complicated by the significant discord between the parents. According to the court, the parents had been in court litigating over parenting issues every year since their divorce was finalized. The most recent dispute centered around the mother's plans to take their son to Holland to see the mother's parents, the child's grandparents. Sounds reasonable enough, but the mother planned to take the child for nine weeks, and, worse yet, only intended to spend two of those weeks with the child, with the child spending the balance alone with the grandparents. The father objected because this would deny him any meaningful time for his own summer vacation with his son. Again, sounds reasonable enough, but the father would not agree to allow the child to go to Holland for any amount of time, arguing that (1) he was concerned that the mother would not return, (2) there was nothing for the child to see in Holland, and (3) the grandparents could come to where their grandson lived — Ocean County, New Jersey — if they wanted to spend time with him.
The court rejected both side's positions, observing that "one [did] not need to be a trained lawyer or judge to immediately understand the unacceptability of each party's position." Turning first to the father's arguments, the court noted that there was no evidence that the mother would not return with their son. In fact, the court noted that when the father "orally state[d] this position in court, his facial expressions reflect[ed] a complete lack of conviction in his own spoken words." As for his argument that there was noting to see in Holland, the court took "judicial notice that there [was] in fact a great big world for [the] child to see beyond Ocean County, New Jersey," and that the opportunity to see this "great big world" should, absent exceptional circumstances, be "supported rather than blocked and squandered by an uncooperative parent in the midst of ongoing dysfunctional litigation." Finally, the court rejected the father's argument that the grandparents should come to New Jersey as "restrictive and unimaginative," asking "[w]hat child wants to sit home all summer watching other relatives come and go?"
The court also held, however, that the mother's proposal of a nine-week vacation for her son (only two of which would have been spent with his mother) was unreasonable. Instead, the court held that the mother could take her son to Holland for no more than two weeks and then return with him to New Jersey. The court believed that this "shorter and more reasonable" vacation would "provide the child with a significant vacation opportunity" with his mother, while not inhibiting his father's right to vacation with his son as well.
[DISCLAIMER: Of course I am exaggerating my vacation experiences for comic effect. I loved all of the family vacations I have been on, both as a child and as a parent.]