Last week, I asked my daughter her favorite places to visit. Other than New Jersey, where my husband’s parents are, and the Bay Area, where my mom is (grandparents’ homes seem to be universally wonderful, magical places for kids), she chose Montreal, New York City, Hershey Park, the Jersey Shore, Colonial Williamsburg, and…Baltimore. “Really?” I asked her, thinking, I should finally see what all the fuss over The Wire is about. “Baltimore? We didn’t even spend the night there.” “I don’t know why,” she replied. “I just liked it.” After this past weekend, she’s added Crystal Cave and Lancaster to the list. Central Pennsylvania and Baltimore are both nice places to visit, with friendly locals and enough sights to keep us busy for maybe a day, two max. We learned about the Amish and ate fried chicken in Lancaster and visited a fantastic aquarium in Baltimore. But Central Pennsylvania and anywhere in Maryland are not exactly the destinations I’d put on the list of places I hope to visit before I die. They are too small time for our giant world map. For my ten-year-old, however, these small trips held the same rank as our travels to New York, where we saw Annie and Matilda on Broadway, walked all over Central Park, ate the best pizza we’ve ever had, checked out not only the American Girl Doll store, but also Nintendo World and FAO Schwartz, rode the subway, and looked out on the entire city from the top of the Empire State Building. And of course we’ll be returning to New York, hungry for more exhausting, cultural/gastronomical/consumerist-stuffed days.
My husband and I have been feeling a little guilty that we can’t take our daughter to all the big-ticket destinations more of the time. We haven’t been to Disney World. Or the Outer Banks. She hasn’t visited London or Paris or Rome, or hiked the Appalachian Trail. This year, because of our work schedules, we won’t be going anywhere for more than just a few days at a time. And we’re still lucky—at least we can go away for a couple days here and there. But like any parent, I want to show her the world, and that takes more than 48 hours at a time.
I remembered what vacations were like when I was growing up. My siblings and I would pile into our wood-paneled station wagon and drive all over the country. We’d sometimes visit big destinations like Washington D.C. or the San Diego Zoo. Usually, though, the trip was discovering the country on the road and through small towns. For me, the best times were when we’d be holed up in some campground, eating canned raviolis and listening to audiobooks on tape. I could forget about what a hormonal dork I was for a whole week. My dad could let go of his monumental responsibilities at his job and just enjoy the moment with his family. My mom, well, my mom had a hard time letting much of anything go, and she was pretty much business as usual, even on vacation. And now, as a parent, I get to spend a couple of days not micromanaging. That’s a win for everyone. My husband can let go of his endless job search for a bit, and focus on keeping our car in the correct lane and finding a decent place for lunch. The best part for me is seeing Virginia at her funniest and chattiest. She’s relaxed and fun, not feeling as self-conscious, though I haven’t suggested karaoke or old-timey photos (yet). We can suspend depressing thoughts about Gaza and Ukraine, and put our rage about the unspeakable gap between the rich and poor on hold for a bit, at least until I polish off this ice-cream cone or finish a round of mini-golf. And that’s what “getting away from it all” is all about for me whether it’s in Rome or Baltimore. Two weeks or two days, we had a vacation.

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