Breathtaking lessons from a family vacation.

An honest-to-goodness sunset on the beach near my parent's condo.

An honest-to-goodness sunset on the beach near my parent's condo.

I had planned a relaxing family Christmas vacation visiting my parents on the west coast.  Since my Mom and Dad moved out there several years ago, my east coast clan of four have had precious little time with them, and this was our chance to catch up.   All three of my guys - my husband and two sons - were able to take time off from work.  My parents, in their eighties, are in relatively good health, but who knows how long that will continue? 

I was looking forward to a great trip, maybe the last that the six of us would havetogether. 

Then I found out that my sister from Chicago would be visiting as well.  And my brother from Pittsburgh.  And another brother and his family from Charlotte.  Thank goodness my youngest brother, quasi-famous and famously generous, lent us all the use of his house nearby while he vacationed abroad.

Gone were my fantasies of relaxation.  In my lap was the challenge to enjoy the unexpected.  Here’s what I found: 

  • It does, in fact, rain in southern California and when it pours, MAN it pours.  Although I resented that nature chose my vacation to tackle the drought, the storms did clear away the typical fog, leaving an exceptional clarity to the air.
  • The hot tub at my brother’s house overlooking the Pacific is even more soothing when the air is chilly. 
  • The two mile walk along the beach from my parents’ condo to my brother’s house beats Uber hands down.  
  • If you happen to be inside when a coral and purple and tangerine sky peeks through the window, it’s totally worth it to drop what you’re doing and run down to the beach to witness it fully.   
  • My best family moments were the simple ones - companionable dinners with my guys and my parents, going with my Mom to her bookclub, playing cards with my brothers on New Years Eve, brainstorming blog ideas with my sister at the kitchen table.  

I also realized that I’m not as keen on large family vacations as I used to be.  In past years, it was a blast vacationing with my extended family.  But as our family grows, there are more personalities to accommodate, more needs to negotiate, and more bodies to feed and bed.  And let’s not even get into food sensitivities and dietary requirements. There’s a constant flux of arrangements, itineraries, and trips to Trader Joe’s. 

My family seems to thrive on this intensity.  Not me - I wilt.  After three weeks, which was probably two weeks too long, in spite of the beauty, comforts, and love surrounding me, I was numb.

There’s a lesson here, too, which is how great it is to be home.  My house has no ocean view, but I can see the little league field over the hill, the stone wall that I helped heave into place, and the concrete-block garage that I painted to look like brick.  There’s no tangerine sunsets on the beach, but I can see the stalks of hydrangeas and picture their summer blooms in shades of blue and mauve.  We have no hot tub, but our cozy fireplace and old-house charm wraps us in comfort.  The nearest ocean beach is a couple hundred miles away and we’re in the middle of a dreary, icy New York winter.   I’ve never loved my life so much.  It’s breathtaking.