Never Forget the Things That Used to Be a Big Deal

When I was a kid, going out to eat was a big deal. While I didn’t have to wear a tie and jacket, I wasn’t allowed to simply get in the car with what I had been wearing all day. We were supposed to put on nice pants and a collared shirt and make sure that we were clean. When we got to the restaurant, it was expected that we eat everything on our plate because that is what we chose to order.

Going out to eat was quality time with family. My grandparents lived an hour from home, and my parents worked long hours. My mom was a nurse, so sometimes we wouldn’t always see her because she was working overnight. Therefore, when I was told we were going out to eat as a family, it was a big deal.

Vacations were also like that growing up. Quite honestly, I thought a weekend at my grandparents was a vacaction as a kid. I mean, I packed a bag and got to see and experience things that were really different than seeing the St. Louis skyline from my house. When we vacationed, we went with aunts and uncles and grandparents, and we went to Hot Springs, Arkansas to spend a week swimming, fishing, and playing miniature golf. That was good living, and some of the best memories I have growing up. Looking back, now it seems kind of strange to say that we used to vacation in Arkansas, but that annual trip was a huge deal in our family. The only time I ever was on a plane before I was 21 was the one Disney World vacation we took with just my parents and brothers.

Looking back, I wouldn’t want to change a thing. I remember really looking forward to all of those trips. Whether it was visiting family in Alabama, driving across the west with my grandparents, or taking a weekend getaway to Branson, Missouri, I was fortunate to experience a lot of different things growing up. Taking a trip was a BIG deal! I didn’t care how long it took to get somewhere or what it was like when we got there. Hotels were like a palace to me, even if the doors opened to the parking lot. The longer the trip, the more time to make up fun games in the car and play with my brothers. I always enjoyed looking out the window at all of the sites along the way, and I still do as an adult. The best was riding in the back of our station wagon and waving at drivers behind us as we watched the world go by in reverse!

However, as I’ve gotten older and moved into a different realm in my life, I have found myself around more and more people that have completely different experiences and expecations than myself. I’m not judging, but it is hard for me as a middle-aged man to comprehend a lot of these “problems” I hear people talking about when I’m around. I shake my head even more when I hear kids complaining about travel arrangements. Kids, who have never contributed a dime to the family welfare have opinions on flights, hotels, and restaurants. Kids that expect to fly somewhere versus drive. Kids that just expect that when mom and dad go on vacation they are along for the ride as well. Everytime I hear those things, it helps put some things into perspective for me, but it makes me think about those that don’t even have that perspective. As a kid, a number of times I spent with my grandparents was while my parents were off on vacation without us. That was just normal, and looking back I don’t blame my parents.

Have I mentioned that my parents worked their butts off to get where they are in life? They deserved those breaks from us kids, and I never once remembered questioning why they were going somewhere without me. Growing up, we lived in a split level house that had 3 bedrooms for 5 people and 1 bathroom. There was a perception that our family was rich because my parents were both considered white collar workers and my house was built into a hill. We had woods behind our house, that wasn’t our property, that we could play in for hours, along with a creek that had deep embankments that allowed for lots of fun and explorations as a kid. However, I remember getting a second TV was a big deal growing up. I had no idea that ‘trailer trash’ was a phrase people used in life until I moved away, and quite honestly it really pissed me off because a number of my best friends lived in trailers.

We all grew up relatively simple in my hometown, so one of the best things about being a latch-key kid was the fact that all of my other friends were always around. I don’t remember anyone I grew up with being gone for long stretches on vacation or unavailable to play because the family was all going out to eat. In that regard, I probably did have it a bit easier than some of my friends growing up.

Moving to the area where I live in now, I am surrounded by people and families that enjoy WAY more than I ever did growing up. There seems to be a certain expectation among people in our area that you always take an annual spring break trip where the family flies somewhere warm. Family vacations over the holidays are quite typical, along with other random vacations sprinkled in because life in Granger, Indiana is quite demanding. Working in education, along with my wife, those things have never really been a reality for us and our family, but our kids are constantly surrounded by friends where multiple flights and vacations a year are the expectation.

I’m not sitting here crying poor! Please do not take my words as a poor me, plea. My wife and I have made certain financial decisions to make certain areas of our kids lives better and more enjoyable, but working in education there are limits. My kids have grown up in circles of friends where it is normal for them to fly off somewhere on spring break every year. Christmas vacations are more than sitting around the house and enjoying two weeks off of school. When they’re younger, it can be difficult to explain those things, but as they get older it helps galvanized the family unit even more.

Our kids have grown up with the same appreciation for travel that I had as a child. It’s no big deal to get in the car and drive over five hours to grandma and grandpa’s house. Going to St. Louis IS a vacation for our family. Our vacations have consisted of countless journies to cities all across the midwest in our family vehicles. We have countless memories that I would trade nothing for. We often share more stories about those trips than the few times we drove to Florida or Alabama for Spring Break. Our kids don’t know to complain about the long drive because they’ve never been on a plane, except our oldest whose first flight was at the age of 19. My wife was nervous to fly when we visited New York this past April, not because of flying, but because she hadn’t navigated an airport and mass transit in almost eight years. It’s just who we are.

In fact, when we flew to New York this past April, it was the first time I had been on a non-work related flight since 2009. So, while I gotten to experience a number of different cities throughout the country in my life, it is extremely rare when we just sit down and plot out our next family vacation for leisure. But, what I think is great is that my family doesn’t complain. We all work hard and are grateful for what we have. My kids get really excited about spending a day in Chicago, or going to a new city for baseball. My wife isn’t groaning that she’s missing out on a cruise or trip that everyone else is going on.

