I’m sure you’re all familiar with the classic Chol Hamo’ed what-should-we-do syndrome. It’s not easy to find an activity or trip that satisfies an entire family of different ages and stages while at the same time satisfying the parents’ financial considerations. Growing up, our family went through the same debate every Chol Hamo’ed. At one point, my mother made a rule that the children had to discuss it and agree on a trip the night before. I don’t remember it ever really working. Usually, at some point, my father would just tell everyone to get in the car, and he’d start driving. We’d eventually find something interesting – or we wouldn’t.
One year, my mother came up with an unconventional idea that turned out to be one of our best trips ever. All it entailed was an empty bag and strips of paper. My mother filled the bag with many strips that simply said “right,” ”left,” or “straight” on them. Every child was then given a pile of strips on which to write instructions.
We all climbed into our station wagon (remember those?). We drove to the end of the block and picked a paper. (Nobody was privy to what anyone else had written on his or her papers, making for a nice element of surprise.) Barring traffic restriction, we had to follow whatever instructions were written on the paper. Once completed, the next instruction was picked. It went something like this: Right turn. Drive straight for seven minutes. Wait at the corner for the next blue car and then follow it for four minutes. Make a left turn on the next street starting with the letter “C.” Stop the car, get out, and all children should rotate one seat clockwise. (That was to combat the fact that nobody liked to sit in the “backety-back of the station wagon.)
The game turned out to be a lot of fun! We were a car full of teenagers, along with two very mature parents, (I had to put that in, as they may be reading this article) laughing our way around town.
Picture this scenario: We’re at a red light, roll down the window, and gesture to the car next to us that we’d like to ask for directions. The driver rolls down his window, too, ready to help.
“Um, excuse me, where’s the nearest fish store?”
“Fish store? You want to buy a pet fish or to eat fish?”
“Oh, it doesn’t matter,” we respond, “either one.” Yes, it definitely can get humorous.
Then there was the paper that instructed to go into the nearest store and spend $1.29, tax included. I forget the exact amount that we were meant to spend, but I do remember that it was an uncommon number once we took off the tax. We went to a Woolworths (my, I’m dating myself). There we were, a family of seven, scouring Woolworths for nothing in particular but checking the prices on everything. “I found for 29 cents! Did anyone find a 49-cent item?” It was quite comical to say the least (and a good lesson in math!). Of course we ended up with three cheap items for which we had no use.
The paper picking continued. We ended up in all sorts of places we’d never been. We even found, while driving along a winding country road, a hill full of buffalo! “Do you think if we tickle them, they’ll laugh?” asked one sister. “Did you ever hear of charging buffalo?” replied my father. That hill of buffalo actually became a site that we drove by on other occasions, just to watch.
One creative family member put in a note instructing us to tour the nearest police station. It takes a bit of tact and careful explaining to walk into a police station with five children and ask for a tour. After all, you wouldn’t want to be considered suspicious and get locked up. Or would you? The policemen humored us and gave us the tour. They even let us go into their holding cells and get locked in – all for the sake of adventure and, of course, for the pictures. Who would believe that we were locked in jail if we hadn’t taken a picture of it?! Just for the record, my mother did not join us in the cell. I guess she felt it was her parental duty to stay on the free side to work things out in case they decided to leave us there.
At the end of the day, we returned home tired and happy. We’d had a really enjoyable outing that cost only a few dollars plus gas. (In the days when you could fill up your whole tank for $15.) It was an outing that created more fond memories and provided better family time together than any fancy and expensive one could have done. Isn’t it time we put the “family” back into family outings?
Aidel Matskin (nee Berman) grew up in Baltimore and now lives in Kiryat Sefer.