It's a new year for family fun, adventure

Special to The Times

I noticed something as a friend helped me hang photos in our hallway last week: Every one of our cherished family memories involves adventure, not things.

The pictures show 14-year-old Gabe and 8-year-old Grace sledding down hills at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, fishing side by side off a pier on Orcas Island, Wash., and pouncing on the surf in South Padre, Texas. In other photos, they're skipping rocks in Idaho, standing before stalactites at Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico and meeting Sleeping Beauty and Mickey Mouse at Disneyland.

We don't have one photo of an iPod, a Game Boy, a Nintendo or the hottest Barbie temporarily coveted by every little girl who breathes.

The lesson here -- in the season when New Year's resolutions are made as soon as the holiday wrapping paper hits the recycling bin -- is valuable. And it helps me draft my top five resolutions for family travel in 2007.

* Give children adventures, not things.

Carve out space in your schedule and money in your budget to make it happen. Sometimes, I get a little crazy and think I need to mop the floor or trim a bush instead of shooting baskets with Gabe or riding around the block on bikes with Grace. The cleaning can wait; the shrub can be overgrown for one more day. Apply that same principle to a day trip to the beach, a hike in the mountains or a weeklong jaunt to the Canadian Rockies. Just go.

* My lack of planning will not be an excuse for torturing my family. Think ahead: plenty of healthful snacks, entertainment and stops when needed.

A flight attendant long ago admired the contents of a diaper bag I'd brought. Some parents, she said, board for a cross-country flight with a baby but without any diapers, snacks or entertainment. Every parent traveling with small children should be prepared.

* Involve the children in travel decisions, but don't let them run the trip.

It's not all about me, and it's not all about them. It is all about us. Everyone needs to be happy. For my husband, Osler, and me, that sometimes means sitting in Adirondack chairs staring at a sunset over the ocean. For the kids, happiness is more likely to be tossing a football on that beach or building shelters for homeless sand crabs. Here's the chance for children to see that we all have different needs but that each can be met, if we work together with respect and love.

* Enjoy the trip, moment by moment, but be ready to toss the plan.

We were stuck one day in an incredibly long line at the Phoenix airport when our daughter began to "ice-skate" across the carpet, twirling and singing and smiling. That horrendous line allowed me to appreciate the beauty of the moment. We have been on vacation with plans to have a lovely sit-down dinner at a restaurant and suddenly realized that, instead, our family needed to create a peanut butter picnic and not rush away from deer grazing beside our cabin.

* Find teachable moments in travel with children.

Traveling as a family can make the world one big learning lab. We quietly point out the results when strangers are courteous to others, but also when they think only of themselves. Our children also know how whales communicate, that jellyfish sting and how to figure the age of a tree. We've stopped to read historical markers to appreciate the folks who came before us, the battles they fought and the obstacles they overcame.

Our children know that we always leave a place cleaner than we found it. We pick up our litter and that left by others who never learned the same lesson. Gabe and Grace understand that we must tread softly on this Earth so there will be plenty of places left for them to explore and plenty of travel resolutions left for them to make with their own families many New Year's Eves from now.

Columnist Mary McNamara is on maternity leave.

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