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Guyon: Vacation Connections


Getting my kids and me across the pond has taken a careful calibration of timing. I wanted to go when they’d be old enough to deeply appreciate the experience and have a bit of independence (like handling their own suitcases) but also before they’re off to college and might not want to travel with Mom.

Now that they’re 14 and 16, both with a love of history and a growing curiosity about the world, it’s the perfect time - and we’re finally going.

It’s also required serious budgeting - we don’t go out to dinner much and my car is older than they are - as well as careful itinerary planning for a good mix of culture, big cities, natural beauty, friends and lots of family. We’ll spend a week in Paris, stay in a tiny 5th-floor 19th century flat, then take the Chunnel train to London. We’ll play tourist there for a few days and then head out to the tiny villages where my parents were born and raised, and we’ll visit aunts, uncles and cousins who still live there.

I’m looking forward to exposing my kids to their heritage, starting with the centuries-old history oozing out of every country church, winding lane and low Roman wall.

I remember at age 12 going with my dad to the rural cemetery where his parents were buried. The family hadn’t had money to put headstones in, so on this trip, his first time back since immigrating 17 years earlier, he took care of it. I remember gasping at gravestones from the 1700s and the caretaker said, “Oh no, those aren’t old. Come and look at these from the 1300’s… the Black Death got all of them.” I was speechless.

Even more than the country’s history, however, I’m hoping my kids connect with their own - that is, their ancestry. I was always captivated by my great aunts' stories about everything from suffragette protests to the Blitz to serving as parlor maids for wealthy London families. My Mum’s cousin, who we all call Dutchy, ended up becoming a lifetime mentor to me. Not just a trusted advisor and confidante but a powerful connection to my familial roots. Since I became an adult, he’s been a friend and kindred spirit and now, at 76, remains as sharp, irreverent, authority questioning and inspiring as he was when I was a teenager.

Back then he told me I had to figure out what my political and spiritual beliefs were before I could do anything with my life. I did and he was right - exploring and defining my innermost values has guided me well, ever since.

After coming to visit us in Vermont many times, Dutchy’s unable to travel now, so we owe him a visit big time. Though I know it’s a lot to ask of a vacation, I'm hoping that my kids find their own Dutchy in one of my cousins, because it could mean a lifetime of treasured family connection.

Annie Guyon works in Development at Dartmouth College and occasionally writes as a freelancer for the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Boston Globe.
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