Six years ago, my husband and I decided to transition from giving toy gifts to our two young sons at the holidays to giving them adventures. We went big and bold: We gave them the gift of travel and that was it, their sole gift under the tree. At the time it seemed like a good idea; they were 8 and 10 years old. But on Christmas morning, their glum faces were a bit hard to forget. After the travel letters were read and they thanked us kindly, my husband and I looked at each other and were sure we had made a horrible mistake. We feared that we had won the award for Grinches of the Year.
On the bright side, deciding what form these adventure gifts would take was a breeze. My oldest son, Will, loves to ski, so his gift was a trip to each of the major ski resorts in New England. The catch was that this gift would unfold over seven years, from sixth grade until his senior year in high school. My younger son’s gift had an even longer trajectory. He is my baseball guy: He eats, sleeps, and dreams baseball. His gift was to attend a baseball game at every Major League Baseball stadium. This would span 13 years, and the goal is that on his 21st birthday, he and his father will get Green Monster seats at Fenway to celebrate the conclusion of his stadium tour.
However, the interesting and most unexpected part of these gifts is that they have taken on lives of their own. Will took his gift quite seriously. He started with online research to decide which of the 57 ski resorts he would visit, whittling the list down to 36. He then roughly plotted out which he would visit during each of the seven years. On average he planned to visit five resorts each winter. Once he had that list, he began looking at snow conditions each year, modifying the list depending on snow coverage. He then mapped out ways to group resorts together. As a way to economize, many of the trips were done in a day. If a resort was 2½ hours away, we would drive to the mountain in the morning and then zip back home after last chair.
These ski trips not only delivered the gift of travel but morphed into the gift of many useful skills. In addition to the ski resort and snow condition research, Will was tasked with finding the biggest discount for each resort and being the navigator to the mountain when the GPS was not available. When he got his driver’s license this year, Will became the chauffeur. The ski trips are also gifts of exercise, and they are gifts of time together.
For many years I have heard moms confessing that their sons don’t really communicate with them, and at times I have heard the same about husbands. I think a possible solution might be nestled in these gifts of travel. When we are in the car for four hours out and back, conversations begin and surprising topics pop up. Similarly, when we are on the chair lift and silence and nature surround us, the most interesting insights are shared back and forth. It seems travel is also a gift of conversation, insight, clarity, questioning, and maybe even a little bit of philosophy.
Philosophy also came into play with my younger son. As an avid Red Sox fan, he initially planned to travel only to games where the Red Sox were playing. After the first game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, where he was in the minority cheering for the Red Sox, he changed his thinking: “I would rather go to see a game and cheer for the home team, no matter what . . . unless the Sox are playing.”
Matt is now an avid discount fare researcher. He also organized the trips to ensure he could attend games with two different teams, if at all possible, in one weekend. For example, he saw the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs play on back-to-back days during one weekend, and on another trip he managed to see the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants. Along the way he discovered an interesting (if disappointing for his purposes) fact: when two MLB teams are in the same city — such as the Cubs and White Sox or the Yankees and Mets — they rarely play during the same weekend.
Matt also researched stadium configurations. Where are the best seats to watch the game given sun, rain, and snow possibilities? In addition, he was keen on figuring out where to sit if you are interested in catching game balls or having one tossed to you by umpires, bullpen staff, or players. He has had quite a bit of success in this area.
So far he has visited 14 of the 30 stadiums, journeys that have also brought us to Smithsonian museums and other landmarks. When visiting the Diamondbacks, he got up at the crack of dawn and hiked the South Rim of the Grand Canyon down to Skeleton Point and back with his Dad. Visiting the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City was another highlight, and, of course, once in St. Louis, he ventured up into the Gateway Arch. All of these trips, with side adventures woven into them, promise and deliver so much more than a baseball game.
I guess we aren’t Grinches after all.Anne Lehmann can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.