I just returned home from vacationing with 26 of my favorite people in the world—my husband, our two sons, and my father, mother, two brothers, three sisters, two sisters-in-law, two brothers-in-law, six nieces, and six nephews.
You might be surprised to hear this, but I was a little nervous going into the week. We have gone on family vacations for a few years now, but we usually stay in two separate houses. In two houses, people have a little more…space. I wasn’t sure how a week-long trip to the beach would go with so many people with so many opinions and so many different expectations in one house.
But my family is obviously terrific, and with three of my siblings living out of state, we rarely all get together. So this was a wonderful opportunity for us to spend time as a group. And I have to say that it ended up being lots of fun, especially for the children.
There was always someone to play with or talk to or trade baseball cards with. You never had to look far for a grandparent or aunt or uncle who could find you a snack in the kitchen—or look away while you helped yourself to one. The homemade dinners were generous and delicious and served early so we’d have time to hit the beach for kite flying or the boardwalk for rides.
I just hope we have enough noodles…
There was always a baby to hold or a grandparent ready to hang out with a grandchild. If you dropped your cup of grape juice all over the floor, there was an aunt there to clean it up—and if you sprinted away fast enough, maybe no one would remember who spilled it. Well…no one was that lucky.
My one brother and his wife and two children rented a room in a hotel a few blocks away, so they weren’t sleeping in the same space. The other 23 of us stayed in two apartments in the same house: six bedrooms, four bathrooms, two outside showers, three cribs, four sleeping bags, one child on a pull-out couch, two kitchens, and one night where the power went out and there was no air conditioning.
That night might not have been the highlight. Or it might have been an amazing adventure. The jury is still out. But it was memorable. And so was the whole week.
The quirkiest thing about our living situation was that there were two ways to get from the first floor to the second floor:
1. You could walk through a bedroom to reach the steps, but only if my 3-month-old niece was not sleeping or eating there. Do you know how often babies sleep and eat?
2. You could go out the front door, walk down the front steps, follow the sidewalk alongside the house, come up the back steps, come through the laundry room, and climb the steps to the second floor.
If I had a dollar for every time I made the circuit to run upstairs for a stuffed cat or downstairs for a jar of Parmesan cheese or upstairs to find someone or downstairs to find the person I had gone upstairs to find, I might have enough money to win a stuffed Pikachu from a claw machine. But probably not because if we learned one thing this summer, it’s that claw machines are a rip-off although we still want to keep trying.
What was funny to me was the difference in the culture between the two apartments. One morning my father (on the second floor) posted a photo of his yogurt and granola breakfast on Facebook. We countered from the first floor with a photo of Fractured Prune donuts.
One night my sister-in-law, who was staying on the second floor, made the loveliest tray of roasted vegetables, straight from the local farmers market. My husband climbed the steps to the upstairs kitchen, looked at the vegetables, and came back down.
“You need to go up there,” he said. “There is food that needs to be appreciated, and someone needs to do the appreciating.”
So off I went. I oohed and aahed and appreciated. Then I ate the vegetables. They were delicious.
That’s what family vacations are about: give and take and eating and noise and noticing that sometimes your spouse needs you to make the trek upstairs to eat roasted peppers and mushrooms.
Then you come back downstairs, pull a climbing child off of the fireplace, tell another to stop spinning the chairs in the living room, cook some noodles for a child who ate 20 minutes ago and is hungry again, and send someone back upstairs—perhaps going around the block on the way—to collect the Parmesan cheese.
This week we are happy to be home in our own beds with our own space and our own everything. But we do miss the beauty of the beach, the fun of the boardwalk, and hanging out with the cousins.
When we came home, our 6-year-old and I were telling a friend about our trip, and she said, “Wow. 27 people.”
“Actually,” he said, “I think it was about a million.”
I started to correct him, but then I had a sudden flashback to the week of serving a million plates of spaghetti, sunscreening a million children, and telling people at least a million times to stop climbing the fireplace and spinning the chairs in the living room. But you won’t hear me complaining. After all, our children had a million times more fun than we expected, and we made at least a million memories.