There have been so many times where I have overheard friends complaining about flights and properties to far off places. They don’t like the fact there is a layover somewhere. Heck, my family would spend three hours on layover just to experience a flight versus a long drive. The Airbnb doesn’t have something they want or isn’t in the greatest location. Heck, my family gets excited if our hotel room has a bathroom/shower door that is separate from the sink area so multiple people can get ready at the same time. It is so difficult for me not to roll my eyes when I hear people discussing their travel “problems” around me because I know myself or anyone in my family would be grateful for the simple opportunity to take those trips.

I don’t have any regrets in life when it comes to my career. Education has given me so many valuable moments and experiences, and what it doesn’t pay for financially it makes up for with time with your family. Travel is one of those things that I have been fortunate to do personally, but it just hasn’t always been financially possible as a family. I keep saying that once the kids are gone my wife and I will travel more, but something else will probably come up financially that will keep us from planning elaborate vacations or annual destinations over break. Only time will tell, but it is hard to imagine not wanting to take our kids with us to make up for all of the times we couldn’t do that when they were younger!

Through all of this, if you’re still reading, I want to land on the key point to my rambling. Whether it is myself and my modest travel, or for those of you fortunate enough to take personal trips whenever the time and opportunity arises without much thought, think about those that NEVER get these opportunities. I am surrounded by these people on a daily basis, and it should put any amount of complaining you ever do about traveling or vacationing into perspective.

I work with students that cannot see family that lives 45 minutes away because neither of them have a working vehicle. I work with students that are adults with children that have NEVER been on a plane. I live in an area that is 90 minutes from the heart of Chicago, but they have never been. Or, when someone tells you they went to Chicago for the weekend, it’s not how you or I would want to spend a weekend in Chicago. We think of a weekend in Chicago as an opportunity to catch a show or a game, do some shopping on Michigan Avenue and walking down the river while eating at some great restaurants. My students definition of a weekend in Chicago is hanging with friends and family while making sure you’re inside by dark. They are excited about those trips and rave about how much fun they had when they return.

So many people in our area hop on a plane and seek out a beach and warm weather over Christmas and/or Spring Break. Yet, it is really alarming how many people I have had as students that have never been to the beaches we have along Lake Michigan that are less than an hour away. Even more sad is the fact that a lot of people don’t even know that there are free beaches that close. However, even if they knew, the cost of gas and reliability of their vehicle to make it that far makes enjoying that simple pleasure a huge undertaking.

The purpose of me writing this was to remind most of you of the less fortunate in our society. I AM NOT ONE OF THEM! I wanted you to remember how big of a deal it was to go out to eat with your family when you were young. Many of you were probably smiling and thinking how your childhood experiences were similar when it came to eating out. Try not to lose that feeling, but more importantly remember how fortunate you are.The next time you are complaining about your airfare, layover, AIRbnb location or ammenities, think about how many people never even have the opportunity to endure the “stress” and hardship you’re feeling in those moments. Consider yourself lucky that these are the source of some of your problems and stressors in life.

Additionally, think about those families and people that might annoy you when you’re trying to enjoy some of those pleasures in life. The next time you get frustrated because people are being loud and acting inappropriately at a hotel, stop and ask yourself if they are the type of people that likely get to experience this much in their lives. The same thing when you’re at a restaurant and a family may be acting loud or inappropriate. Is this a place or opportunity that this family gets to experience on a regular basis? A lot of their behaviors and your distress might be explained if you just stop and think before you complain. Heck, I remember running around hotels like I was in a castle as a kid. A night or two in a Holidome was legitamately the pinnacle of my youth.

When we were kids, McDonalds used to have outdoor playgrounds! That’s because going to McDonalds was a big deal, and as kids it was an area where we could be a mess without disrupting others that wanted to eat. During that time, there were still people who looked down on fast food as something that was beneathe them or substandard. They didn’t want to go to those places because the food wasn’t up to par and the dining experience was overrun by families that shouldn’t be there. Now they have enclosed those areas so parents can watch over their kids while not disrupting other familes, but it is the same concept. It’s a way of separating those who might not know how to behave in a certain environment from those that simply want to dine in and have a quiet conversation.

My biggest ask for society is that we all try to keep a perspective to things in our life. While my experiences have shaped me, it doesn’t make me normal or right. Yes, it annoys me when I have to listen to people complain about travel experiences that I’ll never have, but I respect the fact that they have earned the financial opportunities to enjoy those things in life and want the best experience. However, I hope that while any of us enjoy things this holiday season and beyond, always remember that there are those in this world that would give anything to experience what we are complaining about. Going out to eat will always be a big deal to some people in our society.

Published by mikegallo314

I have been in education for over 20 years, and it has been an amazing and rewarding career. I grew up on the east side of St. Louis, and I'm an avid sports fan. My three biggest addictions in life are the St. Louis Cardinals, St. Louis Blues, and University of Illinois athletics. I love listening to rock blues, and americana styled music. Throughout the years I have coached boys and girls basketball from the youth levels to the varsity level, and the last 10 years I have coached travel baseball. I have a passion for writing, and a long list of experiences and topics that I like to share my thoughts on. The best part about writing, are the conversations and thoughts that are shared as a result.

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