The sweetest memories are the simple ones that cost nothing.
When I was growing up, we vacationed the same place every summer — the Lake of the Ozarks. Every year, we went to the same resort for one week of the same activities … water skiing, tubing, jet-skiing, swimming, eating, laughing, playing. Those summers are some of the best memories I have from my childhood, despite — or maybe because of — the repetition.
My parents had it right, according to a leading child psychologist. As Dr. Oliver James explained to The Telegraph, what children want (and need) in a vacation is one familiar, unadventurous place to return to, year after year:
“If anything, that child gets more conservative as she gets older. Children, explains Dr. James, are surprisingly nostalgic creatures, despite their tender years. ‘Between the ages of five and 10 they can become very attached to one place, where they can be sure of what they will like and what they won’t,’ he says. ‘Sitting on the same donkey, eating the same ice cream at the same café … These familiar places and activities are the ones that forge their happiest memories.’”
This is a truth that my own children constantly remind me of. When we’re at loose ends and searching for something to do, they aren’t interested in exploring a new place or having a new adventure. Their favorite place is the Imaginarium, a small kids’ museum with limited exhibits and a tiny aquarium. They don’t mind that the exhibits hardly ever change — they like to explore them again and again, asking me the same questions just to hear the same answer.
When I think back to our summers at the lake, the memories I cherish the most aren’t the wild, adventurous tubing and my terrifying jet-ski driving. The sweetest memories are the simple ones — the candy shop we always found our way to, and how they had the best mints and my mom’s favorite malt balls. The joy of running barefoot through the resort with my friends. The way my parents looked, sunburned and relaxed like they never were at home. How they had time to sit and laugh with us, and play stupid made-up games on the dock for hours.
Those are the kind of memories I want to build with my kids — not expensive, exotic vacations, not even pricey and chaotic trips to Disney. Just days at the beach, digging for shells and jumping over waves and laughing. Those are the things they love the most — and probably will cherish the most — anyway.