Raise your hand if you are lucky enough to belong to a family! Ha. That was a trick, because I can’t see you and also because I know that most of us a) belong to some kind of family and b) aren’t always convinced that luck had anything to do with it. Ha again! I am one of four kids, the quintessential “middle child”; my older sister is the oldest, my older brother is the only boy and my younger sister is the baby. Making me Jan Brady and then some. My siblings are also the ruddy cheeked, robustly built, fun-loving athletic types, while I am the gangly, bookish, artsy geek. You see where this is going. Every family needs an ugly duckling to keep things in perspective and I was born to the job, as it were. If I had a childhood theme song, it would have been “One of these things is not like the others (one of these things just doesn’t belong)” from Sesame Street. And believe me, I know there are millions of people out there who could say the same thing. I know my experience as an outsider in my own clan is hardly unique.So now we are all grown up, and while some things never change (in both good and bad ways), I have to say that as each of us has become more of “ourselves” with age, this has actually caused us to grow closer. There are blessed few indisputable facts in this lifetime (outside of death and taxes), but your family, for better or for worse is one of them. And as you mature, the differences in interests, political views and priorities melt into the background as your shared sense of humor, experiences and common enemies (usually within the extended family, but sometimes it might just be Scottie Pippen) become predominant. There is no friend like an old friend the saying goes, but even an old friend can’t hold a candle to the people who have born witness to the entirety of your life.
Which leads me to the topic…the family vacation. Is there any experience more dreaded/highly anticipated/lovingly remembered than this? Dreaded for too many reasons to count: logistics (can we coordinate schedules, nap times, napkins?), location (location, location), length (how long will it be before the laughs stop and the glares begin?) and lottery (What will the weather be? Will anyone get sick? Will any flights get cancelled? Etc., etc.!) Highly anticipated because of aforementioned laughs, food, fun and, if you are lucky, multiple generations frolicking in one general area. Lovingly remembered because let’s face it, today’s bad experience is by and large tomorrow’s funny story, so we all enjoy reminiscing about our trip to the Cape and the potato chip that somehow became affixed to my older sister’s face due to my brother’s stellar efforts with dip-n-jab. Good times!!!!! In retrospect, nearly always.For the past several years, the location (location, location) of our family trip has become static due to the unbelievable hospitality and generosity of my sister-in-law’s mother and step-father; we all travel to Wilmington, North Carolina and spend a few to several days enjoying the surf and sand at beautiful Wrightsville Beach. To say this experience is highly anticipated would be an understatement; I would assert it is without a doubt the highlight of my son’s year and most certainly has created the kind of golden childhood memories that only the best of writers can ever hope to recreate with words. There is not a single aspect of this trip that, to a child most definitely, is not 100% satisfying. I could describe for you the two beautiful homes we spend time in, the flawless beach, the fabulous meals, the ping pong, the custard stand, the fish market, the water balloon fights and even the awesomely creepy “serpantarium” we are driven to on rainy days, but you still would not know how it feels to be there. With your children. And your witnesses. It borders on, and often crosses into, the sublime.
But guess what? For the adults, there is a lot of work. Meals to plan and prepare, bags to pack and unpack, children to bathe and feed and tend to in a myriad of ways. And if you are a family, there may be a Frederick in your midst (who is “gathering colors” as the rest of you hump it), or there may be an expected guest or two, or an unexpected obligation or three, and your greatest woe will never be that the custard stand didn’t have the flavor you were dreaming of today. Vacations are a ton of work if you have kids, and unless you are at an all-inclusive resort, some work anyhow even if you don’t. And so nerves fray (nothing like laundering vomit out of bedding at 1 AM for this), and tempers flare (she asked nicely, but my sister-in-law had to reprimand ALL of the siblings for our love of profanity in close quarters), and feelings are hurt because we are all so human and so very enmeshed that if there is anyone in the world who knows just the exact thing to say that will set you off, or send you into a tailspin of insecurity, it is someone in your family. Danger UXB, as they said in post-war years. There are so very many unexploded bombs waiting to be set off.But the family vacation, while fraught with mines, is also ripe with opportunities. My parents were fond of telling us when we were children, “There is a whole world out there waiting to be unkind to you, so don’t be unkind to each other.” Of course we waited until they left the room, gave them the finger, and then went back to torturing each other. But now we are grown up, and while I will not claim we have achieved some sort of utopian nirvana, I will say that the kindness is at an all-time high. The enjoyment of the “luck” involved in belonging to a family as well. I am lucky enough to belong to a family. For better or for worse, for richer and for poorer, we are a team and on our best days, a winning one. On our worst days, we can still remember the glories of years gone by and bask in the knowledge that we have time ahead of us to build more of those precious memories. Some of which start with a potato chip affixed to a face with dip. Ha.