The great Kratz family road trip of 2012 has come and gone.
We were crammed together in the minivan for at least 40 hours as we drove to and from South Dakota and to various towns in the state of my birth. We spent hours talking, laughing, eating and playing cards with family and friends. We saw the Corn Palace in Mitchell. Our children got to release their inner Katniss or Hawkeye at the National Field Archery Association headquarters in my hometown of Yankton. And we visited the National Music Museum in Vermillion.
It was a great trip full of wonderful experiences, and I'm sure I'll remember it fondly for years to come.
The question is, will my wife and children also have fond memories? Or will they think back on a husband/father who was largely absent due to constant checking of work email on his smartphone?
As you may recall, I pledged in a column a few weeks ago that I was going to make a serious effort to disconnect during this particular family trip. So, before I left, I let my team at the office know that I wouldn't be checking email often and that they were pretty much on their own.
During our drive home, I looked back on the week away and thought I did a pretty good job of connecting with my family during the trip. But I'm not really an impartial judge. So, with some trepidation, I gathered my wife and children together and asked them how I did.
First I asked how many times they noticed me looking at my smartphone while we were on our trip. The children generally said they saw me look at it two or three times total during the week, and my wife said once or twice a day.
My favorite answer came from my oldest daughter, who said she saw me checking work email while we were in a women's clothing store in my hometown. "But that was excusable, because you don't exactly enjoy yourself in those stores," she added.
My wife and children all said I definitely looked at my phone more during previous vacations.
"I think you did it a lot more last time, but it wasn't when we were doing stuff as a family most of the time," my oldest daughter said.
"I think you felt in your last job like you had to check a lot more," my wife added. "You maybe have more confidence that it's OK to check less at this job."
That's a fact, and it's due to both the different nature of my new job and the people with whom I work. I knew they could handle everything while I was gone, because they require very little management even when I'm there. I'm lucky that way.
The children said they noticed increased attentiveness from me the most during quieter times, like when we were just sitting around talking or preparing for a meal. Not that my attention always worked to their advantage.
"I know you paid more attention, because last time, it was usually Mom who told us to clean up, and this time, it was always you," my second-oldest daughter said.
"I think you did better this time, because you would play with us," my youngest daughter added.
My wife said she thinks I always have done a pretty good job of paying attention during family vacations, but I may have been a bit better this time, other than a few times when I was "obsessed" (her word) with playing "Words with Friends."
Obsessed? No. Focused? Absolutely!
When it came time to get my overall grade for the week, everyone gave me at least an A. My 6-year-old son gave me the highest grade: "I think you get 100 A-pluses."
I was thrilled to get such high marks, because spending time with my family is important to me. Why is it important? Well, my second-oldest daughter said it's important so we can have a better bonding experience as a family. My son said it's important because, if I'm not paying attention while driving the minivan, I could crash.
My oldest daughter summed everything up well. "You're on vacation. The definition of vacation is not working."
Fair enough. And I was glad to see my constantly-texting teen also had a moment of self-reflection, as she added with a chuckle, "You looked at your phone fewer times than I did!"
We'll have to work on that during our next trip.
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