I just returned from spending two weeks in New England, where I went to unwind from the incessant drone of Los Angeles.  It was a planned vacation and a long overdue excuse to visit my brother’s family and my parents.  For the first time in as long as I can remember, it also came at a time when I wasn’t in the middle of something.  On hiatus from two projects that consumed more of my family time than I preferred, the timing of this trip allowed me the luxury of traveling without worrying about something else.  It also gave me the perfect excuse to unplug from the world; no obsessively checking Twitter, no catching up on Facebook updates, no worrying about comments on other blog entries, no checking news, weather, Google+, Tumblr, Instagram, Flickr, Words With Friends, etc.  In fact, I promised myself (and my wife) that I would not carry my phone with me at all during my first week on vacation.  I allowed myself the option of checking e-mail and voicemail in the evening but lots of nights, I didn’t bother.  I sat by the fire, listened to the eerie calls of the loons echoing in the distance and reconnected with my family.  It was a long overdue recharge.

Whether thanks to the peace I felt for having nothing to race back to Los Angeles for or simply thanks to the certain beauty of a warm New England summer, I looked forward to every moment of our trip.  Even the travel – which included more than 3000 miles with three kids and all of their luggage – was something I had prepared for.  I wanted this to be a memorable vacation for us all.  As a kid, my happiest vacation memories are from the weeks we spent on a similar lake in Maine.  I needed this trip for myself but I also wanted it for my kids.  I want them to have as many happy memories as I have, memories that will carry them through their lives and make them nostalgic for carefree days when they were, in the words of Dylan Thomas, “young and easy under the apple boughs”.  I vowed to stay patient during the entire two weeks, at all costs.  It’s probably something I should do more often, anyway.

Our destination was Great Moose Lake in Maine.  We stayed in a centuries old lodge that allowed plenty of room for two families with kids and their grandparents.  It’s a huge old lodge with a giant fireplace in the center and some of the creakiest old floorboards I’ve ever heard.  A long kitchen table allows for up to twenty guests and though there is electricity and running water but that’s where the luxury ends.  The decor is stuffed animal heads and ancient pictures of fish and moose.  The rooms are each appointed with a mattress and a bed frame; there are a couple of trash bags of fresh linens on the second floor that are up for grabs.  It’s rustic and perfect.  The back porch looks out onto the lake and the tranquility swallows you from the moment you arrive.  Sitting on 12 acres of land, the location is a welcome reprieve from the cityscape of Los Angeles.  My kids rarely have so much space to run around, practically unsupervised.

Throughout the week, we fished, boated, napped, made occasional day trips to Skowhegan to enjoy the local Farmer’s market (and the local Ice Cream shop) and spent nights by the fire enjoying the sounds of nature on a remote lake in the middle of the woods.   It was a week spent relaxing and catching up, of remembering happy memories and creating new ones.  I’ve never seen the kids so happy – happy to be in a place with so much to explore, happy to spend time with parents that have nowhere to be and perhaps most of all, happy to see their “Grandma and Bubbock”, my parents.

Whenever we bring the kids back east to visit, I see glimpses of my parents as they were with my brother and sister and I.  I watch my dad sing nonsense songs to young Zach and watch him play invented games in the water with Lucy.  I watch him patiently weather an overtired tantrum and offer helpfully to change baby Emmy’s diaper.  My mother has a never-ending supply of surprises and snacks for everyone, and the magical story she invented about a common garden gnome she named “Nick” reminds me of the voices she’d give to my beloved stuffed animals when I was a young boy.  More than once, I found myself unexpectedly choked up while watching a version of my parents I haven’t seen since I was young.

They’ve been married for 42 years (today).  It seems that I appreciate my parents more as each year passes.  It’s partially because now that I have three kids, I understand the (rewarding) hell they went through with us. It’s also because they continue to make their marriage last and continue to set an example for me that I can always draw upon when I feel clueless as a parent, which is often.  As a father, I have the very best role model in the world and one who is only a phone call away.  Spending time with them and seeing my kids love and enjoy them as much as I always have makes me sad that we don’t live closer.  As the years go by, I wonder if there really is any justification for moving away from family.

As all good things do, so did our vacation.  I’m usually quite ready to get back to Los Angeles after a couple of weeks away but this time, I was sad to go.  It was a pivotal vacation for me in many ways.  Not only was it the perfect escape for us all, but it reminded me of where I came from, which I am very lucky to be both proud of and thankful for.  It also reminded me that although it’s easy to get wrapped up in a relentless pursuit of something unknown, the most important thing of all is the family around you.  Chasing after nothing seems less important than lingering back with the people who are everything.

We’ve decided to make the two week New England vacation an annual trip for our family.  It seems the perfect excuse to reboot after each year we spend in Los Angeles.  Time slips by so quickly.  I do know how lucky I am to still have two parents who continue to make me feel safe, even 3000 miles away.  With their example in mind, I hope my children will one day be happy to say the same thing.