Seals, GPS and Back-Seat Drivers How to vacation with two teenagers

The trip starts with snafus, because there always is a karmic, you-just-try-and-relax comeuppance before I attempt to slide away from real life into the
magic of vacationland.

This time: My 16-year-old son leaves a bag with all of his catcher’s equipment in a rental car that I had driven the week before. He realizes this the day before we are scheduled to leave and about a half-hour before he is supposed to play in a doubleheader in White Marsh. A chest protector, shin guards, glove and helmet worth hundreds of dollars are in a car somewhere at BWI, and Lost and Found is closed.

What I want to do the day before I leave for vacation is spend a lot of time on the phone with a rental car company.

The morning before we leave, I have to Amazon Prime cat food to my house because my 18-year-old daughter has bought the wrong kind. She was rushed at the pet store, because she inadvertently spent two hours with friends from work when she was supposed to be running errands.

And now, we must vacation together.

I am not sure I want to go away with these people, I tell a friend. Wouldn’t it be in my best interest to vacation with other people? But we manage to get ourselves to Portland, Maine, without losing anything along the way, and we settle in. Our second full day there, we drive to New Harbor, this photo-perfect nook of a lobster town, where we will take a boat cruise to an island inhabited by harbor seals.

I can’t wait, but we get lost on the way. We have been to New Harbor before, but when we start off, I ask my daughter to summon the GPS, and somehow this leads us off the highway and into the downtown traffic of Brunswick. She doesn’t realize we are off course, but I do.

We are lost and late. Both of my tech-savvy kids freeze for a moment, waiting for me to solve this problem. I shout at both of them to pull up the maps on their phone and then ask my son to call Hardy Boats to see if they will hold our spots. They will. But I drive all the way to New Harbor stressed about making the cruise I was so looking forward to and angry that I am so stressed.

GPS is flawed, to be sure. But what I am most upset about is the helplessness of my two digital natives — and that moment when the three of us got into the car and they both reached for their headphones, ready to check out and to be driven where they needed to go. Again, I wonder about this trip. I know it was in the name of family fun and bonding, but I begin to doubt if we will have fun together.

In moments like this, seals help. Sleek and curious sea creatures that pop their brown heads from the water to watch the boat beside them cascade over tropical storm-stoked waves.

You know what else helps? Not driving. On the way back to Portland, I take the back seat. My daughter, who has had her license for two years, drives, and my son, who is about to embark on driver’s ed navigates with his phone’s GPS. They have to help each other, not me. They have to talk. There is not a parent to tune out. She is in the back seat, still thinking about the seals. No surprise, we arrive safely back in Portland, my kids still laughing after their bonding time together at the controls.

There is more magic in vacationland: The rugged and beautiful stair-step cliffs of Two Lights State Park, a Mookie Betts grand slam in Fenway Park, a Wi-Fi-free night, where we puzzle and listen to a baseball game on the radio. But this precedent-setting moment is the turning point for me.

There is a lot of planning to pull off a family trip — and some of it understandably requires adult direction — but there is also a time when every parent of a teen must take the back seat. The nervous can close their eyes, but I recommend keeping them open and enjoying the scenery.

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