Keeping Holiday Memories Alive

With every holiday ornament, another memory came rushing back -- the funny, silly and even disastrous family times we've shared on the road.

That's because wherever we take the kids, I try to buy each child an ornament to remember the trip, marking it with their name and the year. Sometimes, they pick their own. A few weeks ago, for example, Reggie spent more than an hour in a Colonial Williamsburg shop agonizing between an 18th-century woman and a Revolutionary-era house before making her all-important choice. (She chose the house, because she was afraid the woman's head would fall off.)

Other times, I buy the ornaments and squirrel them away, bringing out the Pilgrim and canoe, moose and cowboy ornaments when we're decorating the tree. Unfortunately, I forget so often where I've put them for safekeeping that it's become a standing family joke. Just last week, I discovered a wooden sail boat I'd bought Matt nearly three years ago on a trip to Maine.

I think the memories get even sweeter after a few years. As the kids grow older, the vacation experience, even at the same place, won't be the same -- just as much fun, but different.

I'm not talking picture-perfect vacation moments either, in front of the beach house, the Grand Canyon or on the steps of the Capitol. It's impossible to get my crew to pose for those anyway.

I'm talking real-life vacations with kids: the time Melanie was petrified meeting the Disney characters and burst into tears when one came near (our Peter Pan ornament). The time Reggie, not yet 3, fell asleep on the chair lift and wouldn't wake up and her dad skied down with the pooped toddler in his arms (Jackson Hole, Wyo., cowboy). The London trip five years ago during which 8-year-old Matt preferred chasing pigeons in Hyde Park to any historic site (the embroidered Beefeater guard).

Every time I look at the tiny Washington state ferry, bought on a book research trip Reggie and I took to Seattle, I think of how different it is to travel with one child as opposed to two or three squabbling siblings. The Native American drum takes me back to the interminable drive Matt and I took through the barren landscape into Arizona's Indian Country, only to find our reception wasn't what I'd expected. I learned on that trip how ready a traveling family needs to be to shift gears when things don't go as planned.

We bought lots of new ornaments traveling this past year, though I'm sure we're missing a few. Here are a few more of my favorites:

-- The Estes Park, Colo., hiker is from the YMCA of the Rockies where my husband's family gathered for a long-overdue family reunion, at a place which hosts more reunions than anywhere else in the country. More than 100 of us -- from around the country and Europe -- hiked up amountain, went white-water rafting, played touch football and mini golf. Some of the cousins hadn't been in touch for 30 years. All left happy to be part of such a big, noisy bunch. Even better, the next generation has since stayed in touch, the girls writing letters and the boys e-mailing. (Call the YMCA of the Rockies at 800-777-YMCA or visit their Web site at www.YMCAROCKIES.org.)

-- The moose on skis from Steamboat Springs, Colo., where 5-year-old Melanie truly got her ski legs, forsaking the beginner slopes to chase her brother and sister down more challenging trails. Late one afternoon, we stowed our skis and wound our way up the narrow mountain road to Steamboat's famous natural hot springs. We stripped to our bathing suits in the frigid cold and jumped off the rocks into the 104-degree water. It was fabulous. Locals in the pool told me the water -- and Steamboat Springs -- is just as much fun and a lot cheaper in the summer. (Call 800-922-2722 or visit www.steamboat-ski.com.)

-- The golf ball from Kiawah Island, S.C., where 13-year-old Matt discovered he loved the Links even more than his dad, playing at a reduced-price junior rate on championship courses. I loved the miles-long sandy beach and kayaking through the marshes. The girls loved the alligators who live in the ponds all over the island. Seven hundred real alligators live in the hundred-plus ponds that dot this spectacular barrier island along the Atlantic Coast. Melanie and I took a ``Gator Walk'' led by a naturalist who at this eco-oriented resort who assured us the alligators won't come near us humans as long as they're not provoked. Kiawah, I was pleased to discover, is cheaper than Florida, but offers plenty to do, from tennis to a first-rate nature-oriented children's program starting at age 3. (Call Kiawah at 800-654-2924 or visit their Web site at www.kiawah-island.com)

-- The Caribbean angel Melanie bought on Labadee, Royal Caribbean's small island off Haiti, where our cruise ship stopped one day. That trip taught me never to travel with my mother -- unless she's got plenty of her own space. Six-year-old Melanie, on the other hand, keeps asking when we can cruise again. I'll never forget the look on her face when she first boarded that huge glitzy ship. (We booked with a major Miami-based cruise discounter, The Cruise Line Inc. Call 800-777-0707 or visit their Web site at www.cruiseline.com. Royal Caribbean's Web address is www.RoyalCaribbean.com.)

It is because these times were all so special -- and so fleeting -- that I want to hold on to them so much. Besides the ornaments, photographs let me conjure up those moments however I want.

I hope your travel memories -- any way you share them this holiday season -- keep you laughing. Happy New Year.

(Look for Eileen Ogintz's books from HarperCollins West: ``A Kid's Guide to Vacation Fun in the Rocky Mountains'' and, for parents, ``Are We There Yet?'')

(Send your questions and comments about family travel to Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053 or e-mail to eogintz@aol.com. While every letter cannot be answered, some of your stories may be used in upcoming columns.)

(c) 1997, Eileen Ogintz. Dist. by Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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