In a few weeks, my extended family will leave on vacation. Most of us are naively looking forward to it. The goal is to return home rested and refreshed.
It’s a nice thought, but it never happens. We’re the typical American family. Invariably, we come home exhausted and insane.
Our family vacation involves 18 people max. The oldest is pushing 70. The youngest — and arguably the most mature — just turned 5. As families go, especially in Utah, this is on the small side.
When I was a kid, extended family vacations at times included upwards of 75 people, half of whom I either didn’t know well (if at all), or my kid radar told me to keep clear of them. This particular family consisted of my grandparents, parents, their siblings and all the children and grandchildren.
We’d take over an entire campground somewhere in a national forest (for my father’s family) or a section of beach for my mother’s. Then we’d pass a pleasant hour or two catching up, followed by most of a week being reminded of why we kept our distance during the rest of the year.
This year, my family is headed for Bear Lake. It’s my wife’s favorite destination spot. It has a body of water not artificially manufactured, the weather is typically tolerable, and it is relatively close to medical assistance.
We don’t camp. We rent cabins. It costs more, but the odds of having clean utensils to eat with, water safe to drink, and actual bathrooms are worth it.
Long experience has taught us that a family vacation gone wrong in the wilderness is an invitation for a search party and the police.
Past vacations were overseen by my wife. She assigned everyone what to do or bring. She planned the meals, made sleeping arrangements, and enforced the “No Explosives” ban.
Every separate family is in charge of a day’s worth of cooking and cleaning. As our girls’ families grew, the food became better and the more hygienic things became. At the same time, things got crazy as more and more grandkids were introduced to the mix.
The heavy lifting, setting up and boat towing has been taken over by my sons-in-law. They also deal with drunken camp neighbors.
My patriarchal role has been reduced to sitting in a lawn chair counting grandchildren to make sure we haven’t lost a few. It’s an easy job. They tend to hang close to the guy who managed to smuggle in the best form of entertainment.
Kids • “Grammy, you know those sand pails you bought us? Papa made one go way up in the sky!”
Me • “You little rats. It was a B-2 bomber breaking the sound barrier.”
Kids • “Oh, yeah. A bomber. Anyway, it was all wrecked when it came back down.”
But even the best of families can get on each other’s nerves when forced to spend too much time in close proximity. Old grudges are resurrected. New ones begun.
Family vacations are an anthropologic case study. From them we are able to understand why human beings kept moving farther away from each other and eventually covered the globe.