How I Stopped Dreading My Summer Vacation


You’d think I’d have been chomping at the bit to leave on our summer vacation. Yet there I was, driving down I-5, doing my best to psych up to the days ahead.

Don’t get me wrong; I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for Disneyland. I kneeled there on the castle drawbridge, proposing marriage to the love of my life. We’ve even gone back a few times since then with extended family. We’ve picked our favorite restaurants, discovered the best snack shacks, and mastered the FastPass system. I could probably deliver the Jungle Cruise spiel myself. This trip, however, would be the first where all five of us Oswalds would visit the place together.

Oh, and we’d also visit Knott’s Berry Farm, California Adventure, and Medieval Times while we were at it. This was to be a summer vacation filled to the brim with amusement.

Perhaps I woke up too early that first day. Or perhaps my inner Scrooge was lamenting the cost of travel. Or maybe that Jim Gaffigan Disney routine echoed in my mind. I was feeling anxious about our family vacation, and trying to imagine how we would corral my rambunctious boys during long hours under the Southern California sun. My worries had sapped my joy from me.

But then a funny thing happened as we drove past the valley town of Lathrop. My daughter asked if we could listen to a present-day Transformers cartoon theme song on my phone (one of her favorite shows). We did it, all while singing along. Then I told her about the Transformers cartoon “from back in my day” and played the kids the hilariously terrible theme song. They laughed and laughed, and I nearly drove off the road in laughter myself. Then I played the remix of that same song by one of my favorite bands…

That (death-defying) laughter-filled turn of events was a gift. I get the sense that God was trying to remind me that while my kids are often crazy, they are full of contagious joy that they are willing to share. They remind me that I can never really know what is coming around the corner. I learned all over again that our time could be filled with joy, if only I might go with the flow of trying to control them.

This trip could be one of eager anticipation, or bracing for impact. I chose the former.

Take a look at a few of my favorite images and memories from our summer vacation below:


A little boy waits to enter an amusement park.
Day One: Any amusement worth its salt requires waiting in line. Medieval Times Dinner Theater was no exception.


Family portrait of five, all wearing paper crowns
As it turns out, they let us in the park and crowned us with many crowns.


A mother wearing a crown is excited for the show to begin.
My wife was more excited than anyone for the show to begin!


A young boy wearing a crown also wears a frown.
Behind his frown he was pretty excited too.


A white stallion runs through smoke during a theatrical performance.
The trumpets sounded and this guy shot out of the smoke.


An actor delivers his monologue from horseback.
And sometimes, the horses were ridden by actors with longer hair than the horses.


Photo of knights in a horse arena at Medieval Times Dinner Theater.
There was a whole amphitheater full of knights, as it turned out…


A knight in yellow clothing awaits his chance to compete at Medieval Times Dinner Theater.
…Though it was the yellow knight for whom our section of the arena cheered.


My daughter swooned after catching a flower bestowed by the Yellow Knight. She deserves a chivalrous gentleman...many years from now.
My daughter swooned after catching a flower bestowed by the Yellow Knight. She deserves a chivalrous gentleman…many years from now.


A knight dressed in yellow holds a sword aloft at Medieval Times Dinner Theater.
He may not have won the tournament but we all knew he was the best.


Two little boys in baseball caps look at a geode exhibit at Knott's Berry farm.
Day Two: We head to Knott’s Berry Farm and marvel at big rocks. Okay, okay, marvel at epic geodes.


A young girl and boy measure up in front of a amusement park ride. One makes it, one doesn't.
Much to Ashton’s chagrin, he found he was just tall enough to watch his siblings go on awesome rides. Patient dude.


A young, blond girl leans against a yellow wall next to a blue door.
Feeling blue during her impromptu fashion shoot at Knott’s Berry Farm.


A group of kids rides a postal envelope ride at Knott's Berry Farm. One of them is freaking out.
That little guy second from the right is my youngest son. And this is how he looked on almost any ride he took.


A young boy sits with one knee arched while lounging at Knott's Berry Farm.
Working up to a second wind during the mid-afternoon. Many naps were skipped in the making of this trip.


A young boy and his grandmother play with a procession of rubber duckies at Knott's Berry Farm.
Ashton looked considerably less freaked out while watching rubber duckies float in a gentle loop.


A blond woman unpacks her things in a hotel room, glancing at the camera.
Day Three: After two days of go-go-going Erica was still going strong. California Adventure was next on the list.


A young Caucasian boy zones out with a goofy look at the camera.
Liam, on the other hand, was high on sugar, SoCal, and amusement parks.


A photo of the Oswald's Tires sign near the entrance of California Adventure.
Upon arriving at California Adventure, we found they had opened a store in our name.


Photo of a building in California Adventures main drag.
Our name wasn’t emblazoned on this building, however. Still, its cool.


Three young kids standing in the main street of Radiator Springs.
My kids owning Radiator Springs, though nobody else realized it.


Two boys wearing goofy hats at a California Adventure shopping stall.
Goofing off.


A young girl crosses a net bridge at California Adventure.
Scaling the heights and nets of the Redwood Park. Not quite like the real thing.


Photograph of a young boy climbing through a tunnel at a California Adventure play place.
Break on through to the other side.


Photograph of mickey mouse shaped baloons.
Even the balloons are fancier there at California Adventure.


Photo of the sun going down over California Adventure
The sun began to set on our adventures, and on the rest of park.


Photography of a waterwheel and mill in California Adventure theme park.
Had to stop and grab this shot on the way out of the park. Who knew Disney could be so moodily lit?


A young boy lounges against a chair in his exhaustion.
Day Four: Disneyland’s Magic Kingdom was our final destination, and this guy was beginning to fade.


A young family poses with Minnie Mouse at DIsneyland.
Auntie, Uncle and the cousins joined us at the magic kingdom. Oh, and Minnie was there too.


A young girl rolls a reflective stone sphere at Disneyland.
I was transfixed by the same stone sphere spinning over a fountain when I was small. This girl’s got great taste.


A photo of a grandmother and her granddaughters riding a rocket at Disneyland.
A rocket full of young-at-heart girls.


A young girl is held in her father's arms in front of a Disneyland ride.
My niece had become quite skilled at waiting in line: a wonderful gift, all would agree.


A young boy sits on his grandfather's shoulder during a parade at Disneyland.
Parades were made to be seen, which is why grandfathers come equipped with shoulders.


A young boy holds a Buzz Lightyear toy surrounded by light trails.
Ashton found his second wind after buying a motorized automatic light and noise maker. Buzz Lightyear’s battery was dead two hours later.


A family is photographed in front of a giant Mickey Mouse jack 'o latern at Disneyland.
With minutes ’til closing, we snapped our final family photo of the trip. Bedtime came about ten minutes later.

We didn’t lose any children. The children didn’t lose any limbs. I didn’t lose my sanity. We may have lost a few pounds from all that walking, come to think of it. In other words, our summer vacation was a resounding success. And as I look back on these photos now, I see that even looking through the camera, it was the people far more than the places that brought so much joy.

I think I’m ready for our next summer vacation. Right now.

Have you ever taken a vacation that you had to psych up for? Sound off in the comments below!


  • Steve Hadeen 10-27-2016

    Great blog as usual! The cranny faces of Ashton are priceless! Lol

    • P.J. Oswald 10-27-2016

      Thanks so much, Steve. I’m a fan of those crabby faces too…for now. Let’s hope his face doesn’t freeze that way!

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