Ahhhh. Family vacation. It’s that glorious time every year where we take a week or so off of work, pack the majority of our earthly belongings into a car meant to carry half that amount, pile the kids into the backseat, and set off to spend time with the people we love – and are frustrated by – the most.
Every family has their own vacation style. Some families prefer to keep the crowd limited to mom, dad and the kids. Others like to include the entire extended network. Some families explore new countries. Some like a pool to sit by. Some prefer camping or a cabin by the lake. Some head to amusement parks. And others still, go to the beach.
We’re a beach family – and “the more the merrier” is the motto. Every year, my mother hosts what has become known as “Camp Mawmaw.” This annual beach trip consists of the grandmaster of events and activities, Mawmaw, along with three of her daughters, four teenage grandchildren, two tweens and three toddlers, aged five and under. I should mention that all of this happens in Mawmaw’s long-standing summer rental – a three-bedroom beach cottage.
The cottage is perfectly situated by the beach and offers a large grassy yard, a big screened-in porch and most importantly an outdoor shower to offset the two indoors. It’s the perfect getaway for a family of four or five. So, naturally, we take 13. It’s loud, chaotic, crowded, crazy…and loud. But it’s who we are.
At Camp Mawmaw, we attack relaxation like it’s a job, rather than sink into it naturally. We get up early. Lunches get made and packed before breakfast. Kids scream and at least one gets put in time out. Teenagers change bathing suits 15 times before finally finding the perfect one. An appointed team takes umbrellas and chairs to the beach before 9am to stake out the best spot. Toddlers are pinned down and slathered with sunscreen. Beach bags, carts and coolers are packed. And then it’s go time. By 10am, we are on the beach, well-prepared for at least six hours of committed beach time. Sure, teenagers wander back to the house periodically for a make-up break (or whatever it is that they do in the bathroom for 45-minutes that makes them giggle and shriek). Toddlers have to be taken back for the occasional unavoidable circumstance. But for the most part, it’s a full day of sun and sand. Like it or not.
If you think that a vacation is sitting quietly on a beach with nothing but a good book and a mixed drink, then this is not the family vacation for you. This is the family vacation where, just as you’re lulled to sleep by a gentle ocean breeze thinking a how nice it is that you have teenagers now who don’t have to be watched every second, a three-year old lands in your lap, soaking wet, yet simultaneously covered by sand, screaming, “Aunt Anna! Get in the water with me!!!!” In other words, this is not a vacation of peaceful, seaside naps.
I have to admit. There are some years where I approach it with dread. I love my family dearly. I adore my nieces and nephews. But it’s a lot. In fact, it’s louder, busier and often, more stressful than real life. I’ve already done the toddler years, so screaming babies and frustrated mothers make my head spin. By that same token, I deal with three sets of teen and pre-teen hormones in my own home on a regular basis, so adding in another three is like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. There are moments where all I want is the peace and quiet of my own home, the sanctity of my own bed – and a shower that I don’t have to stand in line for.
There have been years when tensions have run high. The children have squabbled incessantly. The moms have been at their wits’ end with their kids – and sometimes, as a result, with each other. The teenagers have been annoyed by younger siblings and cousins. Sulking has been undertaken with professional proficiency. Tears have been shed. Doors have been slammed.
These are the years I think to myself, “How is this a family vacation?” But then I stop and look around me – and I realize that this is where I come from. Whether I like it or not, these are the people that have shaped me, taught me, learned from me, forced me to be better (or worse on occasion) and loved me through it all. No it’s not perfect, but what better way to celebrate my life and the fabric that makes it up than with the people who have woven it with me?
Every year, I listen to my kids talk about Camp Mawmaw, both before and after the event. They tell stories from years past. They recount the last year’s highlights. We laugh about who did what in the annual talent show. We debate about which tie-dyed t-shirt (a long standing Camp Mawmaw tradition) came from which year. When their friends talk about their big beach house with more rooms than people, my girls laugh and talk about sleeping on the air mattress is the “big kids’ room.” They tell funny stories about the toddlers’ multiple tantrums but never, ever leave out all of the hilarious things that those same toddlers did and said in between.
And I realize that this, too, is their fabric. These are the memories that they will carry with them for a lifetime. I don’t know if, when I am finally in the role of “Mawmaw,” they will want me on their family vacations. They may prefer quiet affairs with only their immediate family. But, for their childhood, I can’t imagine having given them anything but the loud, chaotic, hilarious, sand-filled days of Camp Mawmaw. And every year, I am increasingly grateful for the woman who makes it happen every year – her eternal patience with the crowds, her commitment to making it happen, and her genuine love of her family. We don’t need a big house, fancy trappings or an endless itinerary of entertainment. All we need is each other – and a little extra patience.