By: Mary Fran Bontempo
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“Walk it before you die.”

“Don’t even. Nothing you do is going to make me happy right now.”


Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the sounds of summer—Darth Vader style.

Oh sure, summer is the call of seagulls, the crashing of the surf and the laughter of children, but make no mistake, there is a dark side.

The proof? “Walk it before you die” is a direct quote from a worn-out mom, tired of wrangling with her progeny, who tossed the threat in the direction of her eight-year-old son on the Ocean City boardwalk last week while they were out “having fun” on their summer vacation. As my husband and I walked along behind the pair, junior bounced along, generally being an itch and doing what little boys do while his mom did what mothers do—threaten his life.

“Don’t even. Nothing you do is going to make me happy right now,” was the declaration earlier that day of a little girl, hot, sweaty and unhappy, dragging her toys on the sand while her family tried to cajole her along with promises of fun to come if she would just get with the program. As I surreptitiously watched the scene unfold from behind my sunglasses, the family finally settled on the sand, divesting themselves of fifty-seven pounds of beach equipment and toys, bickering with one another the whole time.

And beach or boardwalk, no summer day would be complete without the ever-present “Waaaaaahhhhhhhhh!” shrieked at the top of little lungs by red-faced tots as their exhausted, shell-shocked young parents drag or push them along, likely wondering what the hell they’ve gotten themselves into.

Well, you well-intentioned mommies and daddies, let me tell you. What you’ve gotten yourselves into is the elusive hunt for the Holy Grail known as the perfect American family vacation.

No one embodies the futility of this exercise better than the ever-clueless Clark Griswold of the 1983 film National Lampoon’s Vacation. Clark, (iconically portrayed by Chevy Chase) is determined to create a legendary family vacation, forcing his wife and two kids on a cross-country trek to the Wally World theme park, encountering shifty relatives, gun fights, broken down cars, and every manner of trouble along the way, only to find the park closed for repairs once they arrive, at which point Clark holds the park guard at gunpoint and forces him to open the rides for Clark’s beloved family.

At one moment on the road, when wife, Ellen, and the kids protest and beg Clark to turn around, he responds, “This is no longer a vacation. It’s a quest, a quest for fun. I’m gonna have fun and you’re gonna have fun. We’re gonna have so much f****** fun they’re gonna need plastic surgeons to remove the smiles from our f****** faces. We’ll be whistling Zippity-doo-dah out of our (butt) holes!” Except, he doesn’t say “butt holes.”

Fortunately, most of us don’t reach that level of desperation, nor do we end up with dead relatives strapped to the roof of our cars hidden under a tarp. But there’s not a vacationer among us who hasn’t wanted to scream, “I give up! Let’s just go home and forget the whole damn thing!”

The good news is that, as with the Griswolds, everything usually turns out all right in the end. The Griswolds got Wally World. The tyke whose mother threatened to blot him out got a hug seven yards further down the boardwalk. Little Miss Determined to be Miserable was splashing in the surf ten minutes after her meltdown. And the screaming toddlers, well, they eventually fall asleep, leaving their stunned parents with enough quiet time to crack open a bottle of wine and regroup before the next day’s festivities.

And believe it or not, all of it gets stored away, crafting memories of a “perfect” summer vacation, Darth Vader moments included.

What’s your favorite summer memory? Click “comments” below and share!