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By Shelley Murphy
Months ago, I began crossing off days on my calendar, and today marks the last day of my countdown. Tomorrow welcomes the arrival of two long-awaited milestones: my younger son graduates from college, and my family reunites for a tropical vacation.
My son labored four years to earn his bachelor’s degree, and I empathize. My vacation planning commenced one year ago. In that time, our trip’s itinerary underwent several transformations that caused me to also burn the midnight oil.
Coordinating a vacation with young adults living in different zip codes is an arduous challenge; and, I think, I should be on stage tomorrow accepting an accolade, too.
Regardless, my perseverance and patience paid off and, after celebrating my younger son’s graduation, our family flies to our favorite island.
My suitcase is ready to go, I’ve stuffed it with sandals, sarongs and sunscreen. In my carry-on, I’ve packed precious cargo, including my timeworn and trusty travel Scrabble game.
Throughout the years, our family has played numerous board games, and Scrabble is the one that stuck. The origin of our family’s Scrabble tradition dates back to my boys’ elementary school days.
At the time, we took family vacations when my sons’ school calendars allowed, and it was during one of our summertime trips that I thought to introduce my sons to Scrabble.
Early one sunny morning, my husband headed to the golf course, leaving me without a Scrabble partner for the day. So, I decided to coerce my kids into playing my favorite board game with me. To carry out my plan, I modified the game rules and bribed them with syrupy, shaved ices.
I remember justifying my ploy by thinking that because school wasn’t in session, it was my duty to keep my boys’ brains functioning. And what better way than by playing a game teaching word recognition, vocabulary development and spelling skills?
Bending the rules, I allowed all abbreviations and encouraged their creative spelling. To add points to their scores, my kids could use a dictionary to help spell challenging words. (Yes, I also travel with a Scrabble dictionary.)
I realize my dire depiction may portray the game, and vacation, as a type of torment, but my boys, and our tradition, survived the years unscathed.
In fact, the four of us look forward to our travel Scrabble tournaments. Anyhow, today the joke’s on me; to keep up with my college graduates, I’m continually struggling to improve my strategy and build my lexicon.
I thought teaching my sons to play Scrabble might benefit them later in life, but I didn’t think learning to link lettered tiles would result in treasured memories. Every vacation, I look forward to relaxing on a reclining poolside lounge chair and starting the first Scrabble match.
My favorite fun fact about Scrabble is that it takes a long time to play. When we draw our first tiles from the bag, it signals the beginning of extended and uninterrupted time with my sons.
During our long-lasting games played on vacation, my boys share facets of their fast-paced, day-to-day lives and divulge their pending plans for soon-to-be futures.
An ocean away from rigid routines, our banter begins, and waves of side-splitting laughter drift through the balmy breeze.
In our days spent sitting along sandy shores, and underneath swaying palm trees, I savor the candid conversations we might not otherwise enjoy if we weren’t tethered to the lingering game.
But time is fleeting, and it flies fastest on vacation. The time together is never long enough, and parting ways when our trip ends is always bittersweet.
On the flight home, I’ll start my silent countdown and tally the time until we’re together again, and hope my boys are game for another family vacation.
Shelley Murphy has lived in San Clemente with her husband for the past 21 years, where she raised her two sons. She’s a freelance writer and has been a contributor to the San Clemente Times since 2006.