With the mercury rising and the school bell’s final ring just days away, you might be looking ahead to a family vacation. There was a time when that meant Mom, Dad, little Johnny, and sweet young Rebecca piling into the family station wagon for a week at the beach or the mountains.
The snapshot of the family vacation has changed a bit in recent years. Today, summer vacation may also include aging parents, grown kids, and their children.
Years ago my mother decided to begin a tradition of renting a house in Cape May, NJ for the family to vacation together. This included four generations. At that time the group ranged in age from early eighties down to a newborn.
Like most things in life, the one thing you can count on with the multigenerational vacation is change. No two years are the same. Every year is a bit different than the last because everyone gets a bit older and with that needs change. If you have the ability to be flexible, the yearly extended-family vacation can work.
Since we started making the annual pilgrimage, my mother passed away, rather unexpectedly. The newborn is nearly a teenager and the oldest is going off to college in the fall. My grandparents are in their 90’s now but thankfully still in good physical condition for their age but my grandmother has deteriorated mentally over the years from Alzheimer’s disease.
The house we began renting all those years ago was a modest two-story home built in the late 1800s. It sits on a shaded lot with perennial gardens, a block from the beach. Its location allowed my grandparents to easily make the walk to the beach for sunset. In keeping with homes from that era, it has a wrap-around screened porch with spring-loaded doors that slam closed with a “whap.” Since my grandparents never spent much time at the beach, the porch has been ideal for them; they have enjoyed the warm summer breezes without the scorching sun.
The place has worked out well despite only having sleeping space for 8-people when there were 13 in our group. But the kids were young and could sleep on the floor in the same room with their parents. My grandparents were able to climb the steps to their second-floor bedroom. And between the kitchen and the “kids” table on the porch, there was plenty of seating for family meals.
In the early years, my mother and grandparents would joyfully accept the role of babysitter. This allowed my siblings with young children, to go out for the evening. This is a win-win for all; the parents could have that desperately needed romantic dinner and the grandparents and grandkids were able to spend quality time together.
Fast forward twelve years to today; the kids are older and sleeping in the same room with mom and dad doesn’t work as well. They simply require more space and privacy. The stairs have become tricky for my grandparents and that one block walk to the beach seems much farther than it once did.
The roles have reversed. The grandparents are no longer babysitting the kids. The older kids go off for hours with the friends they have made through the years and no one worries that they will get lost. In fact, the concern now is that my grandmother might wander off. So, the same kids that my grandparents watched over now check in on them to make sure they are doing fine.
For several years most of the family has agreed that the rental was becoming too small for our family and that it did not suit our needs as well as it once did. Last year we tried a new place. This one had everything on the first floor. It was closer to the beach and everyone had a bed. The kids still shared a room with their parents but at least no one was on the floor. It wasn’t perfect. It had some drawbacks but it better suited our changing needs.
This year we need to forego the family vacation. My grandfather had knee surgery early this year and is still recovering. With any luck, next year we will resume the tradition my mother started. But the reality is that my grandparents may be getting too old to make the trek. If this proves to be the case, my siblings and I will need to decide whether to carry on the custom.
Either way, my niece and nephews will have had the opportunity to spend quality time with their great-grandparents. They will have twelve years of vacation memories with them and ten with their grandmother before she passed away. You can’t put a value on that and once the opportunity is lost there is no getting it back. So, if you are thinking about a multigenerational vacation, just do it!
Originally published in Baby Boomer News, June 2011, Written by Susan Decoteau-Ferrier
It’s been years now since my family had these family vacations in lovely historic Cape May, NJ. What I wouldn’t do to have these crazy summer days again.