Our family just returned from a family vacation. And I need a vacation. Alone. In a dark soundproof room, with my wallet locked in a safe.
These days it seems the time, effort and money to get six Keenans to embrace one idea, one calendar, one plan, 10 pieces of luggage, five phone chargers and six computer cords and then execute it is, well, exhausting. Military invasions involve less planning. And no yelling.
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It didn’t used to be this way. Larry and Mona tossed their five kids in the Plymouth Station wagon and our destinations were often not shared until we hit Interstate 70. East meant Kansas City. West meant Colorado. We rolled around the back seat, fought, shared one bottle of Dr. Pepper while the wind howled and no one ever said “buckle up.” AM radio blared with the corn futures. I miss those days. Sort of.
And so while I was waiting for our connection in MSP, I found a story on the New York Times entitled, “The secrets to a successful family vacation.” The writer offered tips to making the vacation successful — he described things like checklists, vacation games and finding ways to get the kids to buy into your concepts.
That guy operates in an alternative reality.
For us, our adult boys spend 51 weeks of the year avoiding me and tolerating me only when they need something. And then for one week it all changes when we travel together. Whether it’s riding in the car to the airport, on the plane together, sharing adjoining hotel rooms —we are on top of each other.
I embarrass my family. I admit it. So sue me. They do anything to avoid acknowledging my presence. Text, tweet, pretend to call someone. Pull a fire alarm, find a tornado shelter, cave, sink hole. I’m still a foot away. Sorry.
What’s my biggest sin? I talk to people. Not intrusive, annoying talking like the guy did to you on your last Southwest flight. Not “I see you are using an iPad, how do you like it?” type of questions. I mean friendly conversation that starts with “Good morning. How are ya?” If the spirit moves me, I will greet the gate agent, the TSA guys, the airline attendants and always the pilots. After every flight — every one — when I depart thank the pilots: “Good job, guys!”
Often in five minutes I’ve learned where they are from, how many children, what they do, and how their day is going. These are not long “let me tell you about my life” type of conversations. If there are three degrees of separation of most people, I can find them.
So why does this make me Satan? Someone help me with this. Old-school vacations were an exercise in Larry Keenan introducing us to people. Anywhere, anytime we could be subjects to a two-hour cross exam that in reality lasted 30 seconds. Anyone in the clergy got our attention. “Father Finnerty, meet our children.” We didn’t drop to the fetal position, roll the eyes or feign a seizure. Sometimes Larry would say things like, “Father, what’s your confession schedule” just to push our buttons.
I can say, with 100 percent certainty, that I never told my parents they embarrassed me. Did they? Sometimes. But every awkward moment was an opportunity for my own brand of humor. And I threw bullets Larry’s way with comebacks, one-liners and zingers that brought chuckles.
But then everything changed. Someday the archeologists will write a treatise about what happened to the art of conversation. And they will conclude one thing: The cellphone did it. From stories on Sunday morning television to best-selling books like “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other” by Sherry Turkle.
Is there any reason today’s youth is a mess? So I guess this is our reality now, but that doesn’t mean I’m giving up. I could go on longer but just noticed someone who wants to talk to me.