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Skyler: Forced family bonding has a silver lining

Family selfie the last day on the island, which had no running water or electricity. Clockwise from left, Andrew Stillman, Levi Stillman, Malcolm Skyler, Heather Skyler, Jennifer Stillman, Charlotte Stillman, Lux Skyler and John Skyler, in front

Growing up, my family and I took the same vacation almost every single year. We drove from our home in Las Vegas to La Jolla and stayed at the same motel with a courtyard pool and continental breakfast. It wasn’t fancy or on the beach, but the small place had a nice European feel to it. (I think it was the courtyard and breakfast pastries that seemed European to my middle-school self. And I heard someone speaking French!)

Every morning, my dad would drop my mom, sister and I at Pacific Beach where we’d spend the entire day bodyboarding and eating giant ice cream sundaes in waffle cones. My dad is very fair-skinned so preferred to spend his days out of the sun. We’d reunite in the evening, gather a picnic and go sit on the bluffs above the ocean to eat our food.

My parents always had an argument on the drive there, over something we’d forgotten to pack, but other than that we usually all got along well on those vacations. I looked forward to that week every year, and looking back, I realize it’s one of the only things all four of us did alone together, other than eating dinner or watching “Cheers.”

As kids get older, it’s harder to find things the entire family can enjoy together. Interests often diverge and personalities develop more fully so that what used to be an obvious family activity – going to the park or a movie – is now more complicated to figure out. My sister and I liked many of the same things, so it wasn’t too hard for us to find family outings we’d all enjoy, but my son and daughter don’t have as much in common as they used to, and finding things we all like to do together can be a challenge.

Every year, we try to spend a week camping with my sister and her husband and kids. The glitch is, they live in New York City. We take turns visiting each other to share the burdens of travel and cost, and this summer it’s our turn to fly to New York where we’ll drive up to Lake George in the Adirondack Mountains and boat out to camp on an island. Two summers ago, they came here and we camped on the backside of Catalina Island.

The other glitch is that my son doesn’t like camping. Also, my sister’s kids are younger so he has no one close to his age on the trip. I guess you could say he bears the vacation rather than enjoys it, which makes it less enjoyable for me.

Even though he doesn’t love our trips, and my husband and I usually have some type of fight on the way there, too, that time together feels crucial to our family unit. It’s the only time all year when we spend several uninterrupted days just being together. Sure, there are a few tense moments, an argument or two, and maybe even a crying jag, but the overall feeling is of growing closer, of mending the threads that may have frayed throughout the year.

Studies have revealed that vacations are important, for de-stressing, for improving heart health and for lessening the chance of depression. They’re also good for bonding and creating memories.

Despite all the research pointing to the positive benefits of vacations, the Center for Economic Policy notes that the United States remains the only wealthy nation without legally mandated vacations for employees, and with no requirement that official holidays come with extra pay and a compensating day off. Most workers do get paid vacation here – about three-quarters overall – but there is a divide between the rich and poor. Only about half of lower-paid hourly workers receive paid time off.

As a nation, we also get considerably less time off than our European counterparts, who typically have at least a month of paid time off each year.

Of course, it doesn’t help that many Americans have vacation time they never use. According to the U.S. Travel Association, Americans abandoned 169 million vacation days total last year. Fifteen years ago, U.S. travelers averaged 20 days of vacation per year, but by 2013 that number had slipped to just 16 days.

I’m not sure if this is due to the expense of taking a trip, or the guilt workers feel taking time off, or if people simply dread spending days on end with their families. But vacations are important, so consider taking the days you are able to off, even if you just camp on the beach half an hour away or in your own backyard. It’s the time away from work that is important, and the time you spend uninterrupted with your family, not the distance you travel.

Contact the writer: hskyler@ocregister.com

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